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Dealing With The Vendor End-Around

In his recent blog, Mike Workman,
CEO of Pillar Data Systems, offers an example of what is commonly
called the "end-around."  This is when a larger vendor will
leverage a relationship at the VP or CxO level to stop a lower level person
from selecting a more innovative product from a new and smaller vendor.
Instead of getting stung by this tactic, there are steps that you can
take as the IT Manager, project manager or even the evaluator to keep it
from happening.

The first step is to see if it even makes sense to include newer vendors
in the evaluation or review. Before you start the project, ask people in
the management chain if you are allowed to include newer, potentially
more innovative and less expensive vendors. If the answer comes back no,
at least you know up front and you won't waste your time or the newer
vendor's time. Often the answer will come back as a yes. We suggest
getting as many details as possible to answer that yes. How new? How

With that approval in hand, the next step is to go as far up the
management chain as possible and let them know that if you review and
select a newer vendor, that the end-around is likely coming. Defuse the
bomb before it gets there. Don't assume because it has happened before
that the people above you will know about it. Tell them that if you
actually do select one of these newer vendors, that they will likely be
getting a call inviting them to lunch, dinner, golf or some sporting
event. Get agreement that they won't take these meetings or
discuss these projects until you can provide them with information as to
why you are recommending the newer vendor. Also get agreement upfront
that if the project team finds that a product from an new vendor that
upper management won't be swayed and force you to re-review.

After that, of course, run through your normal process, treating all
vendors fairly. If through your testing and business evaluation process
you determine that a product from a newer, lesser-known vendor
makes the most sense for your organization, prepare for the end-around.
The end-around attack strategy typically focuses a little on technology
but mostly on business viability and service/support.

The technology attack is often something like, "Well we can't do XYZ
feature yet or not without a huge performance impact, and you don't want to put your data/network at
risk do you?" The big guys basically assume if they can't do it no one
else can, despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary, including your
own testing. We suggest arming your senior management with these
details, just in case they do happen to meet with the larger
vendor. Let them know, "here is what the vendor is going to say vs. here is what we
found." If your senior managers are not armed with the facts ahead of
time, their only option is to believe what they are told by the more
established vendor.

The business viability and serviceability attack is typically "Those
guys are too new." Make sure you define what "new" is. For most vendors,
too new is any company that is newer than them. Being publicly traded is not an indicator of how stable a company is. I've seen a company
called "too new" even when they have been in business for 5+ years. If
you select a real start-up, say less than two years old, prepare your
senior management with the facts. Admit there are risks but also explain
what the payoff is. There is risk in any IT decision. You can't change
reality, but you can remind them of the initial conversation that newer
companies were okay to explore.

Finally, discuss serviceability. I am not impressed by large service and support
organizations. It makes me wonder if the product is overly complex or
fragile. Certainly you want some people there, but it should be as a
percentage of the installed based and the frequency of service calls. A
company that builds a better product, that is easier to operate and
maintain shouldn't need a large service organization, especially when
you factor in install base. As before, address those points and feed them
to senior management prior to them taking any meetings.

The vendor end-around can't always be stopped, but it can be prepared
for. It takes work on your part, though. Let or remind senior
management that it is coming. Provide them with a short, very
short, summary of why you made the selection. While everyone will be
impressed with your formal write-up, very few will read it cover to
cover. In that summary, address the key points that you expect the
end-around move to challenge.