A colleague of mine,  who now works at a large nationwide mortgage banking company, was telling me how difficult it has become, as an enterprise customer, to get evaluations or even product information on some new products from some companies. From his post today:

Why don't other companies like IBM do things like this? For instance, the company I work for wanted replace our custom built employee portal and asked several companies for help testing their products. When the person in charge told Microsoft that they'd like to try Sharepoint, Microsoft said, "sure, we'll send out two people to help you set it up." However when IBM was approached we were told that it would take three months to setup Websphere Portal Server and cost us a million dollars! All we wanted was a proof of concept so that we could make an informed decision!

Unfortunately, I've seen this as well. At the same time, clients tell me that Microsoft has been very aggressive at not only providing software but evaluation support for their products. I say, good for Microsoft. Perhaps this is one reason the boss loves Microsoft.  (FWIW: The enterprise customers I'm thinking of are currently Notes shops; one would think this problem would not exist for them. Apparently not so.)

I am increasingly amazed at how difficult some businesses are making it for customers to
give them money.  The only reason I'm bothering to blog about this is that it was not always this way.

I remember in the "old" days, when I used to design and deploy enterprise messaging systems. I could call up cc:Mail in Mountainview, speak to a real person, (who spoke English that I could understand), explain that I had a corporate client that wanted to evaluate a product, and have a box of software sent to us overnight. I used to be able to do the same for my consulting firm. As a result, we made many successful product demonstrations and enterprise messaging deployments for clients across the United States. These generated a significant number of enterprise sales for cc:Mail/Lotus/IBM. Things changed a bit when Lotus bought cc:Mail, but we could still call Lotus in Cambridge, talk to someone who spoke English (sometimes with a Boston accent), and have cc;Mail, Notes, or the various add-ins sent to us to demo to our clients. Since IBM purchased Lotus, my clients and I have found the experience has been much different.  That's too bad.  I know that there are many people at IBM who work very hard to make sure that the IBM Notes product is well represented to corporate customers. Probably the best example is Ed Brill, who works tirelessly to educate customers about IBM products and services. (Thank you, Ed!) Unfortunately for IBM, there's only one Ed Brill.

I'm not trying to play favorites between IBM and Microsoft here. I recommend and support products from both vendors - when I feel that they are a good match for my customer's needs. What I am trying to do is make a point.

I believe that software companies should consider the lost opportunity when a technology consultant or enterprise IT manager calls to ask to evaluate a product and they make it difficult for him to do so. How much does it cost to send out a product or email a link for a consultant or potential customer to evaluate?
Sometimes, the eagerness of making the sale combined with the formality of the sales "qualification" process can get in the way of developing an internal champion for the product. When that happens, it's a lost opportunity for both client and vendor (and sometimes, the consultant, too).

All of this won't prevent me from recommending or championing great products that I feel are a fit for my client's needs. It does make it much more difficult for me to show clients the products that I feel would be of benefit to them. Further, with some vendors becoming more aggressive in their pro-active marketing and customer support, I find that some enterprise customers now feel that "certain" software companies just don't care. As a result, they may make product purchasing decisions for reasons other than product suitability, quality, scalability, enterprise support, etc.. (Those end up being the most costly decisions for everyone.)

I recently helped a client evaluate an enterprise wireless solution. I sent the same letter to several vendors, introducing myself and asking to evaluate their products on behalf of my client. Only one company made it easy for me to do so. Guess which one got my client's business?

What do you think? What kind of experiences have you had trying to evaluate enterprise-class software products?

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