In the January 26, 2009, issue of InformationWeek magazine, the cover story is about “vendor satisfaction.” They surveyed some 345 business technology professionals and asked them a slew of questions about their satisfaction with vendors. I found some of the results surprising.

“Only 28% of the IT pros responding to our survey say key features a salesperson promised were actually available in their last major product rollout. Another 24% say key features turned out to be fictitious.”

Fictitious? Goodness.

Put another way, nearly 3/4 of the respondents said that the key features promised by the salesperson were NOT delivered!

How is this possible? Are 3/4 of the salespeople liars?

I think there are several things going on here:

  1. Buyers hear what they want to hear. When they ask, “Will this make billing easier?” and the answer is “Yes,” then they assume it will make billing easier, as they know it. But what the buyer is asking for, and what the salesperson answers may be two different things.
  2. Sellers don’t dig deep enough. Using the same example above, a good salesperson would respond with “Well, tell me about your billing process now and let’s compare that to what you would do in our system.” Instead, eager to make a sale, the saleperson immediately says “Yes.”
  3. Both sides are afraid of looking foolish, which means neither side is likely to say “I don’t understand.” This is related to both items above. When something is unclear to either side, often neither will say so. The buyer doesn’t want to look foolish or needy, and the seller doesn’t want to look like he or she can’t answer all the questions.

One way to avoid this, of course, is to use a qualified and seasoned consultant to help with major purchases. A good consultant, who works with certain types of vendors all the time, will know if a question has been answered thoroughly, or if either party is dodging, or not digging deeply enough.

I’d be very interested to know what the responses to these surveys would look like if you compared experiences between those who had used a consultant and those who had done it on their own. I suspect the results would be very different.