Dealing with vendors isn’t always a bad experience… but we all have our horror stories. This week we’ve asked our group of contributors to share a few of those, or to share some positive experiences as examples for other vendors to learn from.

Without Naming Names (unless you want to…) What drives you crazy when dealing with vendors? – And/Or – Have you had positive dealings with a vendor that other vendors could learn from? 

I put this question out on a law library listserv last week, so we have a lot of library vendors stories. I’m sure you can relay these stories over to your own perspective.

Next week, we are having some fun with the Elephant Post, and we are hoping to get a lot of short answers from a lot of different perspectives. So, to make it easy for you, I’m listing the question here in hopes that you will email or tweet me for details on how to contribute to next weeks Elephant Post:

Next Week’s Elephant Post: What Fictional Character (Star Trek, Monty Python, etc) would be outstanding in your profession?

Because next Thursday is Thanksgiving, we’ll post next week’s Elephant Post on Wednesday, November 24th.

The AFA Perspective
Vendor’s “Lack of Homework”
Toby Brown

I appreciate that vendors need to make cold calls to generate business.  That being said, it is very easy to screw these up and hard to get them right.  If you are going to spend the resources on such an effort, make sure you handle them well.  If you don’t, not only have you wasted your time, you have wasted my time, creating a negative impression of your company with me and my firm.

For some reason I have had a recent burst of vendor cold calls.  My advice based on this recent experience:

Before you call me do a little homework to find out what my role is at my firm.  My LinkedIn profile is very easy to find, so this is not asking much.  When you call to pitch a records management product to me (well outside my role), you take your first strike.

The next big mistake I have seen, repeatedly on these calls, is the sales person ask for me to give them the name of the person at the firm that handles records management.  Really?!?!?  You were too lazy to find out my role and now you take that laziness a quantum leap further and ask me to do your job?  And in the process expose a colleague to the same treatment you just gave me?  I think not.  This reminds me of an old Jerry Seinfeld bit.  Next time I should ask for their home number so the “right” contact at the firm (in China) can call them at their convenience … around 2:00 a.m.

The bottom-line: customer service starts at the beginning – even with a cold call.  Make sure this is a good experience and your success rate will increase.

The IT Perspective
Vendor’s “Lack of CRM”
Scott Preston

What drives me crazy is getting a cold call, email, or a request for an appointment to ‘discover opportunities’ from a company that is already our vendor.

Two weeks ago I received an email that went something like this:
Dear Scott,
We provide long distance call analysis to many law firms similar to Fulbright.  We would like to have a short meeting to discuss how Fulbright can benefit from our services . . .

Here is a list of firms that currently use our services:
ABC Firm
Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P.
XYZ Firm.

Come on vendors, stop wasting my time (and yours).
How about a little quality assurance?
The Library Perspective
Vendor’s “TMI”
Greg Lambert

One of my favorite memories of dealing with a vendor was when I worked for the Oklahoma Supreme Court. I sat across the table from a vendor and we announced that we were not accepting the offer that they made. What happened next was surreal. The vendor told us that we had to sign the contract because “My reps have mouths to feed at home.”

Look… I’m a pretty compassionate guy, but I had to basically say “I Don’t Care!” to that.

Negotiations are business decisions, not personal ones. Don’t confuse the fact that I may like you (or not like you) personally, with the value of your product. Those two things are completely separate. When it comes to your product, I only want to know three things:
What It Is
What It Does
How Much It Costs

That’s it. Trying to tie personal feelings to the decision making process is not going to get you anywhere… no matter how many mouths you have to feed at home.

[Note: I had another experience this week that I thought I’d share with you… I really don’t like it when a vendor sets up a phone meeting with you and cannot figure out that the Central Time Zone is only one hour behind the Eastern Zone. When they call an hour late (or two hours early), I usually let it roll over to voicemail.]
The Internet Marketing Perspective
Legal Services Vendors: Friend or Foe?
Lisa Salazar

I have a favorite rep.

She does everything right: right amount of phone calls, right amount of e-mails, right amount of in-person meetings. She’s personable, kind, thoughtful.

