Technology vendor selection for marketing and IT managers – who to trust?

This post is by Anton Buchner, a senior consultant with TrinityP3. Anton is one of Australia’s leaders in data-driven marketing. Helping navigate through the bells, whistles and hype to identify genuine marketing value when it comes to technology, digital activity, and the resulting data footprint.

technology vendor selection

Are you looking for:

  • software, hardware or cloud based solutions
  • lead nurturing and automation technology
  • location based technology
  • integrated 1st, 2nd, and 3rd party data solutions
  • CRM or single customer view platforms
  • programmatic media solutions
  • tag management
  • digital asset management
  • content management systems
  • back end website development and tech support
  • email or mobile messaging deployment
  • streaming, hosting services or something else?

Market Research firm, Vanson Bourne, and PR Group, Hotwire, have released “The Changing Face of Influence” Report.

The Report is based on surveying 1000 decision makers to help make sense of the way marketing and IT departments engage with media sources when choosing external technology vendors – exploring their habits, preferred channels and the ways they make use of different sources of information to make purchasing decisions.

Whilst most of the Report is pretty generic in terms of utilising social media as channels for vendor research and influence, there were two stats that stood out for me.

  • 50% of decision makers would like to see more impartial and independent commentary being issued by vendors
  • 41% of decision makers say the single biggest change vendors can make is by sharing more external opinion as part of their overall marketing strategy

This points to the confusion in the market at the moment that marketers and IT managers are facing.

Who to trust when it comes to assessing technology vendors?

Who to trust?

I’m sure you’ve experienced it before when sitting through vendor presentations and pitches for your business.

Each vendor sounds “amazing” as they peddle their wares. Promising to “revolutionize” your approach and take your business into the future with open eyes and “frictionless” ease.

However, do you believe the hype?

How can you get a truly independent view?

And who should you trust with your open mind and open wallet?

Top sources revealed

The Changing Face of Influence Report reveals that the leading types of information searched for by marketers when assessing vendors are:

  • customer stories (case studies from vendors) 48%
  • direct customer references (by telephone or visit) 48%
  • thought leader/opinion pieces (from vendors) 46%
  • external peer opinions 42%
  • independent consultant opinions 40%

Let me explore these five areas a little deeper.

Customer stories

Case studies from vendors are always important in order to make sure that they have actually implemented their promises and theory.

However having seen a myriad of case studies before you need to make sure that you probe deeply into what they’re actually saying.

Here are three questions to help you:

1. Are they international or local case studies?

Some vendors live off their international counterparts. Which is awesome to help them win new business, but they can shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to actual local capability (which is what most clients want).

You need to get a real sense of what role the local team played in any global case study, especially if it was localised. Or is it purely an international case study in which you clearly need to identify the market state, client state, and how the relationship was formed?

If a local team was involved, then ask specifically what the roles of the global versus local teams were, and what they specifically delivered throughout the process of implementation?

This often reveals a different story to what was originally being portrayed.

2. Are they totally relevant?

Be careful of generic case studies that aren’t really relevant to your requirements.

Many vendors make the mistake of putting their best stories forward, but forget that clients are only really interested in their own challenges.

So don’t be afraid to apply the ‘so what’ factor with vendors – challenging them to make their story relevant to your needs.

3. Are the stories accurate?

Now I’m not suggesting for a minute that vendors would not be telling anything other than the truth, however how do you know whether the information they’re giving you is an accurate account of what they actually delivered?

Make sure you ask whether they were part of a wider vendor services roster or operating alone? And if part of a roster, then what role they actually played?

Ask what role the client played in the case study and what was the client’s level of technology maturity and knowledge around the area the vendor was solving?

You can also probe deeper into specific people. Ask who was critical from the client side? And whether the vendor will provide contact details for you to contact the client directly?

One of the best ways to judge vendor case studies is actually speaking directly with the client that they worked with. This often gives a much clearer picture of the roles and responsibilities and overall project case study for you to make a truly informed judgment.

Which leads nicely to point two in the list of leading types of information searched for by marketers when assessing vendors.

Direct customer references

As above, request up to three direct client references to contact. Any smart vendor isn’t likely to give you poor references as a contact, so go into the visits or phone calls that you make with eyes and ears wide open.

It is often recommended to ask permission from the reference provided, to also speak with a day-to-day team member. This can often give a different perspective to a manager’s helicopter view and reveal greater insights from on the ground activity in dealing with the specific vendor.

