Dealing with overpromising vendors in an hyperbolic digital marketing world

We are living in a quite particular digital industry. Technology had invaded humanity so almost everyone today knows “something” about technology. In any case the “levels of knowledge” do actually make a big difference.

The partial knowledge of technology produced a surprising effect. Right now, people believe that technology can solve everything. That’s why it is normal that when you talk about a technological advance with random people, those with lower knowledge are less surprised than those with higher knowledge.

It seems like there is a inversely proportional relationship among tech knowledge and surprising capacity that is getting worse and worse.

Now imagine you need to purchase something related to technology, it could be a software like Martech or Adtech solutions or it could be services around technology like advertising or consulting services. You open an RFP or a pitch, you send the information of what you are looking for and receive the presentations from the vendors.

What I normally see in those presentations is a clear trend to over promise that sometimes it turns into the hyperbolic promise level, that goes completely against of one of the basics of marketing, “underpromise-overdeliver”. And of course, the right condiment for the hyperbolic presentation should (and for sure will) contain a combination of the following, among many other, words:

  • Artificial intelligence.
  • API.
  • Cloud.
  • Immersive Experience.
  • Blockchain.
  • Quantum Computing.
  • IOT (Internet of things).
  • Microservice Architecture.
  • Zettabyte Era.
  • RPA (Robotic Process Automation).
  • 3D Alteration
  • Algoritm.

I had the “grace” of participating in some of those meetings where vendors promised things that will be invented or discovered in no less than 50 years…

It is also true that more often than not the people in charge or at least involved on the process of buying those services are not experts. So how can we avoid the overpromising vendor? How can we be sure their team have the capabilities of doing whatever they are promising to do? One of the things you would and should want is not investing months in the selection process, plus months of working together (probably a year) to realize you hire the wrong vendor.

So let me suggest you some tips to deal with this situation:

  1. Choose only vendors that can prove their capabilities: There’s no doubt that any vendor will present themselves as the one with the best capabilities in the world. Probably they are not even lying, it could be just that “they believe” the have the best capabilities in the world. At the end of the day they know only the services they offer. That’s not a problem, but you have to be sure they can deliver what they are offering. Ask for processes, people’s profile (also Resumes), software, even bugs (if they are a SaaS vendor) had identified when they will fix them. Everything has to be documented. If you have a process to do something, you should have that process ready to share as soon is required. If they don’t share the process immediately, that’s a red flag. Go in depth in at least one topic to see if they have logic explanations for everything.
  2. Identify how good they performed with current and past clients: Your first step is having a list of potencial vendors. Before shortlisting any of those have a meeting with them and ask them about both, success stories and failure stories. Take note of everything they say, sales are kind of an acting performance, you will use everything you wrote down to correct the information during future sessions.
    • Success stories: No matter how pro or rookie the vendor is, they will come up with successive stories. Ask some detailed questions and take notes, you will ask the same questions in the future again to double check the answers. Also, ask the name of the people involved in those projects from the client side and required their contact information (if they are willing to provide it). Contact them to see how the project went. Important thing, if any of them tell you that they have a bad experience, do not dismiss that vendor. Ask more, you want to be sure how possible is that you face the same situation, and if so, if that’s something you would like to deal with.
    • Failure stories: No matter how pro the vendor is, we all have our epic failures, they do too. Is not a bad thing they failed in the past, is a bad thing they don’t admit it. Good answers to this question are when they remain thinking for some time and then they tell you a failure story (if they think and tell you they never failed, that’s a red flag), or when they laugh and tell you the story. If the answer is that they don’t know or recall having a failure story, run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.
  3. Vendors with proven track record: Unless you are ready to take big risks and face long delays, don’t be an early adopter. Thousand of startups are being created every day and thousand of startups are leaving the market that same day. Sometimes there are very convincing arguments for buying from a new non-experienced vendor, new features, effectiveness, cost, etc. Whatever the reason do a pre-mortem analysis to identify what can go wrong “if”. Again, if something goes wrong the result is a huge amount of time and money spent, that won’t be recovered.
  4. Invite the vendor’s tech guys from the beginning: One thing that you see over and over again is people offering you technical solutions and when you ask a simple question the answer is “I’m not the technical person, but I can ask that question and I’ll get back to you”. If they are selling technology or technology related professional services, they have to be technical people. If they are not and they come with a technical person, the meeting is pointless. Don’t waste your valuable time, ask the vendor to bring the “technical” team from the beginning.
  5. Build the contract on the way: During the meeting or calls write all the valuable points each vendor has in a notebook. With the information from all vendors, define which features or services are key for you. Write the contract based on that. This will allow you to be sure you are going with the vendor that will provide the best service (not focusing on the quality of the presentation or how cool the sales person is) and will prevent the over promise vendor from getting rid of the promises they made during their presentations.
  6. Be covered: Include in the contract some clauses to cover you and your company in case one or many of the promised services are not delivered. Don’t be exaggerated, focus just on those thing that if not delivered will generate a real impact in time and/or money to your company.

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