A person's hand holding scrabble tiles that spell fact on one side and fake on the other
PHOTO: Shutterstock

You're not alone if you're a B2B buyer and you don't trust your potential vendor. According to a report from TrustRadius this month, there is a trust gap between vendors and buyers. And, we get it, it's not personal, it's healthy skepticism. Who wouldn't be skeptical with pending a potentially six- or seven-figure technology investment for their organization?

Gartner said earlier this year worldwide IT spending is projected to total $3.7 trillion in 2018, an increase of 4.5 percent from 2017. With all that money in play you can bet that trust is, and will continue to be, an essential part of the buying process. In fact, according to the TrustRadius data, about 85 percent of vendors say they are open about their product’s limitations during the sales process. However, TrustRadius researchers found, only 36 percent of buyers thought their vendor lived up to that promise. 

Turns out, a little honesty goes a long way: of the buyers who worked with a "very influential" vendor, 56 percent said the vendor was upfront about product limitations (versus 31 percent of buyers with less influential vendors).

The relationship between your organization and it's vendors can often be the difference between success and failure. So the old adage, trust but verify comes to mind. To that end, we've tapped some experts who shared ways to keep your vendors honest during the buying process — with the ultimate goal of creating a fruitful partnership with your new technology provider.

Related Article: 13 Headless CMS to Put on Your Radar

Use Your Trial to Push the Product to Its Limits

Experts agreed that organizations should take advantage of trials to uncover areas of weakness that could impact their ability to implement and scale the product.  "During the trial phase, I pushed the product until it broke," said tech buyer Matthew Warren, BIM manager for engineering at BSA LifeStructures. "There are so many different ways to use the product — testing it on a free trial to make sure it was a good fit for our process was more important than what others thought about the product." 

BJ Biernatowski, senior engineer for workforce enablement at a major retailer, added it's important to understand the product's limitations before buying it. "Our POC," he said, "stretched the product to showcase its features and weaknesses." 

Biernatowski's advice if a trial isn't available, is to provide accurate sample data or specific use case scenarios so the vendor can show you a relevant demo. Enter real data and make sure the product is a good match for your end-users, workflows and the rest of your stack.

Independently Connect With Current Customers

To get unbiased information, start with your own network to directly source peers who have experience with the product. Don’t forget your colleagues and LinkedIn networks. You may have people in your organization who had prior experience with the product and uniquely understand your use case. "The more unbiased the source, the more trustworthy the information," said tech buyer Melissa Dickerson, senior technical analyst at L Brands. "We spoke at great length with many other clients of the product. The vendor invited us to their annual customer conference, which was a great opportunity to speak with a wide variety of customers. Because these conversations were entirely initiated by us and not arranged by the vendor, we felt that the information we were receiving was more open and frank."  

Vendors will often provide you current customers, too. However, if you do speak with vendor-provided references, focus on the nuances of the product and learn about their use case to ensure you get a more complete picture. Heather Breen, human resource manager at B&R Auto Wrecking, said during her company's buying process, it was important to talk to current customers, specifically non-referred customers. It helped in understanding what the system could do. "Salespeople lie — never met one that didn't. I think referrals from colleagues and peers are trustworthy because they don't have a stake in the outcome of your decision."

Kristen Hay, marketing coordinator at Bloomerang, said customer reviews feel trustworthy because the users are being honest about their experience with the product. "It's also nice," she said, "to see how companies similar to us are using the product."

Related Article: 8 Tips to Capture Better Requirements For Your Software Project

Ask Tough Questions, Get Verifiable Answers

Ask your potential vendor highly-specific and complex questions that may be outside of the vendor rep’s comfort zone. When possible, get them to show rather than tell you the answer with real-world examples or a customized demo. "We quizzed the vendor about certain aspects and asked them to show us the functionality in a custom demo," said tech buyer William Fried, solutions manager at CohnReznick. "They were very open and honest about their product and its abilities. They didn't attack their competitors, instead focusing on what they could do for us." In addition to giving you insights into product limitations, experts said this is a good tactic for gaining insight into how the vendor might treat you once you’re a customer. Do they bring in resident experts? Are they genuinely interested in your issue?

During his team's buying process, Manuel Rietzsch, director of global demand and lifecycle marketing at Pluralsight, said the team brought in users to view demos and ask very detailed questions. "Understanding the product's limitations was super important as attribution software is fairly new and many vendors do not have all the bells and whistles,” he said. "The vendor we selected really invested in us by visiting our team and showing a real interest in the problems we are trying to solve."

Assess the Vendor's Product Roadmap

Their product roadmap can help you see what will be added to the product, but it will also give you insight into the limitations are, what's lacking and what needs to be fixed, experts told CMSWire. 

According to Casey Poff, senior analyst for systems and performance support at FedEx. "Our buying decisions are based on testing the program for a length of time," Poff said. "All the POCs for the product discussed the limitations they noticed, and it was presented to the vendor to see if later versions would fix those limitations."

Conclusion

Even though you may have the ability to switch products after a year or two, changing technology is a disruptive process. Partner with a vendor who has a strong vision for the future and is upfront and honest with you about their product or service.