IT Policies optimize

10 things vendors do that will drive you crazy

If you've ever had a bad experience (or two) with a vendor, the items on this list will probably be familiar.

Vendors -- You can't live with them, you can't live without them. What IT manager hasn't looked at the IT-vendor relationship as one of love-hate? You need their products, services, and support to do your job and for your department to succeed. But why do they have to do those annoying things all the time?

If you see one of your own issues here, be assured that you are not alone. Also, while you yourself can't fix these issues, at least you can give this article to your vendors and hope they get the hint. Where possible, I've offered suggestions on how, if I were the vendor, I would address the matter.

1: Lying about the product

They simply can't be honest about the product, can they? They promise you the moon and show you a demonstration product that works miracles. But of course, the actual product works nothing like the demo.

You probably wonder how vendors can lie about the product, knowing that they'll be found out. Unfortunately, in many cases, the answer lies in the turnover of sales staff. They're thinking that soon, they'll be in another territory, job, or company. Or even worse, they're relying on the technical support staff or engineers to make good on the initial promises.

You have to rely on more than what the vendor tells you. You will need to ask business associates, user group members, and other sources about their experiences. If you are meeting in person with vendor reps, watch their body language when they answer your questions. Listen for uncertainty or hesitation. Don't be afraid to press for details to get a better read. After all, your own job could on the line.

2: Not knowing the product

Aggravating, isn't it, when you know more about the vendor's product than they do? That knowledge hardly gives you a comfortable or confident feeling. Wouldn't you be happier if the person answering your questions were doing more than quoting a product reference? Wouldn't you be more secure if the person knew the real-life limitations of that product?

3: Not listening

Are you annoyed when you ask a question and the vendor's response has nothing to do with what you asked? How about when you mention a key requirement that the vendor's product has to meet, but you get no acknowledgment of that requirement? Their habit of not listening to you might not be intentional. They might simply be so focused on trying to get the sale that they aren't hearing your questions or concerns. However, if they refuse to listen, and that behavior is sufficiently irritating, you just might look at a competitor instead.

4: Failing to empathize

Not only do vendors sometimes fail to listen, they may not empathize with you either. Doesn't it annoy you that they don't realize the underlying reasons for your questions about their product? Wouldn't you be happier if their answers actually addressed concerns they were perceptive enough to detect?

5: Passing the buck

Don't you hate when a person from one vendor department starts criticizing another vendor department? For example, a support engineer might tell you that the help desk is clueless. And then both the support engineer and the help desk might tell you that the marketing staff knows nothing. Those kinds of stories are the last thing you need to hear when you have a technical problem or question. Why can't they just work things out in private and present a unified front to their customers?

6: Providing poor documentation

First of all, does the documentation fail to answer your questions? Second, does it seem irrelevant to your particular needs? Too often, documentation is thrown together at the last minute by people who weren't involved in the development process. Even worse, that documentation, while possibly accurate in describing the product, often doesn't focus on what you need. For example, I've seen a lot of camera manuals that describe each button or lever but fail to contain a section on "If you want to do A, follow these steps." In other words, the documentation revolves around the product, not around how the customer needs to use the product.

7: Using an intolerable phone support system

Don't get me started on the inability to reach a live person. Or on phone systems that don't present the option you really need or offer a "catchall" option. My suggestion: Once you figure out the right sequence of keys, write it down. That way, you won't have to wade through all those menus next time.

8: Failing to set expectations

How often has the vendor surprised you? I don't mean that they unexpectedly gave you a $50 Starbucks card, either. I mean those cases where the vendor has led you to believe that the conversion, installation, or development would be smooth and timely, but now tells you of all the problems and delays that are arising. Do you think that person had any idea about these things earlier? Wouldn't you have appreciated knowing yourself? At least that way, you'd be better prepared when they do arise.

9: Overpromising

This issue is related to the previous ones. Can the vendor be realistic about what the product actually does? In fact, wouldn't you put more faith in them if they actually disclosed the things the product can't do? Or if they at least qualified the prerequisites needed for that product to do what you are asking?

10: Not keeping in touch

How often do you feel that you are being treated like mushrooms? Have you been left in the dark while the vendor turns to another organization to get answers your questions? When nothing is going on, wouldn't you appreciate it if the vendor told you that? If nothing else, you would know that the vendor hasn't forgotten you.

Additional resources

Other vendor beefs?

What irritates you the most when dealing with vendors? Have you found some particularly effective ways to manage or improve those relationships?

About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

17 comments
pcrx_greg
pcrx_greg

How about when a vendor signs you up for a program and then after you work hard to meet the requirements of the program, they up all the requirements so you don't qualify for the program. You hitch your business to their wagon and now you aren't allowed to participate any longer.

barts185
barts185

This could be a case study in how things should be vs. how they are in the real world. Really amused by some of the comments here, and how the list was expanded when a lot of the items are the same thing. For example, 1,8,and 9 are the same thing. Imagine this - you hear 3 pitches. Vendor 1 says they do 50% of the things you need. Vendor 2 says they do 60% of the things you need. Vendor 3 says they do 95% of the things you need. Anyone who says they are going to recommend any vendor other than 3 is . . . amusing. Then it's a case of up the ladder CYA when it doesn't do what you need. Let's say you recommend 2, and your boss asks why you chose them when vendor 3 says they do 95% of what you wanted. Unless you can actually prove that they are lying, good luck on your next job.

