Perfect pitch: vendors, your time starts now

First impressions do count with IT managers who will only give vendors a grand total of 30 seconds to make a sales pitch before deciding if the spiel is a waste of time.

IS manager of global engineering consultancy Sinclair Knight Merz Peter Nevin said about one in every 100 vendors is capable of making an impression during that critical first encounter.

"They must not waste my time, they must get to the point," he said.

When faced with a cold call, he gives the rep a minute to sell an idea. If he likes their pitch, he agrees to a meeting.

Face to face, the vendor has 15 minutes to persuade him of its proposition. But "if they are not talking about my business within that time", he usually shows them the door.

The most painful experiences Nevin has with vendors is when they fail, not once but twice, to get to the bottom line and address standard questions around technical details or price.

His pet hate when listening to vendor pitches is the untrained person.

"The most annoying thing with this type of person is that as soon as they come in the door, they have no idea about the technology they're pitching or about my business; if I hear one more salesperson telling me they want to understand my business, that's it," Nevin said.

Most of the IT salespeople Nevin deals with are middle- to junior-level reps. However, he feels that is no excuse for them to be technically ignorant about their own product.

Nevin is convinced there is a general level of incompetence amongst vendor sales reps. In the last six months he has thrown one rep out the door after five minutes due to that person's "absolute lack of knowledge" about their offering, or more importantly what Nevin needed.

He gibes that some vendors move at a snail's pace when it comes to clients' need for quick turnaround on a product. "Occasionally we're willing to move within 24 hours on a particular [purchase], so we issue the vendor a purchase order and want to process that right away. The funny thing is, what they're salivating to sell us they can't follow through with straight away."

IT executives like Suresh Padmanabhan, CIO of the Australian Institute of Management (AIM), favours vendors who can work in partnership with him.

"I'm a hard person; the real test of a good vendor is if when it makes the effort to work with a client for a while -- as a partner -- to help solve its business problems," he said.

Padmanabhan says the clincher doesn't lie in a good pitch alone. What influences his view of a vendor is if it meets deadlines and "gives him what he needs today -- not tomorrow -- to serve his users.

"That's when I know I'm dealing with a good supplier," he says. "They understand the importance of my requirements and take the time to get to know my business' situation."

A time-poor executive, Padmanabhan rarely spares a vendor more than a few minutes of his time making face-to-face meetings nearly impossible. Therefore, he likes a vendor who can pitch relevant technology to him by various quick means and get the message across effectively.

Name dropping kills sale

Padmanabhan said he gets on average a combination of 12 cold calls and four e-mails a day from hardware, software and IT training companies pitching for new business.

The biggest turn-off about vendors is when they try to pitch by name-dropping about his superiors, he says.

"I get some reps telling me that my MD or CEO thinks they're fantastic, or that they think I should buy their product under a [superior's] recommendation," he said.

"The big mistake with this approach is that firstly, the rep didn't approach me directly to verify if I was the IT decision maker. Secondly, they don't know who I report to."

Padmanabhan warns IT managers to be weary of the lengths some vendors will go to survive the slower climate, observing: "In the downturn it's a highly competitive environment for vendors. Prices aren't getting any more competitive because margins are very tight, but there's still a lot of corporate demand there which needs to be met."

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