RESEARCH & RESOURCES

3 Tips for Choosing the Right BI Vendor

Be known for recognizing a good vendor. Recommend the ones who understand their products and your true needs. Don’t take a vendor’s (or anyone else’s) word for assessments that you yourself must make on behalf of your organization.

By Max T. Russell, Max and Max Communications

Honesty and accuracy are good for vendors and consumers alike. If you’re selling something, the vitality of your company and your job will depend on how long it takes people to find out whether your words are worth hearing.

If you’re buying, the vitality of your enterprise depends on your purchasing decisions. You need accurate information so you can decide which product matches your real needs and budget.

Stay at Least One Step Ahead

Your IT department simply must stay ahead of vendors by knowing more than they do about your real needs. That’s not always easy, but it’s your job to be aware of your enterprise’s true needs so that it doesn’t become saddled with things it should not be spending money, time, and energy on.

Users don’t want to be saddled with unnecessary adjustments either. They will hate you if you complicate their work.

I recently learned of a new procedure that employees at a factory were ordered to adopt, all because a vendor of support training said the latest research shows the procedure to be good for customer satisfaction. I’m not allowed to tell you the procedure, but I can say that the employees will not adopt it. They are experts themselves, and they will not welcome such a change into their well-oiled routine. They cannot stop joking about it.

One More Reason to Know Your Enterprise’s Business

As a technologist, you must understand the business of your enterprise. The BI literature is full of experts urging technologists to submit themselves to the informal or formal education they need to become well acquainted with the business. Only then can you converse on an equal footing with vendors who are educated in convincing you that they can fix your enterprise’s problems.. You naturally hope the vendors can and will truthfully represent what they’re selling. Here are three ways to help make sure that happens.

Does the Vendor Systematically Inquire into Your Real Needs?

Sometimes user management is impatient and uninterested in facts. They want a vendor to say what they want to hear. This unfortunate arrangement could become a bad dream for you and your company’s employees, whereas the actual problem may be that you are being a mere spectator instead of demonstrating leadership earlier in the process.

Pay attention to the vendor’s behavior so that you can make a smart recommendation. Recommend the one that wants to work with you to solve your company’s problems. The professional problem-solver will carefully sift through the customer’s past experiences, present goals, and expectations in order to verify the actual need. That’s crucial to your reputation because you want to be known for providing guidance in the right direction. You want to be known as a department that simplifies what is overwhelming to others.

When you make it known that you are providing effective guidance in selecting qualified vendors, your value goes up. Nobody will want to make these decisions without you. Part of your in-house marketing should include letting people know exactly how you are leading them to success. We all like good news, and it’s very good to hear that actions affecting us are intelligently designed.

Study the vendor’s marketing materials to see if the professional mentality I’ve just described stands out. Many a vendor will say, “We don’t want to sell you stuff you don’t need. We want to solve your problems.” Do their behaviors match this claim?

Years ago, I went shopping for my first computer. A store employee began asking me questions about the kinds of tasks I planned to perform with the computer. I became suspicious and left, determined never to allow a computer expert to fool me into a purchase by trying to get my private information. How utterly foolish of me! I was as ignorant as I was suspicious. He was precisely the kind of vendor we all should want to do business with. He knew the important questions.

Does the Vendor Have Technical Expertise?

Another trait to look for is technical expertise in describing, evaluating, and conversing about the product. The professional vendor may provide a salesperson whose expertise is in communicating product strengths as a matter of honesty, then working with you to discover how those strengths may relate to your real-world situation.

I watched a law firm’s salesman trying to sell a service to attorneys who wanted to know if he was an attorney. They thought that was important. It was not, because the salesman was well trained and had the technical expertise to accurately represent the service. However, he did not realize this, and instead spent his energy trying to overcome a question that intimidated him. All he had to do was say, “No, I’m not an attorney. My job is to show you how our service has helped other law firms. Here are testimonials from other attorneys that show how we do that.”

The professional vendor may provide a salesperson whose expertise is in communicating a product’s strengths and specifications as a matter of honesty, and then working with you to discover how those strengths may relate to your situation. This salesperson may not be able to suggest highly specific solutions, but at least has the technical awareness to provide information that enables you to assess the match between product and need before you go in deeper with the vendor.

A top-flight vendor knows that sometimes the best product in the world is worthless for your unique needs. It’s not necessarily a matter of product weakness; it may just not be a good fit. A good salesman is a good communicator who helps you determine that.

Another vendor may have what is needed to round out your current vendor’s product. A vendor that recommends including another vendor for your solution deserves your respect. Most vendors want to be your “one-stop shop.”

Technical Product Knowledge

A third desirable vendor trait is technical knowledge about the product area itself. I’ll use big data as an example. Trustworthy vendors understand the defining features of big data analytics. They know big is not automatically better, and they know big data requires a skill set that their customer may not possess.

Big data can involve lots of data of the unstructured kind. A trustworthy vendor will tell you that you must give structure to big data if you want to run more than very basic queries against it. “Basic queries” are a contradiction to big data. If you’re going to go to the trouble of preparing for big data, and if big is going to be better for your enterprise, then you will naturally expect higher-level analytics.

By contrast, I hear many vendors that want to convince you of “bigness” you may not need. They can’t talk about the relevance of their inferior product, since they don’t have technical knowledge of the product area. As a user, I can smell these vendors a mile away because they aren’t addressing anything I need.

I received a very stupid call this week from a vendor that is tied into a highly sophisticated data system. The salesman asked me questions that proved he knew nothing about what motivates me. He had all that data and still couldn’t connect with me. What’s the problem? The company I am working with doesn’t know what to do with the “small” data it already has. Bigger didn’t help a bit.

Be Known for Good Choices

The best vendors will pester you to make sure your situation qualifies for their product. They will work with you to understand how they can help fulfill your vision. You should be immensely reassured by a vendor that will not let you or your boss rush into a sale until the proper bases are covered. That vendor is going to make you look like the leader you ought to be -- one who is known for leading your people into good choices.

As owner of Max and Max Communications, Max T. Russell works behind the scenes to promote individuals and projects in a variety of industries. He and his identical twin, Max S., are heavy technology users who have been discussing and dissecting the challenges of IT in the workplace for the past 18 years. Russell invites your suggestions about future article topics. Write him at maxt@maxtrussell.com .

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