As with users and help desk staff, those merry men and women who sell computer software and hardware also have a hidden language. It is not a hard code to crack, as long as you remember that their priorities are not the same as yours.

Your goal is to buy as much good kit as possible while preserving what is left of your quickly dwindling budget. The salesperson’s goal is to relieve you of as much of your budget as possible and to promote those product lines that carry the best commission points or manufacturer’s incentives. With this in mind, I give you my translation of common IT sales catchphrases. Knowing them can protect your budget and your sanity.

Read more

Check out Jeff Dray’s article “Unlock the hidden meanings in help desk language” for more information on the secret language of help desk workers and end users.

Beware of promised longevity
They say: “This technology is future-proof”
They mean: “It’s as good as we can make it today, but tomorrow we’ll have a faster, cheaper model. However, buying that won’t help because tomorrow’s model will soon be superseded by next week’s model.” Technology is constantly evolving, and no piece of software or hardware will last forever, regardless of what anyone tells you.

They say: “This item is ‘state-of-the-art’ and ‘bang-up-to-the-minute.'”
They mean: “We had these on order for three months. We thought the shipment had been lost and we reordered it twice. Now all three shipments have arrived together and are overflowing our warehouse. To cap it all off, we just learned that the price is going to drop next month, and if we don’t unload them soon we’ll be up a certain smelly waterway without any means of propulsion.” Very seldom does your organization or a client need the latest technology. You don’t need a 2.0 GHz system with 512 MB of RAM for word processing and surfing the Web. Don’t let the salesperson talk you into buying technology only because it may be “state-of-the-art.”

It’s not always that simple
They say: “Any idiot could work it.”
They mean: “I should know, I did.” While many IT salespeople are intelligent individuals who are competent in the products they sell, these same people rarely know how to actually operate the items they’re selling. Time and again they can only perform a simple demonstration. Remember these are salespeople with, more than likely, a sales background. They’re not experienced IT people capable of judging a product’s ease of use.

They say: “It’s so advanced even I don’t fully understand it.”
They mean: “Of course, I struggle with the menu at Burger King.” See my comments to the previous catchphrase.

They say: “It features a superb user interface.”
They mean: “Even I understood it, and I have to get my five-year-old to set the VCR.” Again, see my comments to the “Any idiot could work it” catchphrase.

Sure, we can support that
They say: “We can assist with any corporate deployment.”
They mean: “We will send a grubby little kid straight out of college to help you unpack the server. He will clear off about lunchtime for two hours and then, when you have finished the setup by yourself, he’ll come back and nod wisely. It will only cost you £500 per day. Mind you, he will be wearing a suit and carry the glorious title of Consultant.” This has happened to me too many times to count. While many companies offer excellent technical support, I’ve worked with several who were sorely lacking in this area. Be sure to ask the salesperson for a detailed description of the support policy. Ask about the expertise of their support staff. Ask for a list of reference companies you can speak with who have bought their products in the recent past.

They say: “Our support line is always on hand to assist you.”
They mean: “But woe to you if you don’t have the tag number at hand. Any delay in reading it out to our support droid will result in a prompt but sarcastic reply.” Again, be sure to understand all pertinent support policies. If you’re required to have a customer ID number or product ID number when calling the technical support line, be sure to have the items ready.

They say: “Our sales consultants are ready to assist you at all times.”
They mean: “We are always ready to sell you numerous items that you don’t really want or need.” It’s been my experience that no contact with a salesperson is possible without him or her trying to sell you something. Of course this is a salesperson’s job, so why should we expect anything different?

You better act now
They say: “This is a one-time-only, unrepeatable offer.”
They mean: “The company that makes the item just went bust.” Be cautious about buying items that will soon be discontinued or whose manufacturer isn’t the most reliable. You may save a few quid in the short term, but you’ll pay for it when you need technical support.

They say: “This model is a particularly good buy at the moment.”
They mean: “I only have to unload three more of these to win the mountain bike and a day at a corporate hospitality event.” Just because something is on sale doesn’t mean you should buy it. Salespeople will often try to push you into buying a product that has the highest commission and best manufacturer’s incentive. Remember, the salesperson’s interests are not the same as yours.

Do your homework and watch out for yourself
So what’s the moral of all this? First, before purchasing that new OS or faster processor, decide if you really need it. I know this sounds like common sense, but you can’t believe how many times I’ve seen both end users and IT pros alike buy kit they don’t need or want after listening to a slick-talking salesperson.

This brings us to this story’s second moral, which is “stick to your guns.” Once you’ve decided on the item you need and want, don’t be swayed by what the salesperson tells you. While there are exceptions to this rule, it’s rare that the salesperson knows more about what you and your users actually need than you do. And if you’re working on a tight IT budget, you probably can’t afford a lot of frilly extras.

Doing more with less
For more information on getting more for your money and stretching a tight budget, check out the following TechRepublic articles and columns:

Share your money-saving tips

Have you found a particularly effective method of fending off pushy IT salespeople? How do you convince non-IT coworkers that they don’t always need the latest, most expensive technology? Post a comment to this article and let us know what you think.