In the 6 years that I have known her, she has managed to do what I wish attorneys would do: she’s become a friend.
A Second Library Perspective
7 Ways to be a Strong Vendor/Partner
Jill Strand

Having been a sales rep for a large trade publisher, I see my vendor reps as potential partners who can help my Library (and their company/product) be perceived as a valuable asset to my firm.  While I am quite certain that I didn’t do everything right as a rep, I did learn that my knowledge of products, understanding of my buyers’ needs and willingness to tackle problems would be my strongest selling points.  As such, here are the qualities I value most in my best vendor reps:

  1. Acknowledging my email/voice mail so that I know they have my request.  If they can’t get back to me quickly, they usually at least give me an idea of when they can.
  2. They thoroughly read and note all of my questions in an email.  It can be frustrating to organize and craft careful questions only to have some go unacknowledged.  Again, knowing that the rep is working on it and when they think they can get back to me is most helpful.
  3. They let me know in advance if prices for their product(s) will be increasing if they think I’m interested in making a purchase. NOT: This is not the same as asking me to rush my decision-making process to meet the vendor’s end-of-month or end-of-year sales goals or to take advantage of a “time-sensitive” offer or discount.  My job is to do what is best for my firm, not what is best for the vendor’s bottom line.
  4. They’ll ask me for a start date before initiating a free trial.  We try to schedule trial for when certain groups are most likely to be available to take part and offer their feedback.
  5. They have a thorough grasp of the content, scope and features of their products.  I’m often reviewing a variety of tools for different practice areas and rely on reps to explain what makes their product valuable and unique from the competition.  We certainly do our own testing but I leave it to the rep to do the selling.  The best ones will also pay close attention to attorney’s questions during a demonstration and answer them there or follow up with answers or more detail soon afterwards.
  6. Actively solicit and act upon feedback to improve their products.  While I’m happy to volunteer for beta-testing of new products, it is frustrating to suddenly have a new version or interface pushed out that hasn’t had a proper vetting.  Testing products in a pristine technological environment without exposure to commonly used programs on most of our computers won’t fly.  Gaining buy-in and input from clients and potential customers is more important than unveiling something new by a specific date or at a certain trade show.
  7. They make it easy to understand the pricing and cost increases for individual items and content sets.  Bundling titles, print and electronic, etc. may appear on the surface to save us money but it actually makes it harder to compare apples to apples, much less track costs.  Even if they don’t have control over how pricing is set up, creating a simple spreadsheet with cost breakdowns and projected price increases is a huge help, particularly as I try to budget for new products.  However, if obstrufication is a vendor’s vehicle to profits, then my firm will never be a profitable client. 

With reps, colleagues and clients, I’ve always tried to be straightforward about any concerns or issues.  We all drop the ball once in a while and appreciate a chance to improve.  So if I need something more from my rep, I will ask them for it first before speaking with their manager.  That said, many thanks to all those vendor reps who go out of their way to make my job easier because they understand that, in the long run, a happy client will make their job easier.

The Competitive Intelligence Perspective
The Hard Sell
Zena Applebaum

We recently had a vendor arrange for a demo of the product to a wide variety of lawyers.  The product came with rave reviews from a  number of lateral hires who claimed to not be able to live without it.  The demo started well and everyone was enjoying the products ease of use and search capability from research staff to associates and partners, everyone of the 20+ people in the room could see a use for the product. Then, without warning, the mood turned aggressive.  When asked if there any questions in the room, no one spoke. So the vendor did, asking the entire room full of people what he needed to do to get us to buy the product, he pushed further, asking if it was a issue of money or licenses or competitor products.  Details and processes for purchase that fly well over the heads of most firm users.   I finally had to break the awkward round of questioning and point out that a product demo to a room full of lawyers who don’t manage research budgets was likely not the appropriate place for this type of conversation.  Needless to say, the partners in the room were not to pleased that they had spent their “billable” time being sold to.

I beg and plead with all vendors  of legal products and services out there to save the heavy sales talk for the appropriate stakeholders (if you have to use it at all) and not anyone who may one day come in contact with the product.  We’ve since subscribed to the product because it is a good one but based on the sales savvy of the organization, I would have ended our relationship right then and there during the hard sell demo.  Let your products do the talking and the selling for you.

