Unpacking Software Lies

Here is the truth. In software sales, it literally pays to lie. That’s the number one thing you need to know when you are buying. Whether you are buying ERP software, HR software or something else core to your business, you must watch out for the traps.

Here’s the two big kinds of software lies:

Truth Trap

For the most part, even honest software sales people fall into a truth trap. A customer asks: “Does the software do XYZ?” The software person answers: “Yes, it can do XYZ.” Did you catch it? It’s subtitle. Just because a software can do something does not mean it was designed to do that thing. Therein lies the rub. You could probably make it do just about whatever you dream up given enough time and money.

Eventually Truthful

This is like the Theranos lie. The lie happens deliberately up front and then the vendor works like hell to make it work by delivery time. Believe it or not a lot of venture capital and entrepreneur guru types advocate this type of lie. Results? Mixed to poor. It always turns on one thing: how big was the fib? If, like Theranos, the salesperson has told a whopper…oh…this is gonna’ be bad. It’s a rookie software mistake.

Companies are pretty hip to the game and devise all sorts of processes to discover the real truths and of course bring down the price. But before you start, do you really know what you want? It really does take time to assemble your needs list and someone on the team has to know the details cold. When evaluating a vendor, seriously ask yourself: Is there design here? Has this vendor thought about this problem before? Are we changing our process to meet good design or bad design?

No Such Thing As Unbiased

I’m sorry but you must know, there is no part of the customer journey that isn’t crafted. If you read it in the news it’s because PR put it there. If you see it on a plot chart somewhere you can be assured the vendors paid piles of money for “access to the analyst.” Awards? C’mon do you seriously think that is free? Vendors pay for all this stuff. What about consultants? No. Sorry. Everyone has their experiences. If you are not having honest discussions about what biases everyone has in the procurement process, you’re missing a beat.

Jerks Will Cost You Dearly

Enterprise software is ALWAYS a partnership. Don’t forget this. At the end of the day we are humans and if it becomes adversarial you are going to hate your life. Moving onto and off of enterprise software is a major deal. Don’t tolerate jerks. Back in the old “advent of the client-server days, vendors used to get invited in to get beat up. It was a sport called “vendor management.” What I am saying here is that is a terrible, terrible mistake. When your vendor goes sour on you, you are at the end of the line…always. If the collective team is not in problem-solving mode you are wasting your time on nonsense.

All this complexity gives rise to some common themes in the buying process:

  • The Dance Contest – Make all the vendors showcase until the music stops.
  • The Long Drawn-out RFP – Ask every question anyone can think of until the vendor drops.
  • Double Whammy – A combo of the above.
  • Insider’s Game – Any of the above with a foregone conclusion.

The more concerned an organization is about the decision, the more rigid the process tends to be, and unfortunately the more it gets caught in traps. So how can you have your process and eat it too?

  1. Do Some Upfront Research. Key here is “some” and not “all.” Don’t waste time trying to be exhaustive. Have a sense of pros/cons and price ranges, and then be candid with vendors about what you know and don’t know. This should help bring out the better angels of our nature. It will surely tell you if the vendor will work to help you understand the nuances you may not be able to discover otherwise.
  2. Conduct a Focused Features Review – Nothing will be an exact fit. Accept the gaps and assess which ones you can build around.
  3. Confirm the Details for Your Curveballs – Work with someone from the vendor who can help you confirm details for your organization’s unique needs. As much as you may have thought through the details, you are dealing with software companies who live and breathe that business problem. Their input is invaluable and your checklist should be open to revision as you learn more throughout the process. There is no magic solution, but good dialogue is the key.
  4. Use Dialogue to Validate Trust – The nature of the above rubber-meets-the-road dialogue will give you a feel for the vendor’s credibility and give you possibly the most important factor of all:

Can you trust them?

Could be that you knew all along who you trusted the most and who you would likely choose anyway. Much has been written around such confirmation bias in the buying process and also how instincts usually speak loudly. This doesn’t mean just go with your gut blindly, it just means conduct your process with a lens to possible biases…yep…you just can’t rid of them.

That’s the real reason this is so hard. There are too many factors to consider, too much risk, too little time, high pressure to deliver, organizational politics, and cognitive biases. It’s a tough ride but fear not because the friction can actually be good if it helps expedite the decision. Remember, the decision itself doesn’t move the needle for your organization, it’s just the first step.

Back to our initial truth. In the enterprise software game, it literally pays to lie. Saying “No, it doesn’t quite do that” when dealing with a rigid process is cause for being tossed from the race. Given how common the competition bends reality, you literally have to make the conscientious decision to make less money.

But do it. Tell the truth. Build your career and organization’s success over the long term. You will live happier and sleep better.