The purpose of these calls is to make sure that you ask for the good, the bad and the ugly.

Make sure that you discover any pitfalls, shortcomings, or major challenges that the client faced in working with the vendor. And identify whether the challenges were related to people, processes or over-promises?

Probe into the different level and capability of people on the vendor side. Get clear information on the quality and level of process followed. And make sure you discover how the vendor reacted to the client’s requests throughout the project or relationship.

Were timings outlined and adhered to? And how were elements re-prioritised throughout the project if challenges or opportunities were identified from left field?

Thought leader/opinion pieces (from vendors)

This is one of the easiest desk research types now available.

Search for your vendor’s points of view in the market.

Typically you’re trying to find pieces they have written for their owned channels (ie: blogs, video platforms, apps, newsletters etc). But also pieces from 3rd party media (ie: interviews, editorial, panels, conference appearances, market assessments, vendor comparisons, ratings and reviews etc).

This combination will give you a clear picture of how they are viewed in the market. Or whether they are simply tooting their own horn.

Make sure you also identify the authors of any thought leadership content. Is it one specialist writing everything? Or is it a collective?

Is it a junior or senior resource that is writing? Or a healthy mix?

And how long have the people been at the vendor? Do they have tenure, or are they living off their reputation from a previous role?

A quick search of an author’s name in LinkedIn will quickly reveal their employment history and profile. Plus a check across other social networks will reveal both their work and personal profile.

External peer opinions

This is often one of the strongest ways of finding out the reality of a vendor.

Ask friends or colleagues whether they have worked with the vendor or people within a vendor team.

Again it’s easy to see in LinkedIn whether you have colleagues that are connected to a vendor. Don’t be shy to reach out to them.

I had a client ask me last week about a specific person. Within 20 minutes I had a response from a trusted colleague of mine that had worked with her. And the answer was a resounding thumbs up in terms of capability attitude and cultural fit. I also had another colleague contact me the week prior where the result was a resounding thumbs down.

Obviously you need to make sure that you fully understand the way that your peer had interacted and worked with the vendor or resource identified.

Did they actually work with them? Were they senior or junior to them? And what level of specific interaction and activity did they have? This will allow you to get a proper picture rather than just hearsay.

Peer opinions matter. Just make sure that you’re getting the right opinion in order to make an informed decision.

Independent consultant opinions

I’ll refrain from being too obvious, but suffice to say, it is one option to consider in combination with the above. I’d always suggest that you actually do the above on us. And compare us to other independent consultants, to reveal our reputation and thought leadership position.

Our focus is to stay technology agnostic, independent and at arms length from agencies and vendors, and provide a view based on rigor and methodology rather than gut feel.

We are currently assessing technology vendors for tourism, destination, education, and financial services clients. Each with individual requirements and tailored needs. So cookie-cutter approaches simply don’t work.

When assessing an independent consultancy ask about how they identify the current state of your:

  • business alignment  
  • technology ecosystem and marketing stack alignment
  • level of technology maturity
  • resource mix and structure (including skillsets, capability, and business wide workings)
  • technology governance and responsibility management processes and policies
  • level of customer-centricity
  • impact and insight generation from technology applications
  • overall performance and value measurement

For us, a vendor assessment must have context. We typically identify the above first, compare against industry benchmarks, and then embark on a vendor assessment.

Transparency

Before I finish, one of the biggest areas to explore is kickbacks or incentives.

If you’re assessing vendors via an agency, then make sure the agency and vendor is totally transparent as to whether they remunerate the agency or offer any form of kick-back or incentive based on selling in their technology solution.  

Next steps

Thank you for reading. Hopefully you found a few tips in navigating the technology vendor market.

And if you’d like to read “The Changing Face of Influence” report, download it here

Otherwise please feel free to add a comment below – what’s keeping you up at night when it comes to technology vendors?

Are you struggling with the complexity that digital and data offer to business? Let TrinityP3 make sense of the new digital ecosystem for you. Details here

About Anton Buchner

Anton is one of Australian's leading customer engagement consultants. With an eye for discovering greater marketing value and a love for listening to what customers are really saying about a brand. Anton has helped take global and local businesses including Microsoft, Nestlé, P&G, Gloria Jean's, Foxtel and American Express amongst others to the next level. Check out Anton's full bio here

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