The Knowledge Management Perspective
“No” is Not the Right Answer
Ayelette Robinson

If you’re working with a customer who makes a request, don’t say “no.” And certainly don’t say “no” followed by a litany of reasons why it’s a ridiculous request. This does not mean that you have to accommodate every request; it means that the customer has a need that you’re not addressing. As the product designer/developer/customizer, it’s your job to ask more questions and listen to what the customer really needs. It may be that the solution the customer offered was not the best one, but it’s part of your role to understand what the underlying need is and to find the right solution – i.e. get to “yes.” What will win you points is not your ability to describe a product’s existing features, but rather your ability to design creative and elegant solutions to a customer’s needs.
Another Library Perspective
Vendor Shout Out
Karen Lasnick

I probably have the same countless horror stories that everyone else has, but I have to give a shout out to our West inside rep, Paul Baranek, who handles all our offices in the U.S. He does a great job for us, no matter how bad the situation is and always with a great attitude. I’ve never felt like I was being mollified or give a load of b.s. from him, even when what he tells me it isn’t what I want to hear. I would be much less inclined to grumble if all our vendors were like Paul.

Another Library Perspective
Database Vendors Who Don’t Believe Me When I Say:
Ellen Quinn
Don’t go around me to the attorneys.  I will find out and then I will have a bad opinion of you and the product you are trying to sell.
Price matters.
Quality matters.
Reliability matters.
Customer support is critical.
Down time is unacceptable.  Don’t tell me why your database is down, I don’t care.  Just tell me when it will be back up and that this will never happen again.  I am keeping track so you can’t fool me.
No means no.
If your product does not meet my user’s needs,  I will find one that will.  

Another Library Perspective
Be a Boy Scout
Janet McKinney

A couple of years ago we were looking to add some current awareness tools to our intranet.  One vendor in particular (most of you would recognize the name) had solutions that looked very promising.  We decided to make a push for getting some budget allocations for the product in the next fiscal year and arranged for a demo with the CIO and a couple of other stakeholders.  The person giving the presentation simply wasn’t prepared.  It was obvious that he didn’t know his audience, seemed to have no clue about the positions some of them held, and he didn’t really focus on our interests.  This information was supplied to the sales rep., but either didn’t get to person doing the demo or he forgot it, so the demo went off like a disastrous cold call.  I think it will take a turnover in administration for this vendor to be considered any time in the future.

And One More Library Perspective
How About A Little Respect?
Jan Rivers

Maybe it’s just me, but I really wish vendors would stop with the “sales-speak” and would just talk to me like a normal person. Spare me the jargon and buzzwords and let’s just have a conversation. Everyone uses the same descriptors for their products, so they are meaningless to me as a way of making your product stand out from the others. In fact, the more “salesy” the speech, the less substance I feel it has regarding actual information.

Vendors seem to travel in groups, which is fine if you are expecting more than one person for your meeting. If I’ve set-up a meeting with one person, I am highly irritated if they show up with two or three others in tow. If you plan on bringing more people with you, tell me in advance so that I not only can ensure having a conference room big enough to accommodate everyone vs. meeting in my office, but I also am better prepared to have a meaningful dialogue with the additional people. Also, please be on time or let me know you are running late.

Sometimes I just want some basic information about a new resource. Don’t assume that every inquiry for information means that I want a price proposal for it. Please give me the information I ask for and if I want a trial of the product or pricing information, I will be back in touch with you.

Please do not contact my managing partner or my firm’s attorneys directly. It not only is discourteous to me, but they will also just refer you back to me. It does nothing but waste their time and yours and generate irritation with me and others in my group.

Finally, the trend by some vendors of transitioning their product to a new platform which they only offer via enterprise-wide subscriptions is doing all of us a disservice. Budgets are tight and where previously we may have had a few people with access to the product, now we are being asked to pay many, many times more for the revised product since it’s now only available as an enterprise-wide service. Tough choices have to be made- disenfranchise a small group of people who really need the resource or disenfranchise others via cancelling other products so that we have the funds to cover the increased costs of the new product. Budgets aren’t going up in proportion to the cost increases imposed by vendors. The more vendors who move to this kind of model, the fewer products all of us will be able to afford.
Just Kidding… One More Library Perspective
You Didn’t Get My Business… Ask Me Why
Elaine Dockens

What continues to amaze me is that a vendor on the losing end of a  head-to-head competition for our business,  never makes an appointment to find out why they lost.    This bothers me because I don’t feel it’s my place to call up the vendor and say – this is why you lost and if you do x, y, and z next  time, you might win.   However, if asked, I would make comments that would be general enough to share with both sides equally, but still be helpful.
When vendors compete for our business, it benefits the law firm if they both are at the top of their game.  I’ve seen a vendor win a contract, not because they were so good, but because the other side was so bad at reading what the firm actually needed.  By doing a post-game review, the losing vendor  could  improve their chances for next time.
As for other things that bother me about vendors,  I pretty much exhausted my list in the article I wrote for LLRX last year [Vendor Pitfalls in Negotiating Large Multi-Year Contracts – or How to Lose a Million Dollar Contract.]

