Arrogance is out

What’s the lamest pick-up line you’ve ever heard? I’m not referring to the utterances of an inebriated Lothario 10 years your senior. Rather, I’m talking about the tactics employed by vendors and suppliers as they desperately vie for a taste of your emaciated IT budget.

It may be your job to sit calmly and be wooed by outlandish claims, competitor FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt), and tales of the certain ruin you’ll suffer if you don’t sign up now. Vendors come armed with colour charts, unpublished benchmarks, gushing testimonials and commissioned white papers from famous analysts – all supporting their contention that your company is technically terminal and they alone hold the cure.

Vendor arrogance has been a fact of life through good times and bad, but the recent scarcity of business has made the worst of the vultures more brazen.

A furniture manufacturer got a bill for software maintenance fees that shot up 300 per cent from the prior year, along with a note affirming the vendor’s right to remove the software if the ransom wasn’t rendered immediately.

During cocktail hour at a conference, a stressed-out CTO told me about an enterprise software installation that took consultants four months to complete, only to have the vendor unapologetically pull the product from the market afterward.

One of my former bosses shared his dismay about flying developers to a training camp from which they returned hungover and mostly untutored, except in the belief that they had to return for the advanced class. These people aren’t deserving marks who fell for some fly-by-night’s clever patter; these are smart managers who got fleeced – in these cases, by well-established players – despite their due diligence.

This isn’t a fun time for those mapping out enterprise technology strategies. If you’re in that job, you’re expected to pull a cohesive technology plan out of utter chaos, a plan that pushes forward against hurricane head winds. No one working under these conditions, all the while agonizing about which 20 per cent of their staff to lay off, should be expected to suffer hucksters politely. If your gut tells you that a deal is fishy, walk away, even if it’s with a vendor you’ve been with for years.

I’m not offering a blanket indictment of everyone selling software, hardware and services. Most vendors comport themselves earnestly and with genuine regard for their customers. But the arrogant standouts that remain need a wake-up call: Vendors, technology is strictly a buyer’s market now. If your pitch dumps on competitors, conceals real costs, over promises capabilities, or tries to use prevailing anxiety as a sales tool, don’t expect a pleasant reception.

My advice is to leave the stack of propaganda back at the office, swap two marketing people for a pair of knowledgeable engineers, and make your case with facts, full disclosure and frank discussion that reveals the low points as well as the high. If you don’t sell what you haven’t got and meticulously keep your promises, you’ll get the business you deserve.

Yager ( is an IT veteran and technical director of the InfoWorld Test Center.