Bullying in software sales — or any sales for that matter - is not new. However, in our role as a buyer's advocate for MarTech stack leaders, we've noticed a recurring trend where larger software companies disrupt well-reasoned buyers through aggressive and questionable tactics. To be sure, the bullying is more subtle than in years past — but still just as persistent.
Imagine this scenario...
You and your team go through a proper technology selection process. You do everything right. Your team finally comes to an educated consensus decision. Based on empirical testing, you select a platform not sold by, say, Adobe, Microsoft, Oracle, or Salesforce. These are aggressive, publicly-traded companies, not used to getting turned down.
Unfortunately, there's a long history in software sales of "selling up the chain." Back in the day this meant deals on the golf course; today it's cajoling over lunch, at executive councils, and boardroom get-togethers.
Now it might seem anachronistic to talk about a supplier bullying a customer. As the buyer, don't you have power in this situation? But that's just the point: vendors employ specific methods to disempower the selection team.
How It Works
Here's what we typically see...
- High ranking executives from the major software vendor demand a meeting with your your boss' boss or a C-level executive. Given that this vendor is probably working with others parts of your enterprise and everyone wants to maintain this relationship, they usually get the meeting. Or they have already networked with your leadership at industry events.
- The vendor touts traditional, one-size-fits all analyst rankings of how they are "a leader" and how selecting anyone other than a leader means a risk to the customer's business (and by implication, valuations and careers).
- They belittle the enterprise selection team: "they're not thinking strategically, like you need to do..."
- They belittle the selection process: "they got lost in the weeds and focused too much on functionality..."
- If all else fails, they may slash their upfront pricing as a defensive move or even give something away cheaply or for free. Of course, technology is never truly free.
Two Case Studies
For better or worse, the fate of your enterprise is often going to depend on the strength of your leadership, and by extension, your ability to connect your decision to strategic business objectives.
Recently, we've seen two dramatically different outcomes to these tactics taken by one of the most notorious of these vendors (I'll save the name for subscribers who want to hear the gory details.)
Enterprise #1 got bullied into selecting an ill-fitting solution. The implementation was so difficult and expensive that after two years it had not been launched. They're now engaged in a multi-million dollar lawsuit.
Enterprise #2 said no to the bully. The alternative system has recently launched and while no technology is perfect, so far the reception has been positive. The calls and threats haven't stopped completely. But when questions come from upper management, because the process was based in user-centered design thinking, the activation team can prove that their choice will lead to the best adoption and drive better business value.
What You Should Do
This bullying is real and so are the long-term consequences of making bad technology decisions. It's not going to stop unless you give your leadership the ammunition to push back. If you need help standing up to an overly-aggressive vendor, drop us a line.