Be Informed—Check References, Talk to Other Companies
Another aspect of bottom-up research will be talking to other companies that are facing similar problems. This is important for two reasons. The first is that they might have encountered something that you didn’t think about, or perhaps they came up with an interesting solution that you weren’t aware of. The second is to do reference checks to support a specific solution. This is very important when you are making your vendor choice. Here are some things to remember when you are doing reference checks.
• Is the company using the product you are thinking about purchasing?
This may sound like an obvious question but I have seen vendors give a reference and the reference was using a one of their products with glowing results, but it wasn’t the product the company was thinking about purchasing! Make sure you are comparing apples to apples.
• Has the company actually deployed the product? Is it using the product? For how long?
This also may sound like an obvious question but there is a big difference between simply purchasing a product and having it deployed and operational over an extended period of time. Maybe the product is too services-intensive and it hasn’t been put into operation yet? This happens frequently. Or perhaps the product doesn’t actually do what it says it does. This also happens frequently. You’d be surprised at the number of customers who actually purchase a solution based only on a salesperson’s presentation. Would you purchase a car based solely on the information in a few brochures? I bet you wouldn’t.
• What feedback does the company have about the vendor’s stated commitment on the after-purchase services, support and maintenance?
You need to determine if the vendor is going to be a partner, or if you are simply going to be a customer. You want to work with a vendor that is going to fully support you as you get the product deployed and in production. You also want to ensure that post-production support and maintenance are first rate. Questions worth asking: How have you requested product enhancements? Do you know who the product manager is? Have you talked to the product manager? Does the vendor have a customer advisory board or council? Is there a user group? How do you become a partner with your vendor?
• What are the vendor’s development plans and product timelines?
Ask for them, but don’t believe them. At least, don’t believe the dates. Apply the Wosinski co-efficient7 to all dates. Be highly suspicious if the features you want or need are scheduled for delivery too far out on the timeline. Do you want to see the salesperson’s hair catch on fire? Just ask him or her to tie performance or delivery of features to payment. It’s worth pushing for this just to see the ensuing spectacle!
• What kind of vendor are you dealing with? Is it small, a start-up, venture capital–funded or a publicly traded company? If it’s a small company, what happens to your contracts if in an acquisition?
Sometimes it’s better to work with small company because your money means more to them. You can have greater influence on product direction. But with small companies, resources may be an issue. Will they have the consultants, the partners or the ecosystem to support you? Will they be around in five to 10 years? Larger companies typically have a bigger ecosystem, more industry partnerships and more people to work with. However, it may be more difficult to get product enhancements from them. Either way, it’s a trade-off, but also a decision you consciously make.
Carefully check references. Develop a good set of questions. Make sure the customers you contact haven’t been incented as references. Be sure that you are forming a partnership that will last once the check has cleared the bank. And, whatever you do, count on a changing vendor environment.
identity management, Quest Software