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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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 of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.