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Know Me, Before You Sell To Me

(Editor's note: Welcome to the first installment of a series about IT best practices from Steve "Doc Net" Nitenson, a longtime IT managing director who is currently completing his doctoral degree in Technology Management. In the first installment, The Doc talks about how vendors who don't do their homework don't stand a chance in selling to savvy IT purchasers.)

We could call this scenario "tell me about your firm, so I can sell you something." Too often, I get calls from suppliers offering me a new and innovative solution that they say will help my IT organization. What they really end up doing is conducting due diligence during the sales cycle, a practice both frustrating and embarrassing, and ultimately unsatisfying for both partners in the dance.

Recently, a sales rep from one of the leading router and switch manufacturers wanted my time to discuss Voice over IP (VoIP) and how their company's VoIP products could save me thousands of dollars over what my company was spending today. As our initial face-to-face conversation began, it became clear that the supplier was clueless about my firm (that was the embarrassing part) and the best he could muster for his opening line was: "So -- tell me about your company." That was the frustrating part.

It's a statement I've heard too many times over the years. My usual response has been to be cordial, and walk the supplier through what we do, how we are organized as a company, and where we have physical presence in the world. This time I tried a different tactic. I wanted to make sure this supplier remembered what he said on the phone to set up the meeting in the first place.

"Well, Mr. VoIP," I replied. "What do you think we do, and how can you help us save the thousands of dollars you promised in your phone call?" The supplier grimaced as he began to stumble over word after word, as it became clear to both of us that he had no clue what we did, or how we did it.

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