Vendor listening better than vendor speak

I've made no secret of my aversion to vendorspeak. The reason is simple: vendorspeak muddies rather than clarifies the vendor's message, and deciphering it wastes way too much of your time and ours.

The most frequently used term in the vendorspeak dictionary is, of course, solution. It's also the most annoying, simply by virtue of its overuse and meaninglessness. It's typically used as a synonym for product, which means it is, at best, a possible or potential solution. Until it solves my problem, it's a product and nothing more.

If solution is the most exaggerated term, partner is a close second. Vendors just love to refer to themselves as partners to their customers. Yet typically, by almost any measure, the relationship is anything but a true partnership. If I spend an obscene amount of money for a product and I don't get a return on my investment, my company loses money and I may well lose my job. Meanwhile, my vendor's sales rep is earning interest on the bonus he received at my expense. He loses, at most, a licence renewal. Some partnership.

But suppose the vendor did lose something. Suppose I stipulate in the contract that if I don't get a certain return on my investment within a specified time frame, I don't pay a cent. By the same token, if my payback exceeds a certain dollar figure, I pay an even more obscene amount of money. Now that's a partnership.

The point is, the vendor has to have some skin in the game. And you should start thinking about demanding just that.

When negotiating software licences, for example, be aware that the competition for your business can often be fierce. Many software vendors recognize that users are getting fed up with nonsensical licensing arrangements (having to pay the vendor more money if a system is simply moved from one location to another, for example). And they know they have to end the craziness.

ASG, a systems management software vendor, certainly appears to have gotten the message. "Customers have reached the [limit] of what they're willing to pay for enterprise software, and they're looking for alternatives," acknowledges Jim Bladich, ASG's vice president of sales operations. "IT expenditures are going up as a percentage of revenue, and it's beginning to be scrutinized."

To its credit, ASG is going the skin-in-the-game route. It introduced a revenue-based licensing model that may be a compelling alternative for companies that are dissatisfied with traditional, capacity-based pricing. There are various options under the model, according to Bladich, including one that enables the user company to lock in the fee so that if it's projecting steady revenue growth, the licensing fee stays the same for the duration of the contract.

But consider this: much of what ASG does is geared towards improving business performance by means of offerings such as business service management software. And better business performance stands to generate more revenue. So what's especially intriguing about ASG's revenue-based model is the case in which a contract stipulates that the fee paid to ASG goes up or down based on the track of the user company's revenue. Suddenly the vendor has a real stake in the customer's performance.

The model's not perfect, and it's not for everybody. But it's a positive step because it's the result of ASG listening to its customers. And vendor listening is a welcome respite from vendorspeak.

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