Seriously… This is the last Librarian Perspective (for now…)
Half-Baked Sale – Vendor’s Lack of Product Development
Nancy Warren

One of my greatest frustrations with vendors is being pitched a product that is half-baked.

Two examples:

  1. One of the major legal content providers wanted to sell us a suite for transactional attorneys.  After reviewing the product for less than an hour, I found content that was mislabeled and out of order, navigation that was redundant, navigation that was missing, a complete lack of scope notes for the content areas, and category labels that were so vague, it was impossible to anticipate how to accomplish any research using the product. 
  2. Another one of the major legal vendors wanted to sell us an additional content library.  Since the other content we have from this vendor is satisfactory, we invited a handful of attorneys to the initial presentation.  This was a huge mistake as the sales representative had almost no knowledge of the new content library and thus, no awareness that it was utterly insufficient to be a viable resource for that area of law. 

Two requests for vendors:

  1. Please understand that the library staff are specialists in reviewing resources.  We will scrutinize the content, compare it to resources we already have and to potential purchases, and will weigh its value against our needs and budget.  We are also very familiar with a variety of user interfaces and understand which ones are more intuitive for our users.  Don’t insult us and don’t waste our time by showing us half-baked products.
  2. If you want to show us half-baked products, get us involved earlier in the development  process.  I realize that this takes money and time and that there is pressure to release products as soon as possible because the competition is tight but we are willing to provide feedback when doing so will benefit our institution.  Our expertise and time are valuable and a coffee gift card isn’t enough. 

Doing it right:

Recently, I was pleasantly surprised during a demonstration of a legal services product.  We had seen the product about 7 months ago and at that time, expressed some interest but said that it was missing some key features.  Not only did they implement the one item that we said was a deal-breaker but they added some of the other features we recommended to their development schedule.  While it is possible that current customers were also asking for these features, it was a pleasant surprise to see that the product was noticeably improved and that the vendor specifically addressed the feedback we had provided.  Needless to say, we are considering making the move to this vendor.

Remember that next week’s Elephant Post on What Fictional Character Would Be Great In Your Profession, will go out on Wednesday!!
Email or Tweet me for information on how you can contribute to this fun post!!

  • Good question Greg!

    For me suppliers should follow five simple rules:

    1. Do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it.

    2. Acknowledge every communication as soon as you can. Give me a commitment with when you will give a full response.

    3. Treat your customer fairly – even if you have an effective monopoly. You are allowed to make a profit, but don't be greedy.

    4. Care about my business and what's important to me (note: that's not the same as what's important to you).

    5. Do let me know if there is something new that I can benefit from – but respect it if I say 'no thanks'.

  • The best vendors do the following:
    1. Research. Read the law firm’s Web site. How many offices do they have to support and where are they? Where’s the home office? Which practice areas are particularly important to them? Have they acquired another firm lately? What high profile clients do they represent?
    2. Homework. Search for the customer’s name on the Internet, starting with LinkedIn. See what speeches they have given. Call friends at non-competitive vendors (you should network at trade shows when no one is on the floor) to see what they can tell you.
    3. Knowledge. Know the customer, know their business, know their technology platforms, know your competitors. Once someone from your company meets with people at a firm, make sure they share their notes with everyone else at your company. It annoys people to have to tell six different people from the same company what e-mail system or desktop OS the firm uses.
    4. Courtesy. If you want something from someone, such as a call back, a reply e-mail, or face time, say “please.” Don’t say, “Call me,” “Let me know when we can meet,” or “You can reach me.”
    5. Respect. Respect your customer’s time. Don’t leave a voice mail longer than 60 seconds. Put your telephone number at the end of your message, slowly in case they need to grab a pen. Repeat your number so they don’t have to replay your message. Don’t ask for 20 minutes of time, waste 10 minutes with small talk while you’re “building a relationship”, then get to the heart of the discussion after 30 minutes. That’s insulting.
    6. Privacy. Do not include someone’s e-mail address in a mass e-mailing. It is not only an invasion of privacy but rude to provide someone’s e-mail address to a bunch of strangers.
    7. Time. Don’t waste each other’s time. There are only so many new, cool technologies that one firm can explore. Send quarterly emails to let people know what’s going on with your company.
    8. Listen. Ask about the customer’s needs before you explain what you’re selling. Then listen to what the customers says, so you can be more responsive. Don’t force your system on someone when it’s apparent that it doesn’t meet their needs, budget or timetable. If circumstances change, and you have a trusted relationship, you may have discussions in the future. You want to leave a favorable impression. This will also help when customers ask each other about you. Listening sets the best sales people apart from the masses.

