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Urgency—Guard it at All Costs by Steve Gutzman

In the IT world, change is a given, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Most people in the trenches of IT have enough to do and, in many cases, are quite happy with the status quo. They don’t want to change. They don’t like to change. Change means more work and sometimes a step into the unknown. That creates uncertainty, and most people don’t naturally gravitate toward uncertainty. So why do people buy IT? It usually boils down to this: one, they are in pain and want to get out of pain; two, they see pain coming and want to take steps to avoid it; or three, they want to achieve some kind of advantage or gain. Let’s discuss the first two of these in more detail in terms of two critical variables: urgency and leverage.

If we are in real pain, we want to get out of pain as quickly as possible, right? Imagine it is a summer weekend and more than a dozen relatives are due to arrive for a special birthday event first thing on Saturday morning. The temperature is forecasted to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit all weekend. Imagine further that around six o’clock on Friday evening the air conditioning system in your home stops working.

From the standpoint of time, you need to get this fixed immediately – it’s urgent. You cannot wait. Your attention is focused and immediate. In terms of leverage, you have very little. Chances are pretty good that you will not be sending out an RFP to several air-conditioning repair companies asking for their best prices. Rather, you will start calling repair companies, and the first person who can come and fix it will get the work, almost regardless of cost. It’s not a great position to be in.

Let’s extend this analogy to the IT world to understand why. Imagine you are converting a mission-critical application from an IBM mainframe platform to a UNIX-based server environment and thirty minutes after going into live production, it crashes the system and brings an ATM network down. You are in pain and will take whatever steps necessary to get out, at any cost. If you didn’t plan for this, you have no leverage and urgency is high. Similarly, if your company experiences a security breach and thousands of confidential personnel records are hacked into, you want the sharpest subject matter experts from the industry on-site 24/7 until the problem is fixed – no matter what the cost.

In the case where you see pain coming and want to take steps to avoid it, urgency and leverage swing back to your advantage. You have time to look at multiple solutions; you have time to conduct on-site trials, visit reference sites, and negotiate for as long as required.

Remember 1999 and the months leading up to Y2K? Thousands of customers around the world were anticipating pain with the Y2K conversion. Billions of lines of COBOL had to be converted so applications would keep running after the clocks struck midnight on December 31. Despite the enormity of this challenge, IT shops around the world had years to prepare and held some degree of leverage in their negotiations to get things fixed. Those who waited until the last minute to prepare, however, paid dearly and lost their leverage.

A seasoned sales manager in the security software niche used to tell his salespeople that he wanted to understand the “who, what, when, when, and why” of each opportunity. The alert salespeople would say, “Boss – you said when twice.” The answer was always “when is the most important variable.”

Guard the when of your decisions with layers of reinforced steel. Vendors love it when urgency is in the air.

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