The whole B2B and B2G sales game has changed. Business and government managers are ever more reluctant to meet with sales people just to hear their pitches. Those meetings used to be appealing to managers to help them stay abreast of what was happening in their environment, highlight popular new solutions and, in light terms, let them know if they were keeping up with other organizations.
Well, customers no longer need those sales calls to get a grip on what’s happening. They have other, more trustworthy sources of information. What they do want is a vendor who delivers, especially on complex or time-gated activities. And those are still rare.
What we see happening is that business and government customers will go back again and again to suppliers who don’t measure up… the so-called “devil you know.” Implicitly, managers assume that no vendor will do any better, and their own team can cover the predictable trouble spots they’ve learned about the hard way.
That’s a bad assumption.
Some vendors are much better than others. Some do what they say. Some tell the customer when they don’t have the expertise needed for a particular project. Some don’t bid low and make it up on change orders. Some stand behind their work.
But customers have difficulty identifying the “angel you don’t know” in order to stop settling for the “devil you do.”
Let me suggest four questions that customers don’t often ask potential new vendors, but should. These questions can help managers separate the devils from the angels.
- Give me a real example of a project that went south and how you handled it.
- How many sales people do you have (including inside and outside sales) and how many delivery and/or engineering people do you have? The ratio changes depending on what you are buying, but look for the smaller fractions. Those will tell you that this company’s satisfied customers keep buying with only a light touch from sales.
- What has your turnover been in the past 12 months on the delivery team? Again, look for the lower numbers. If a company has difficulty retaining its delivery team, the people who know your environment are likely to be working elsewhere when you go for a second engagement.
- Explain how your team developed and rolled out a new practice or offering. Listen hard for the way the vendor built expertise and capability without putting customers at risk.
If you are spending too much time with devils you know, consider interviewing a few new vendors. Instead of listening to their “commercial,” though, take ten minutes to go through the four questions above. You may just find an angel to take you to a better place.