Inside with an IT Guy

Aaron Hampton is the Regional IS Manager for Northern Tool + Equipment and co-founder of enDevelopment LLC, the makers of CommonCents personal finance software.

My time is like yours – valuable. And what I’m going to share is valuable to you as a marketing or sales professional. Why? Because if I’m not the one pulling the trigger on the buy decision, then I’m almost certainly advising the one that is. So here’s a view from the trenches looking out.

My phone rings several times a day with calls from sales reps or account managers asking for me to give them my time and focus to see how they can help me. Granted, it’s their job to get their foot in the door and to make the sale. Depending on what’s going on that day, I may give them a few minutes to make their pitch if their product or service is related to any of the multiplicity of things taking place between the present and the short-term horizon.

At some point in the conversation, I usually ask them to provide me with a link to their site or to a published report that gives me an apples-to-apples comparison of their product to their competitors or substitute products. It’s amazing how many show up empty handed. At best, they offer a trial version, a Web-ex demo, or whitepaper/case study of what their product did for some other customer. These can all be useful tools to help make the sale but their competition offers the same approach. Do they realize how much time I would have to invest if I were to take them and their competition up on their offers? Before I invest the time and effort to drill to deep into their product/service, they have to make the cut list. So the question of the moment is, “How do they make the cut?”

The simple answer – be the one who gives me what I’m looking for up front. So what am I looking for? Here’s what I am most interested in:

  1. Feature comparison
  2. Performance comparison (under a load)
  3. Price comparison

If you can provide these things to me, ideally from an unbiased source, then you’ve got my attention. Why? Because it shows me you know your products strengths and weaknesses and you know how you measure up. Some may say, “Well, isn’t that your job to figure out?” My answer, “Well, yes – and you can rest assured we’ll do our homework. But what do you have to hide? Is your product/service inferior in some way to your competition? If not, then why not show us how you measure up? – and be bold enough to publish it online.”

If every potential vendor came to me empty handed, where does that leave me? In essence, I have two choices – seek the information elsewhere, or do the comparisons myself. Of course, before I make final decision to go a particular direction, I’m always going to do my own homework in my own environment and thoroughly test a product or service. As the saying goes, “Trust but verify.”

Before I dive into doing the comparisons myself, I’m going to filter down the list of options by tapping into one of three resources:

  1. Other colleagues already using a product/service in a similar environment
  2. Comparisons published in industry-specific publications or research reports
  3. Consultants with expertise in the area of need

Let me elaborate.

Other colleagues
Other colleagues are my first choice because I know them and because they are likely using the product/service (and usually have also evaluated others) in a production environment. Other factors, their perspectives are usually unbiased (they have nothing to gain by my choice) and this resource is certainly less expensive than the other two alternatives.

Published reports
Believe it or not, when we scan through the standard technology publications, WE DO pause briefly at the product comparison charts and might even stop to read the article. If it is a worthy comparison, I might even bookmark it or cut it out and drop into the project folder for down the road. At a minimum though, at least I’ve got a feel for how someone else views the product/service.

On this item, let me add that research reports are approached with a bit of skepticism because they are almost always sponsored by a specific “interested party.” So from the start, we know it’s likely biased and very likely has been cherry picked to emphasize the sponsor’s strengths. Rightly so, because what organization would pay any research group to publish a report if their product/service wasn’t top dog in the run-off.?” So, instead of a sponsored report, I’d much rather have an independent analysis, even if I have to pay for it.

Finally, there are the consultants. The most trusted are the ones I’ve already worked with, who know our needs, and, very likely, have already implemented a similar solution somewhere else. If it’s a high dollar investment, I’ll rely heavily on their advice since I can usually hold them accountable. Now if the advice is coming from a consultant I haven’t worked with before, it will carry less weight but it really depends on their expertise and reputation in the industry. Hopefully, we get what we pay for.

So if you want me to consider buying your product or service, do both of us a favor and inform me of how you measure up. Come with your features, performance, and price comparison in hand and then we’ll have a productive conversation. Also, be mindful of the wake you leave behind. Your reputation will follow you. And when it reaches us, hopefully, it will crown you, not cast a shadow. If you pay attention to these things, you’ll very likely make the cut list and find your product or service in our test environment.