From The Sell Side: Getting Buy-in Before Bringing in the Vendors

From The Sell Side: Getting Buy-in Before Bringing in the Vendors

"Not long ago, I was involved in a RFP where it was evident that the project’s champion, who was advocating changing providers, did not have universal support from her team. The conflict that existed internally in their company played out in front of my team as we sat in the 3 hour presentation and watched various players from the prospect disagree on major issues that would impact the entire project. Not only was their clear and open hostility from the opposing points of view, but the variety of needs that were being expressed would completely cause the RFP and its focus to be revamped. Essentially, the field of prospective vendors may not have been aligned to the buyers’ final needs."

Let’s face it buying an email platform in today’s marketplace is a difficult task.  There are so many options to choose from and understanding how each ESP differentiates itself from the field is hard to do.  Having lead sales organizations in our space for over a decade, I’ve had a front row seat the challenges of selling these platforms, and as a result I believe that there is plenty of opportunity for both the buyers and sellers to improve the sales cycle and make it much easier then it is today.

Selling these technologies and their associated services is not an easy task.  On the sellers side they require a heavy investment in the sales cycle and use of trained personnel.  On the buyers side ESP’s will engage multiple departments, each of which have their own needs that will drive their evaluation.  To this I challenge buyers to get your ducks in a row before engaging vendors.  It’s always interesting to walk into a company that hasn’t vetted requirements across departments.  This lack of focus is evident during the sales discovery process when internal stakeholders will seemingly be in the room together for the first time; and begin to disagree in front us sales folks on core needs.  When this happens it’s an indication that project may not be supported well which can and will lead to a disjointed sales effort from most vendors.

Not long ago, I was involved in a RFP where it was evident that the project’s champion, who was advocating changing providers, did not have universal support from her team.  The conflict that existed internally in their company played out in front of my team as we sat in the 3 hour presentation and watched various players from the prospect disagree on major issues that would impact the entire project.  Not only was their clear and open hostility from the opposing points of view, but the variety of needs that were being expressed would completely cause the RFP and its focus to be revamped.  Essentially, the field of prospective vendors may not have been aligned to the buyers’ final needs.

Why does this matter?  When you are looking to implement a tool that will touch everything from the marketing team to the database team and all associated elements in between and you are not on the same page, the ability to effectively evaluate a vendor will be compromised.  For example, understanding the needs of the database team and the IT and how they will integrate a new technology into an existing infrastructure and workflow and how that may impact future needs is paramount.  Often the email marketing team may be focused on feature sets in the ESP that could improve a type of messaging need and not consider the implications associated with installing a new system.

Ultimately all sales teams want to deliver a viable solution to you; and understanding the core requirements in a review will improve your opportunity to be presented with a clear line of vision to a workable solution.  When teams disagree it makes it nearly impossible to prioritize on which aspect the sales team should emphasize and which resources they should leverage.  While this may sound basic, I have seen too many times when this needs imbalance results in the vendor over emphasizing an aspect of their business only to find out in the dreaded post mortem review that the prospect really was interested in knowing more about another area. 

Not only does a product or service need get misdirected, but the projects owner is often unknown by the potential vendor when engaging in the presentation.  Aside from determining needs and focusing on them prior to a review, buyers should also determine who is leading the review.  Many times, the marketing department will take the leadership position, and then the dynamics will be reversed in a product review meeting.  As I mentioned earlier, the RFP I’m referencing not only showed frictional alignment on the projects needs, but there was jockeying for the power position in the room as well.  It caused my team to be unsure what the motivation was for change and forced us into a guessing game while preparing our presentation.  While it’s clearly the sellers responsibility to be buttoned up for all situations, the prospects clear uneasiness with their own initiative was felt by the sellers and impacted the relationship. 

When leaving this RFP review, the general sense was that this wasn’t a supported project and that it wouldn’t result in switching vendors.  We were right.  A few weeks later the “Dear John” email was sent to all the vendors and the RFP was scuttled.  If the prospect had delayed their desire to review vendors and had gotten internal buy in across all of the constituents, I believe that they would have had a much more successful review of the ESP marketplace and would have been able to make a more informed decision.

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