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as likely as not, it is an excellent product and should be evaluated on its merit too. If, on the other hand, a sales rep has lots of products to sell, it is in her best interest to keep you happy over the long term. The happier you are, the more of her other products you are likely to buy. If a vendor has only one or two products to sell, once you buy them, your long-term value to her may diminish, as she has nothing left to sell you. Whom does the vendor partner with Just about everyone partners with everyone else in the computing industry nowadays, even with the competition. Do you like the vendor s partners Do you use the partners products Do you like those products If a vendor you are considering does not partner with other vendors you use, how much trouble will that cause What happens when a problem arises that looks like it s a joint problem between two vendors Can the vendors work together to resolve it, or will they spend all their time pointing fingers at each other Are the partnerships genuine, or just press releases Sometimes partnerships are announced with a big splash and then terminated later under cover of night. A vendor who partners with lots of other vendors is more likely to be successful and to have products that are more universally interesting. Look ahead. Get a nondisclosure presentation. See what the vendor is planning two, three, and four years down the road. Is it interesting Is it believable Does it fit with what they are doing today Does it play to their strengths Have they delivered on their promises reliably in the past What is the company vision Is it realistic Cross-platform support. Can the same product be delivered on all, or most, of your critical computing platforms How similar are the products on different platforms Can the different platform products be administered easily and centrally If products are similar between different platforms, system administrative costs can be reduced significantly, as less training must be purchased to teach sys admins how to operate the products, and to keep them up-to-date later on. In many cases, if products are similar enough between operating systems, fewer administrators may be required, saving even more money. Even if you are running a singleplatform shop, remember that that state of affairs can change overnight through a merger, acquisition, or change in CIO. It s best to be prepared. Stick with your vendors. After you have chosen vendors you are happy with, try to stay with them. You should still evaluate products from other vendors, but once vendors are in and you are happy with their treatment, they should be treated as incumbents; don t kick them out unless the competition is clearly superior. If you show your vendors loyalty, they will show loyalty back to you, often with superior pricing, support, and perks.
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Limit the number of vendors. It is much easier to work with 3 or 4 vendors than it is to work with 20. You ll have to deal with less intervendor dissent and competition, and you ll spend less of your time in sales presentation meetings. However, if you limit your number of vendors down to just one, that vendor can represent a single point of failure. If you ve put all your eggs in a single basket, and something does happen to that basket, you can be in a lot of trouble. Three or four vendors is probably the right number.
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The single most important piece of advice on working with vendors is: Work with them, and not against them. Be a partner with them, and don t always try and chisel every nickel and dime; they need their profits to support you. If they represent large and successful companies, it is unlikely (but possible, of course) that they are trying to rip you off; they want your goodwill too. Vendors want to build long-term relationships with their customers so that they will look at their other products and so that they can be a reference site in the future. Keep in mind that if you mistreat your vendors, who, like you, are only human, they can take their business elsewhere. Just as you can choose between vendors, your vendors can, if their products and the market are any good, choose from many potential customers. If they like and respect you, you are more likely to get their time and resources. If you pay a reasonable price for their products and services, they will come back to you when they have new products they think you will like. Expect honesty from your vendor. Not all of their products, especially if they have a large set, are superstars. There are going to be some junky ones in the mix. A good sales team will be up front with you and tell you that you don t want this product, it s not that good yet. The same rules that apply to working with salespeople apply to working with support personnel. If you return from a meeting and find two phone messages waiting for you, whom will you call back first The person who is rude and screams and yells at you, or the one who is pleasant and only calls when he or she has a real need for your help It s human nature; be the second kind of person. Don t make every single support call into a crisis. If you do, your real crises won t be taken very seriously. When a support call is for a minor problem, treat it as one. You won t be sorry. When there is a genuine crisis, you will get better help, more resources, and probably a solution faster than you would if everything is a crisis. Give your support personnel all the information they ask for. If they ask a question, they need the information to solve your problem.
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