You may not know it, but you're a target sitting in the crosshairs of big technology vendors everywhere. That's because U.S. businesses with fewer than 500 employees are collectively big high tech business, having spent $23.5 billion on IT last year, according to IDC. The research firm estimates that the number will go up to $27.2 billion within three years.
Tech companies have maxed out the growth potential in the saturated enterprise market. And so, SMBs have become their next great hope. The practical upshot is that you can expect to start hearing more and more frequently from IT salespeople. You could leave them all cooling their heels in a hallway, but that is shortsighted. Companies may have something of value to offer you. Instead, use these tips effectively deal with eager tech vendors:
1. Get to the bottom line first
Technology vendors love soft benefits—the vague promises that your business will become "transformed" by using their products. But they are hard to measure those assertions for return on investment. Insist on hearing the hard benefits that directly translate into additional revenue or lower costs. If the hard benefits are realistically large enough to pay for your investment in a reasonably short amount of time, then your risk is low. Any soft benefits you might see become gravy.
2. Talk TCO
Savvy enterprise IT departments focus on total cost of ownership, or TCO. Any technology purchase might require additional maintenance, training, materials, user licensing, or consulting. Factor in every possible extra expense because they all come out of your pocket. Insist that any quoted price have everything necessary included. You now can undertake an apples-to-apples comparison between offerings from different vendors and know what you'd really pay.
3. Cut through the sales act
You don't get anywhere as an entrepreneur without having a keen sense of how to sell. Use what you know and look for every sales tactic that the vendor's representative uses. For instance, if you're simply not interested, you could give the classic, "I just don't want to" answer and make it difficult to overcome your objection. You can also trip up the rhythm of a salesperson on autopilot. I remember once dealing with a salesman in full grinning robot mode. I said, "I see you've got your salesman's hello ready." He broke out laughing, because it was an unexpected reaction, and we got down to business without wasting time.
4. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate
Small businesses often think that large companies won't give in. Not true, particularly when the vendor is desperate to grow and snagging smaller businesses is the best way to do it. The salesperson has a quota that only gets shorter if you say "yes." If you're inclined to make a purchase, be sure you're getting better pricing, free consulting or maintenance for some period of time, or something else that improves the deal. It may be that all you'll get is a discount that would have been available for the asking, but pushing is a good way to get the salesperson, who wants to close a deal, to mention what might be available.
5. Play the field
Finally, see what different companies have to offer. The more pitches you hear and research you do, the more you'll see how companies compete and their relative strengths and weaknesses. While discussing the weaknesses in a company's offer, mention to the salesperson that you met with a competitor. See what they can bring to the table to get your business.
The more you stay away from warm and fuzzy presentations and demand real value for your potential investment, the better your experiences dealing with high tech salespeople will be.