Apparently I am a Dumbass

imageEarlier this week, I gave two presentations in Orlando, FL. One, at the AIIM Conference was well received; it was about SharePoint and ECM and will take a few blog posts to sort out.

The second presentation was to the Service Provider Executive Forum (SPEF) and unfortunately, it’s very easy to describe. The vendors attending SPEF are the ones who sell scanning services, document storage, printers, copiers and scanners. SPEF was one of those conference-within-a-conference deals, and my presentation was part of a ‘User Feedback’ panel.

I worked hard on this presentation. It was a good presentation. It just wasn’t the message this group wanted to hear. I’m sorry for that, but I don’t have a great history with this industry. My message wasn’t a feel-good story. I talked about why we don’t use many of these services, and how our most recent encounter has gone somewhat off the rails. I had hoped that the organizer was right when she told me:

They will appreciate your candor

Here’s a tip: if you ever hear those words, run. Drop everything, don’t tweet about it, don’t snap a picture, don’t think twice – just run.

Our story in a nutshell – we are small. This industry’s story in a my-opinion-nutshell – they are commodity brokers seeking a sale at any cost.

The best analogy I can come up with is that buying these services or products is like buying a digital camera; they all take pictures, they all have good battery life and they all let me move pictures to my PC, tablet, Cloud storage, etc. Once I decide the few, somewhat unique features (zoom, video, and form-factor) that I want, it comes down to picking the one that’s most comfortable.

The problem – that we have experienced – is that some salespeople want to be the mystic swami in your life. They don’t want informed customers. They don’t want to hear your story; they want to tell you theirs.

My presentation carefully presented our position, our real-life experience and then I took “questions” I put that in quotes because most of what I heard were not questions per se.

Why didn’t you buy a scanner? Scanning to SharePoint from dedicated scanners seems to provide more robust options than scanning from multi-function copies (MFCs)…who knew? More importantly, who cares? The fact of the matter is that we don’t have a space for a dedicated scanner, nor do we have the volume to justify one. In addition, we only want to have to learn how to use one device.

Why didn’t you do an RFI first?  Seriously, an RFI for two MFCs?

You’re ignoring the money you could save by outsourcing all the scanning to us. I reminded this person that I had explained the very, very high cost of teaching someone how to classify and index our documents.

Finally, a white knight emerged. Addressing the audience, he said:

What I’m hearing is that you guys are saying that Dan is a dumbass

Ah…well…thanks?

His point was that I failed to engage with them according to their preferred sales method. Apparently, from their perspective, that was my mistake.

One woman came up to me afterwards and said “I don’t think you’re a dumbass, but this managed metadata thing sounds like a unique requirement.” I reminded her that it’s a mainstream feature of a major product. I didn’t invent it; I just want to use it. More importantly, it was a written requirement that we were willing to explain.

One guy followed me to my next presentation, all the way telling me that if I had done an RFI he would have been able to explain why we needed a scanner. I explained, again, why we chose MFCs over a dedicated scanner.

He turned up again later as I was boarding the bus to the conference social event. He started telling me about the features of the scanner. The one we don’t want – as if he thought that if he gave the same pitch often enough I might just buy one. My friend (who sells a high-end ECM product) said:

This guy sells hammers. You have a screw, but he still has to try and sell you a hammer.” He added, “It’s a sales technique we call show-up and throw-up.”

I’ll leave you with the message in my final two slides. When we look for vendors to help us, we look for a vendor who will:

  • Be a business partner with us
  • Let us do the portions of the project that we feel we need to closely control
  • Accept that we know our business and know enough about yours to evaluate you/your product or services as compared to others that are available
  • Think long term; think beyond this sale and this commission.

Oh, and don’t lie to me. I can handle the truth.

Vendors – Your Bad

The problem that we are having with about a dozen desktop scanners has caused me to think about those scanners, and the things I could have done better when I bought them, when they failed and as I try to replace them. This experience has also caused me to think about the vendors I deal with. I have written in the past about a small handful of great vendors that we rely on and trust. Today, I need to talk about the larger group of vendors, the ones I really have to wonder about.

I will start with the ones involved in this current problem from which I derive two important messages. One, when you (vendor) have a problem with your product, admit it, fix it and do something to repair the relationship with the customers who bought it. Two, stop advertising capabilities as if they are features. If I own your product and it has a problem, I expect you to fix it. If you do fix the problem, my opinion of you improves. If you fail to fix the problem, or if you make me fight with you, my opinion of you suffers. However, if I buy your product and discover that I now have to buy some other product to get yours to work, your product is going back and you are off the list. Simply put, “I expect problems, I won’t tolerate lies“.

My next message is to the vendors I work with, and it is a simple message: “use the information you collect“. Given the amount of information I provide when I purchase and register a product, I should never receive a blind call from an existing vendor again. If you want to sell me more stuff, that’s fine, but at least recognize me as a previous customer. If you want me to enter my customer number into your voice mail system, that’s fine, but then don’t ask me to provide all my customer information when I do reach a human being. While I am talking (in theory) to our existing vendors, please align your compensation practices with your marketing message. There are companies out there that advertise how important their customers are, but give lower or no commission for renewals and follow-on sales. I once had a cell phone saleswoman tell me she would process the one new phone I was ordering but asked me to process 10 renewals at the local store. The “problem” from her perspective was that since we already had high minutes and a data plan, there was nothing left to “sell” me! One more thing, drop those stupid sales programs. I also had a salesman ask me to wait a week to buy a product because he wanted the sale to “work down his funnel“. It seems the “funnel” sales process is one that rewards the salesman for “working the customer”; if the customer buys too soon, the salesman, apparently wasn’t necessary.

I also have some advice for the true cold-callers out there; oh wait, it’s the same advice, “don’t lie to me!” Don’t tell me you read our web site and then ask me questions that are blatantly answered on the home page. Yes, we are a type of “association”; yes we have “members” – no, we don’t want to buy software to help us collect dues and schedule pool parties. I told a vendor at the AIIM show that I liked his product but didn’t think I could afford it. He said: “you can install this for less than $100 per user“. OK, $99 per user is less than $100, but he neglected to mention the $5,000 per-server component until we asked for a quote. Finally, for the marketing managers out there, when did “15 minutes” become the defacto insignificant amount of time? The number of phone calls, emails and voice mails I receive asking me for “just 15 minutes” has increased at an alarming rate in 2010. Trust me, in far less than 15 minutes, I will know whether or not I am interested in your product.

I don’t respond to spam, but I am a pretty nice customer. I try to not be rude, I respond to legitimate email inquires and I will explain why we don’t need, or can’t afford a product / service; occasionally, I even buy something. Like every person in the work-force, my time is valuable (I am getting paid while I talk to you); I work hard to not waste my company’s money. That includes not going to the store to buy something you can sell me over the phone, not reminding you of the information you have collected in the past and not giving you 15 minutes of my time so you can ratchet me to the next step in your sales program.