  • Our comment to the question is a bit unique based on our position as commentators and promoters of legal technologists/SMEs/thought leaders no matter where they come from. Bad vendor behavior, whatever the source or motivation, has resulted in not only the necessity for blog posts like this but also systematic changes in how vendors are treated when it comes to thought leadership, speaking and generally sharing their expertise with those who are in need of it (whether they know it or not). Some consider this fair treatment based on “you asked for it” or some sort of punishment for misbehaving. Yet others (including us at InsideLegal and bloggers who care enough to open such discussions) are seeking the balanced middle road; act appropriately and earn the chance to participate as ‘equals’; play by the rules (grounded in common sense and general business etiquette) and we’ll let you play with others. For example, ILTA is well aware of the importance of vendor partners, but also very much in tune with the balancing act between getting them involved with peer networking activities and access to members while respecting member privacy and those longing for ‘no sales please’. InsideLegal and ILTA have teamed up since 2004 to provide a vendor education program as part of ILTA’s annual educational conference, precisely to address the aforementioned. 2010 was no exception, and the most actively discussed topic was, you guessed it, ‘advice for selling to law firms’. See the complete discussion (led by Sidley Austin's Joy Heath Rush and Wildman Harrold's Scott Christensen) post here

    With that as background, here are some issues – that not only apply to vendors, but our entire legal ecosystem – that to a large degree has aided in creating this ‘monster’:
    • Selling from the podium
    • Legal events charging insane sponsorship dollars to ‘sponsor tracks’ instead of having vendors ‘legitimately’ speak at industry events
    • Not pushing back when it comes to event organizers dictating all the ‘rules of engagement’
    • Vendors packaging marketing spin as education and thought leadership
    • Vendors feeding into all the stereotypes (cold calling, lack of common sense, invasive, not doing prospect homework, etc.)
    • Legal publishers not acknowledging subject matter expertise and thought leadership if it comes from the vendor camp
    • Vendors with a sense of entitlement based on ad and sponsorship dollars spent
    • Prospects – be they individual decision makers or influencers within the firm – who consider vendors cash cows with big expense accounts
    • Firms who send out unrealistic RFPs (based on what they expect to hear, how they expect to pay, and when they expect to hear back) and blame vendors for inadequate responses

    Although there are absolutely vendors that fit into the stereotypes that are outlined by the authors' experiences in this post, there are also some vendors in this industry that conduct themselves and their companies with integrity. It's a shame that they sometimes get branded with the "Scarlet V".

  • As Jobst mentioned in his comment above, we (InsideLegal) produced a vendor session at ILTA to discuss "Advice for Selling to Law Firms". In order to make this a real worthwhile experience, we invited Joy Heath-Rush, Enterprise Multimedia Services Manager at Sidley Austin and Scott Christensen, IT Director of Wildman Harrold, and current ILTA president. Joy and Scott are both technology decision makers for their law firms; in Joy's case a top 20 global law firm and in Scott's case a 200-attorney national firm.

    When asked about what works and what doesn't, both panelists continually stressed that building direct relationships with them directly is critical to any sort of success they might have selling (versus contacting their boss or others first). Contrary to popular belief, cold calling can be an effective tool if utilized properly and respectfully. Joy made a point to say that if she does take a cold call, which she regularly does, she'll be more inclined to follow-up if she knows how long the introduction will be. For example, if she gets a cold call saying "I'd like to setup a 15 minute call to introduce you to our product", she is more likely to accept. She also urged vendors to be very clear about their intentions and not to over-promise or under-deliver, especially in the beginning of the sales process.

