Leadership

Protect your IT consultancy from untrustworthy vendors

Erik Eckel says a vendor gave a client false information about a solution his IT consultancy deployed. He discusses IT consultants' only defense in such situations with vendors.

Sometimes it feels like vendors are out to get IT consultants. Here's one real-world example that may help explain why I feel this way. (To keep the peace and to protect client confidences, I don't mention names, companies, and the like.)

An internal sales force of a major vendor forwarded demonstrably false information to my consulting firm's client in an attempt to upsell our client. Most egregious was the fact the vendor informed the client that the solution my office deployed was inappropriate, when it is the very device the vendor recommends for such scenarios. Even worse, the vendor's website touts the device's capacities as exponentially exceeding this client's requirements.

The client was kind enough to forward me their entire email thread with the vendor, but consultants aren't always aware a vendor is working subversively in the background to undermine the consultancy's credibility just to, I suspect, hit their sales goals. The episode was a reminder that some vendors tell you one thing, and then they do something else. In this case, I was able to perform tests in the client's presence to prove the vendor's claims were false, but sometimes simple and conclusive tests aren't always readily available.

What's a consultant to do?

I thought our consultancy had a very strong relationship with this vendor; unfortunately, it seems that establishing strong relationships with the vendor and speaking and meeting regularly with a sales representative or account executive (many of whom rotate as if through a revolving door) doesn't always matter. Neither does moving a lot of units for the vendor, as we certainly met that requirement in this situation, too.

I believe a consultant's only defense when recommending and selling hardware and software is to present in writing intended duty cycles, specifications, and loads. Here's how that would work.

When selling a printer, for example, you shouldn't just recommend a "color laser" or HP LaserJet 5550n. (The vendor in the example was not HP.) Instead, on your formal recommendation or estimate, you should list HP Color LaserJet 5550n Printer, and include the device's intended load specifications:

  • Prints up to 27 pages per minute
  • Provides black print resolution up to 600x600 dpi
  • Provides color print resolution up to 600x600 dpi
  • Supports recommended monthly print volume of 2,500 to 10,000 pages
  • Possesses a duty cycle of up to 120,000 pages

This extra step is a pain, and it will slow you down. However, it will provide you with a defense if the vendor corresponds with the client directly, stating the 5550n is inappropriate for an office with three staff members that prints maybe 1,000 pages a month. The client will already know you've compared their requirements with the manufacturer's recommendations, reviewed different options, and recommended a model that meets their stated requirements. With this information at hand, the client will have a better understanding that the vendor is seizing an opportunity to sow confusion and sell an unnecessary upgrade.

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About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

7 comments
MeijerTSR
MeijerTSR

In situations like that, what I have done before was, I called my venders number but did not enter my account rep's extension, when the company operator answered I asked to speak to a "senior" sales rep. I explained the situation and I let the senior sales rep make a recommendation on how to handle it. If the senior sales rep were to defend his sales person, its good bye forever, there are other venders out there. I was very surprised on what the senior sales rep recommended and still use them today.

Bonzaros
Bonzaros

Our vendors have no contact with our clients at all. No names, address or phone number. Everything goes via us. If there's a problem with a delivery it's sorted by us before the client is involved. If we need to return or replace something it's all handled by us. If there's a warranty issue, eg. with HP, then the appointment is made by us. So far, their agents haven't caused any problems.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

Thanks for writing. I appreciate your taking time to comment. The point of this article isn't to criticize one specific company. There's little value in outing a single vendor that had a bad day. Instead, the goal is to remind consultants to be skeptical of all vendors and hopefully provide some advice on how consultants can proactively protect themselves from baseless claims a vendor or even competing IT consultancy might make in the process of upselling or trying to steal the client.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

My office forms relationships with vendors only because, in many cases, it's required to resell their products and remain knowledgeable of their platforms. My shop always begins projects by listening to the client's needs and then recommending product that meets those requirements. I suspect we're as vendor agnostic as any other consultancy. Unfortunately, long-term success requires establishing relationships with many vendors, otherwise you're not eligible to participate in their training and certification programs, you're ineligible to purchase their product, you're out of the loop on patches and updates, you're unaware of new releases, etc.

ion_tichy
ion_tichy

As an independent IT consultant/contractor, I stay away from aligning myself with a specific vendor or vendors. I suppose you can say it is part of being independent. If I purchase hardware or software from a vendor or big box store for my client, I pass the costs onto the client with no mark up. My rate covers the extra hassle of doing so. Other times I recommend to the client to do the purchasing if the costs are high. Either way, I do not form an alliance with any vendor, hence, no conflict of interest. This does not mean that a vendor will not slander or denigrate me. That is why a consultant should document his/her proposals, recommendations, specifications, and run tests with the client as outlined in the article. This approach has always saved me, as well as being honest with the client, even if it means I may have missed something.

Old Timer 8080
Old Timer 8080

" Sometimes it feels like vendors are out to get IT consultants. Heres one real-world example that may help explain why I feel this way. (To keep the peace and to protect client confidences, I dont mention names, companies, and the like.) " If you notice my comments in other blogs, I NAME NAMES and COMPANIES... You do a disservice to the TR community by hiding the names of the vendors involved. " Cockroaches scurry when they are exposed to light " The same applies to the LIARS in our Tech Community.... We need more HONEST people. Hiding the vendor who lies contributes to the decline of business practices ( think ENRON ) everywhere and makes the engineeer's job much more difficult. The same applies to the politicians in our government....

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

The vendor wants to direct the customer without the pesky input from a third party. The vendor will tell you that's because the consultants don't know what they're doing, while they probably fear that the consultant will show that the vendor is the one who is ignorant, Anything the consultant can do to demonstrate a willingness to cooperate and avoid finger-pointing may help.

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