Thursday, February 28, 2008

To Tell or Not to Tell?

One of the main services that I provide my clients is help with software selection. Usually the first piece of work is to clarify requirements and establish a short list of software to consider. Then I am often asked to manage the selection process. In this role I have two goals: to help all the products make the best impression possible (when they look good, I look good for bringing them in), and to make the choice easy for my client. I do the latter by helping each supplier present to their strengths. When different products have different strengths (and they always do) the demonstrations help the client identify which of their requirements are the most important and what compromises are acceptable.

During the selection process, each vendor frequently asks in direct and indirect ways who they are up against. I understand why they want to know. I have been in their shoes and I know it is nice to know "the enemy" and where your relative strengths and weaknesses are. They also want to know if they have a chance and how they should price. However, I tend not to provide that information and this is why... I want each vendor to focus on the client and what they bring to solve the client's problems. I don't want them to worry about the strengths of their opponent because that leads to two behaviors. First, it causes them to try to exploit a weakness of the other products by drawing attention to features or characteristics that the other products lack (whether they are relevant or not). Second, it causes them to try to disguise their weaknesses by downplaying the importance of a feature or pretending their capability is actually better than it is.

The net result is that every vendor's pitch turns into something like "we are just as good as they are but better." To the client, the products start looking the same and, as I mentioned earlier, that is not what I want.

I would love to hear other people's thoughts on this. Please discuss...