Shadeburst
Shadeburst

You invite three or four companies to pitch for your business, they show up as a team of suits, and leave piles of glossy brochures on your desk. Huh. In the end I went for the company that asked me to put a day aside to come to their offices and play with similar apps in a "live" environment, then visit two of their other clients to see the app in action and hear the enthusiastic user comments.

tarose.trevor
tarose.trevor

I have worked as an account manager & BDM for both distributors & developers, and in both cases I had to argue with my bosses about my training & the things that I needed to do my job well... so I understand this list. I feel the frustration of customers, because the business approach to managing their sales team is often to think of income/expenses first & service second

cd613
cd613

1. parking in my parking spot 2. hitting on my/our/the secretaries 3. not bribing 4. not getting super bowl tickets [see 3] 5. not getting skysuite [see 4] allegedly .. so i'm told

TomMerritt
TomMerritt

Aren't most of us on TechRepublic vendors to someone or other? This is a good compilation of what drives you crazy in our business today. We should all remember when we read these thing to occasionally drop back a second and reflect on whether or not we're doing anything like this, even on a minor scale. Reflection is good.

a.portman
a.portman

"I will have to check with my engineer on that." is not an answer to a question. Neither is reading the slick from your web site. Promises?? For several years I worked on a Novell network. The very first thing out of my mouth was, "Will it run on Novell?" At least a dozen companies said yes, when they meant, "after you add a Windows server." The first thing I do now when I have a problem is call out accounts payable and hold the money. Next I tell the sales monkey his money is on hold until it works.

sperry532
sperry532

Vendors that call and call and call and call and will NOT take no for an answer. You repeatedly tell the same salesman that their product is not what you need or want and NO, you're not going to schedule a free hour for a face-to-face meeting to listen to their sales pitch.

technical.angel
technical.angel

Called rep about Product A and ended up buying Product A. Yay. Until I started getting AT LEAST a call a week from said rep about Product B. I understand wanting to stay in contact, and make a sale, but if you're being told that someone else is making the decision, and you'll be contacted immediately upon word, QUIT CALLING!

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

What annoys me is all those "hidden charges" or "extra costs" that are not part of the contract but are supposed to be understood. Example, some vendors sell software and only quote the price of the software. When we are hit with the total contract amount, implementation and training are charged extra. Duh? If a vendor is selling their own proprietary software, how are we supposed to know how to use it without being trained?

GSG
GSG

I'm dealing with all 10 right now with one vendor 1) Promised product could do xyz. It can't. 2) Sales and implementations don't know what the product can and can't do 3) They definitely don't listen when we tell them that we have to have #1 and they are going to have to figure it out. 4) Their response is, "Can't you do that manually?" Not without adding 3 FTE's, we can't. 5) Implementations punted it back to sales to figure out. Sales punted it to engineering, who punted it back to implementations. 6) What documentation? 7) I call for support for one product line, and they give me to support for a different product line, then chew me out for calling the wrong support group, which I didn't do. 8) "most sites install this in 6 weeks!" How? I'm on 6 months, and the problem is that the vendor won't meet deadlines, or even do any work unless I have a come to jesus call. 9) We can do anything! Yes, we can! Uh, no, not so much dude. You can't even get these fields on this report despite those fields being available to us to put on the report. 10) You sent the Project Manager to India in the middle of my project? REALLY?!?! In what universe do you think that is acceptable? He's been out of contact for a month, and no one else will answer my calls. You forget that we still owe you a lot of cash and that you don't get paid until I sign off on it. I have no qualms about never signing off on a product unless it meets every single line item in the contract. So far, you've met about 50%, so I'm holding onto that last 95% of what we owe you.

alfred
alfred

It is over 20 years since I saw a manual for software which was really useful. All current documents are too short and tell you what the product can do but never tell you how to do it. The more difficult the problem the less information there is in the manual. One helpful guide led me to a screen and told me to click on a link which was not there. As an engineer managing major projects I often held up final payments to force my contractors to provide proper documentation. I think the software industry needs something similar.

TsarNikky
TsarNikky

Items #6 and #7 are absolute deal killers--and so easy to fix. Pity, vendors to fix the easy problems. [My whole career was spent making sure that topic #6 never happened with our software.]

stanfordgriffith
stanfordgriffith

I had one who constantly called me to the point that when I wasn't in, she would call my boss's secretaries at least 12 times a day. And when this woman did get through to me, she asked me all kinds of personal information (dating, kids, etc.), which had nothing to do with the company's cut-rate yet over-priced toner cartridges. Then came her crying and sob story and begging me to buy from her. And then the bribe. Finally, I told her if she called me again, I was going to speak to her boss and get her fired. Not two weeks later, she called again (I know it was her because she had a distinctive voice) with a different first name, a different company name, the same product, and the same bribe. And it all started all over again. Oh, and her bribe both times? A bag of M&Ms.

jasmine2501
jasmine2501

I think they do this to "maintain the relationship" which allows them to continue calling. It's harassment, unless they have a prior business relationship with you. I find that a few well-placed curse words is appropriate for these people. They are disrespecting you, so you're well within your right to disrespect them back.

eclypse
eclypse

Most vendors can practically give their software away (although they don't) because they know they can get even more out of you in software maintenance than they ever did from the original cost of the software (_especially_ ERP and database vendors). They don't even have to work for that money, they just have to know you can't really go anywhere else without spending more to get out of their hole. They might provide a few updates and patches and they might also break a few things in the process, but you still have to pay - up front, on time, and then if you let it slip, you have to pay back maintenance for all those wonderful things you "missed." My favourite is when they stop supporting your platform or put it on half-ass support and still keep charging you full price. =)

TsarNikky
TsarNikky

You were correct in holding up payment before proper documentation was supplied. Regrettably, all the ballyhoo about on-line help is just that--ballyhoo. None of them include the "how to do something." All they provide is usually a description of the window and the choices available--rarely the "why."