    The session included other tips as well as "dos and don'ts", mostly focused on education and common sense business conduct:

    • KNOW LEGAL: The panelists talked about the importance of being able to not only walk the walk in legal but also talk the talk. Specifically, they both said that it's very important to understand legal speak so if you're not a legal specific vendor, educate yourself on legal jargon, how law firms work and operate, their workflows, etc. For example, the point was made, that anyone who refers to legal customers, as opposed to clients, evidently does not understand legal speak. Also, educate yourself on the legal technologies that a law firm relies on. Understand the technology infrastructure, how IT is structured, the importance of the IT department, and the overall selling process.

    • PREPARE – Do your homework on the firm and the organizational structure within the firm. Treat the sales process like an interview; with all the online tools at your disposal and with the advent of social media, there's really no excuse to not be fully informed before making that first phone call.

    • ESTABLISH REPUTATION THROUGH INVESTMENT IN INDUSTRY: The legal community is very loyal so once vendors have established a solid reputation and earned respect from their law firm clients, future business opportunities are a natural progression of the relationship.

    • PURCHASING PROCESS: Understand law firms' purchasing and procurement processes. Increasingly, larger, global law firms follow a formalized, centralized purchasing process for everything from tissue paper to servers and enterprise software solutions. So, while vendors may have relationships with one particular decision maker or influencer, there may be many more layers to uncover as it relates to firm-wide purchasing buy-in. On the other hand, smaller firms (i.e., Wildman Harrold) direct technology purchasing through the IT Group and give IT Directors (such as Scott Christensen) direct and final purchasing influence and decision making ability. The bottom-line: It's vital to identify and understand the legal target audience, from influencer to final decision-maker.

    • WORD GETS AROUND – GOOD OR BAD: Peer networking and peer recommendations are the key factors in law firm technology decision-making. As a legal technology peer networking organization, ILTA enables members to seek out each other's recommendations and experiences, critical aspects to comprehensively evaluating and purchasing technologies and related services.

  • Anonymous

    As a long-time legal vendor for several organizations, I was very interested in all these comments. Thank you for your candid feedback!

    Regarding cold calls: It has always been a required part of the vendor job to make cold calls. In my last two jobs we had to make cold call & appointment quotas weekly. I break out nearly in hives having to make cold calls, despite overall enjoying the rest of the job. (This is no joke.) Do most non-vendors understand that we are REQUIRED to make these cold calls and that many of us hate them and are terrified to be doing it? I wonder if people would respond compassionately if they knew that. This does not excuse poor manners by the vendor in cold calling. However, I truly wonder how they suggest we can successfully cold call without annoying people or being on the receiving end of either blistering remarks or having to leave voicemails into a black hole. If we don't do it, we get fired.

    Believe it or not, many of us truly do love our jobs because we like building relationships, helping people and advising firms on new technology. And these same people who are genuine are usually the ones that hate cold calling the most, because we do take the relationships seriously.

  • Dear Anonymous (and all vendors reading this), do we understand that you are required to make cold calls? Yes we do. Do you understand that being unprepared reflects poorly? I hope you do.

    It isn't the cold call that is the problem, it is the uninformed cold call. Do a little homework. I do not schedule into my day "time for random phone calls". You are using my time and there isn't a lot of that to spare. Get to the point and don't be offended if I rush you off the phone.

    Based on the last two comments here, I believe this needs to be said. We work with a lot of GREAT vendors. They are very responsive, they understand our business and they continue to look for ways to improve our business and our relationship.

    Perhaps the vendors should do an elephant post about the lame clients they deal with.

  • One of my biggest grievances at the moment is with vendors who consistently roll out (or acquire) new products which do remarkably similar things to products already in that vendor's arsenal. There are companies which have 3 or more ways of skinning the same cat, each with unique data sets and/or coverage, and with no communication between those services. The end result is that each of these tools may do 90% of what we need it to do, but none of them do the full 100%.

    Rather than introducing a new resource which allows us to search for SEC filings in a slightly different way, why not PERFECT your exisiting SEC filings tool first?