A colleague of mine,  who now works at a large nationwide mortgage banking company, was telling me how difficult it has become, as an enterprise customer, to get evaluations or even product information on some new products from some companies. From his post today:

Why don't other companies like IBM do things like this? For instance, the company I work for wanted replace our custom built employee portal and asked several companies for help testing their products. When the person in charge told Microsoft that they'd like to try Sharepoint, Microsoft said, "sure, we'll send out two people to help you set it up." However when IBM was approached we were told that it would take three months to setup Websphere Portal Server and cost us a million dollars! All we wanted was a proof of concept so that we could make an informed decision!

Unfortunately, I've seen this as well. At the same time, clients tell me that Microsoft has been very aggressive at not only providing software but evaluation support for their products. I say, good for Microsoft. Perhaps this is one reason the boss loves Microsoft.  (FWIW: The enterprise customers I'm thinking of are currently Notes shops; one would think this problem would not exist for them. Apparently not so.)

I am increasingly amazed at how difficult some businesses are making it for customers to
give them money.  The only reason I'm bothering to blog about this is that it was not always this way.

I remember in the "old" days, when I used to design and deploy enterprise messaging systems. I could call up cc:Mail in Mountainview, speak to a real person, (who spoke English that I could understand), explain that I had a corporate client that wanted to evaluate a product, and have a box of software sent to us overnight. I used to be able to do the same for my consulting firm. As a result, we made many successful product demonstrations and enterprise messaging deployments for clients across the United States. These generated a significant number of enterprise sales for cc:Mail/Lotus/IBM. Things changed a bit when Lotus bought cc:Mail, but we could still call Lotus in Cambridge, talk to someone who spoke English (sometimes with a Boston accent), and have cc;Mail, Notes, or the various add-ins sent to us to demo to our clients. Since IBM purchased Lotus, my clients and I have found the experience has been much different.  That's too bad.  I know that there are many people at IBM who work very hard to make sure that the IBM Notes product is well represented to corporate customers. Probably the best example is Ed Brill, who works tirelessly to educate customers about IBM products and services. (Thank you, Ed!) Unfortunately for IBM, there's only one Ed Brill.

I'm not trying to play favorites between IBM and Microsoft here. I recommend and support products from both vendors - when I feel that they are a good match for my customer's needs. What I am trying to do is make a point.

I believe that software companies should consider the lost opportunity when a technology consultant or enterprise IT manager calls to ask to evaluate a product and they make it difficult for him to do so. How much does it cost to send out a product or email a link for a consultant or potential customer to evaluate?
Sometimes, the eagerness of making the sale combined with the formality of the sales "qualification" process can get in the way of developing an internal champion for the product. When that happens, it's a lost opportunity for both client and vendor (and sometimes, the consultant, too).

All of this won't prevent me from recommending or championing great products that I feel are a fit for my client's needs. It does make it much more difficult for me to show clients the products that I feel would be of benefit to them. Further, with some vendors becoming more aggressive in their pro-active marketing and customer support, I find that some enterprise customers now feel that "certain" software companies just don't care. As a result, they may make product purchasing decisions for reasons other than product suitability, quality, scalability, enterprise support, etc.. (Those end up being the most costly decisions for everyone.)

I recently helped a client evaluate an enterprise wireless solution. I sent the same letter to several vendors, introducing myself and asking to evaluate their products on behalf of my client. Only one company made it easy for me to do so. Guess which one got my client's business?

What do you think? What kind of experiences have you had trying to evaluate enterprise-class software products?

Discussion/Comments (3):

Vendors place bets carefully

Eric, it's always frustrating when a vendor doesn't jump in and provide demos, but I think I know why. It's sort of the same reason that dentists or psychiatrists don't provide free consults--a lot of people just don't want to pay. I had a summer job during college where I worked in a tractor garage in the heartland of Kansas. Farmers would come in with equipment that could be 30 or 40 years old, all the bolts were sheared off from too much plier chewing and the farmer would ask if we could just a fuel additive (STP) and get it back working. Guess what, I hear this same statement from clients every week--could we just come and take and look at their problem and give it a kick? For free. If a bigger problem is found, then, sure, they'd probably use us.

No go.

If the company is too cheap to hire us for a consult, then they are too cheap to hire us to fix the job. I have done "free" orientations or consults, but only because I believed the client. If the vendor doesn't jump to demo new solutions, then it's because the vendor isn't convinced in the sincerity of the client. Getting a vendor to demo sophisticated solutions requires real committment, and that takes repeated negotiations, not just a last minute opening on the client's dance card.

Posted at 02/20/2005 10:48:07 by Jack Dausman

Yes, but vendors still must place bets or they won´t have an opportunity to win

Hello, Jack, and thanks for your response. I'm glad you did not jump into the Big Blue vs Microsoft debate, as that was not my point. My point had to do with the willingness/unwillingness of vendors to place product and demos in the hands of people most able to influence the company. Sometimes the real champion - the one who can influence and make the sale - is someone inside or outside of the company who may not be the "traditional influencer." Still, these people have tremendous influence over the IT and purchasing decisions of the organization. When these players are overlooked, so are the sales opportunities.

That said, your point that vendors place bets carefully is well taken.

At the same time, I'm talking about large organizations, who DO purchase these products and services. They just feel limited at times by how easy it is (or is not) to conduct business. I could understand if one company were to say "we don't provide evaluations of product X for whatever reason or unless the prospect meets the following qualifications," fine with me. At the same time, with other vendors in the same space are generously seeding the marketplace with their products, it changes the playing field. For those vendors who were hesitant to play by making it possible for companies to easily evaluate their products, they may find themselves shut out of a marketplace that they were qualified to own a significant part of. And therein lies my point.

I used to be CTO at a software company that developed and marketed one of my enterprise messaging products. Many years ago, before the internet made click-download evaluations inexpensive and easy, we pre-screened candidates before we shipped out a 30-day evaluation of our product to the potential buyer. Along the way, we learned that the people influencing the enterprise sales of our products were not necessarily the traditional buyers, so we changed our model and became more generous with product evaluations, even seeding small-user licenses of free product. It really did not cost us much anyway. We found that the "small" champions of our products, who had perhaps received a free 2 or 5-user license, often brought our product with them into their organizations creating a significant sales opportunities for us. Did some people take advantage of our generosity? Absolutely. Was it worth it. I think so.

Posted at 02/22/2005 9:48:11 by Eric Mack

It´s not the consultants but large software companies.


If you as a consultant give away free time or product you will inevitably get ripped off. I believe what Eric and what my original post was talking about is large software vendors.

For instance I know several Lotus Notes consultants who would like to evaluate Sametime but can't get an evaluation version. Here if they liked the product, they would become a low cost salesman for IBM.

Posted at 02/22/2005 15:38:04 by Tanny O'Haley

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