Much of the space in this column has covered how legal and IT departments can protect themselves from questionable technology vendors’ practices. Yet some legal departments do things that drive technology vendors crazy.
First, let’s ask the obvious question: Why should companies care if they irritate technology vendors? Vendors do many, many things to irritate prospective and current customers, and perhaps more importantly, customers are writing the checks. Having helped many companies acquire and deploy technology, we have had the opportunity to watch the relationships between technology vendors and their customers firsthand. We have seen that the quality of the relationship can profoundly affect the value the company receives from its vendor. Yet companies often start their relationship by doing things that drive the vendors insane:
1. Vague needs requiring detailed responses. One company recently released a request for proposal (RFP) for an e-discovery system “to help in the management of electronic information.” The RFP called for an enterprise-wide system with full pricing. Responding vendors had no idea
- What type of e-discovery functionality they were really looking for
- What features they sought
- How many users the system needed to support
“We pretty much just threw a dart at a board in creating our bid,” one vendor relayed. “If we bid what they wanted, great. Otherwise, we just went onto the next prospect.” This was too bad; had the company known better and described its requirements, it would have received better bids.
2. Outdated product versions. One company hated its content management system, believing it to have subpar functionality. They were right, as their system’s features were relatively poor compared to other products on the market. The problem was the company had a 5-year-old version of the product, and had never bothered to update it. The current technology vendor was shut out of the product evaluation, when their latest product version offered extremely competitive features, with an upgrade costing much less than buying a new product from a new vendor.
3. Never hearing back on RFP responses. About 25 percent of the time, after responding to an RFP, the vendor never hears back. “It drives us crazy,” said one vendor. “After all the effort we put into the proposal, you would think they would have the courtesy to at least tell us. After a while it becomes clear we were not selected.” The next time these companies are looking for bids, some of the vendors that were left in the dark are much less likely to bid the next time the company is looking for new technology.
4. Not following deployment recommendations. “We sold them an archiving system, and gave the customer very clear instructions on the size of the servers required to run the system,” explained one vendor. “They ended up putting a server with about half the power we recommended. Of course when the system was slow, the customer was on the phone immediately complaining our product didn’t work. We had to do a huge amount of work to prove that they had an underpowered system. It was real frustrating.”
Product companies deliver better support, service and value to the customers they like. It’s human nature. While I’m not arguing that you go out and hug all your technology vendors today, building a good relationship, including avoiding irritating them unnecessarily, may bring more benefits to legal and IT departments in the long run.