CXO

Bad vendor meetings: IT managers share horror stories and advice

Find out who won a laser pointer for sharing details about their worst vendor meeting. Plus, learn how other IT pros deal with pesky vendor sales calls.


If you’ve ever been stuck listening to a vendor’s sales presentation that never seemed to end, you’ll appreciate these comments from TechRepublic members offering tips and strategies for dealing with over-zealous salespeople.

TechRepublic columnist and vice president for content, Bob Artner, wrote an article that sparked this debate among members. In the article, “Meeting with vendors: Less is more,” Artner complained that vendors bring too many representatives to meetings. He also noted that in his experience, the one person who doesn’t do any of the talking often winds up becoming your account rep. Artner invited others to share their stories about their worst vendor meetings. Here are a few highlights from the Discussions:

And the winner is…
TechRepublic member Scott Cargill won a free TechRepublic laser pointer for posting this comment:

“I just got out of a vendor presentation from heck. We are looking into replacing all of our handheld computers and invited some vendors to come in.

"This one company sent four people. One did the talking, another ran the notebook presentation, another counted ceiling tiles, and the fourth one constantly interrupted us with his ringing cell phone.

"After Mr. Cell Phone took about five calls at the conference table, our company president got up, snatched the cell phone from his hands and deposited it in the trashcan. At least THAT woke everyone up for a while!”

Cargill is a programmer/analyst with Hubbard ISA, LLC in Walpole, NH. He said the salesperson retrieved his cell phone from the trashcan on the way out.

Other members described vendor meetings that bordered on the ridiculous. Here are a few of the best horror stories:

“The rabid presenter (still trying to sell me on his company) followed me in the hall and down three flights of stairs. He was talking nonstop. Mr. Eager followed me through the parking lot, and was still trying to sell as I got into my car. He then actually ran next to my car, still trying to get a commitment as I drove off! Needless to say, they didn't get the contract.”
—MIS

“The [company] owner set up a vendor meeting on new software we ‘had’ to have. My forced attendance irked me quite a bit. After telling me how wonderful the software was and how badly I needed it, one of the six reps finally mentioned the name of the software—[it was] the same software we have been running for 10 months.”
—mikep

Tips for dealing with vendors
Several IT managers told us that they have developed efficient techniques for dealing with vendors. Most recommend that you treat vendor meetings as you would any other meeting: Set an agenda and establish a time limit. Other suggestions included:

“No meeting ever goes beyond 1 1/2 hours, no matter how much they gripe.”
—ehoffman

“I explain to [the vendor] that we're only interested in a vendor visit that entails a comprehensive question and answer demonstration that gets to the meat of the product, as opposed to a sales presentation.”
comprof

“Looking at your watch every two minutes or so gives them the general idea that you have other things to do. [Or tell them] ‘Everything has to go by the president, and he's as cheap as they come.’ [Or] have one of the secretaries page you after five minutes with ‘an important phone call.’”
—Meatmaker

“We use trade shows to preview and weed out prospective vendors. It's great when they are all in one place. Talking with other attendees is a heads-up on how happy they are and what level of frustration they have encountered with the product, support, and how they are utilizing it.”
—Sjlevy

“At a prior company, we had ground rules for vendor presentations. Prior to any vendor visit, we would provide them with info about our company and technical architecture to which their product must conform. Then we would tell them the number of slides [they were allowed to show] for their company background, list of competitors, what distinguishes them, technical requirements of product, and then and only then [it was] time for a demo.”
—dave_curry

“I have a game that I have my project team play. The game is called buzzword bingo, and each of the players has a card where each of the squares is a buzzword. Synergy, win-win, strategic competitive advantage—you get the picture. We don't let the vendor know that we are playing, and the first one to get a bingo must cough a certain way, or pull his/her ear. We use this for big corporate meetings as well.”
—Kellyt

Limit the number of people in a meeting?
In Artner’s column, he advised vendors that the potential account rep should demonstrate their knowledge during the sales presentation. Kile Mullen posted a comment that agreed with Artner’s advice. Mullen was working for a school district that was evaluating new phone systems and said the vendor that brought 10 people to the meeting didn’t get the contract.

In contrast, the senior management with another vendor briefly introduced them and left the meeting so the account rep and tech person could make the presentation to Mullen.

That impressed her. “That said to us that the people in charge had confidence that the people we were working with had the answers we needed,” wrote Mullen.

Vendors are people too
A few IT managers defended the vendors with comments like this:

“Before allowing any vendor across your doorstep, you should have performed due diligence about the products offered and the vendor viability and ability to solve your problems. If you wait until they're seated around the table, then you deserve to have your time wasted.”
—Gary S

But more often, the comments from IT managers were not sympathetic to the vendor’s plight. Most posted comments took this tone:

“Vendors don't want to waste time. However, the truth is they want your attention and unfortunately, they often mistake big and flashy as being better than simple and straight-to-the-point. I have had extensive meetings with vendors and their only goal is to make the deal. Granted, this is their job, but why not do it well rather than over do it?
—cory101
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