Editor's note: Check out part one of this in-depth piece here.
Step No. 4: Deep round of vendor discussions
At this point, the buyer has a pretty good sense that one of a few vendors will be the right fit. You're ready to get to the heart of the need and hear how each vendor will attempt to solve it.
Advice for buyers
This is your time to go deep. Do not leave any stone unturned. Choosing the wrong vendor could be very distracting or even disastrous for your team. If you need 10 follow-ups to a question because you're not getting the clarity you need, then keep asking until you do. Take your time and do this right.
Also, use this stage to see how it will be like working with these companies. Through this process, you should get a better sense if the relationship will be a good culture fit which is just as important as the technology. Are they responsive? Do they get rattled when you ask them the hard questions? You should also ask the vendor for references and do some back channeling of your own to get feedback on the company.
Advice for sellers
Warning… there will be a lot of back and forth between you and the buyer at this point. You may need to resend the same answer or document over and over. You may have to explain your solution again and again to each member of the buyer's team when it could all have been accomplished in one meeting. As the purchase becomes eminent, new stakeholders will appear out of thin air who have no idea about you or what your company does. They may even have strange requests that are completely misaligned to the original buyer's evaluation criteria.
Throughout this process, you must -- and I stress must -- manage every single point of contact as well as you possibly can. Every factor could mean the difference between a sale or a loss. Failure to respond quickly is a no-no. Failure to go into detail when asked is a no-no. The sales folks that are able to stay focused and realize that each touchpoint can make the difference (no matter how unimportant and trivial it may seem) are the ones that are the most successful. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
Step No. 5: Choosing the winner
Okay, it's been a long process and now the finish line is close. It's time to decide which vendor to choose. Hopefully, it's an easy and clear choice, but many times it isn't. Your team may like vendor A, your boss may prefer vendor B, and you may think vendor C is the right choice. Ultimately, a decision will need to be made with all parties in mind.
Advice for buyers
Telling a vendor that they've won the business is the good part. But, you need to keep your eyes open when moving forward as the journey really has just begun. This vendor should be "under quarantine" until they demonstrate that they can truly deliver what they promised. One of the biggest pet peeves I hear from buyers is that there can be a major drop off in the level of attention and service from a vendor once they are chosen.
For the rest of the vendors, it can be a major let down for them, especially if they've really put in a ton of time and effort into the sales process. The best thing you can do for them is to give them a very clear rationale on why they weren't chosen. When I was a buyer, I believed strongly that it was very important to provide them this information. It was the least I could do. Now that I've been on the sell-side for a while, I know now that this feedback is absolutely critical. It's okay to lose a deal, but if you aren't able to learn and get better, then all of that time was truly wasted.
If I went back to being a buyer tomorrow, I would give each finalist I didn't choose a very detailed, written summary of whatever I could share with them on why they didn't win my business. Why in writing? Because then the sales person can forward it to the rest of their organization. Sometimes things get lost in translation, so having it in an email can ensure that your feedback is received properly by everyone who wasn't involved in the sales process. The reason you didn't pick them may be a major point of concern for them for the last year. Maybe now they can fix their gaps and eventually turn this loss into more wins down the line.
Advice for sellers
If you're the vendor picked, then it's high fives all around. You did it! It's now vital for you to huddle up with your service team and ensure that there's a proper handoff between what was promised and what you learned during the sales process. I can't stress how critical this simple sync exercise is to the end client. You will totally kick off this relationship on the wrong foot if the first meeting post-win goes horribly wrong. In fact, you should be at that first meeting to make sure everything goes smoothly.
If you didn't get picked, it's okay. It happens. It's a numbers game. Just make sure you understand why. On some occasions, you knew you weren't going to win the business leading up to the decision. But, it's not all over yet. The winning vendor still needs to prove that they can deliver. There have been times when I had to pull the plug on a vendor and invoke an out-clause in the contract and then go hire one of the vendors I didn't choose initially. Also, most contracts are for only one year. Stay in touch with the contact and check in. At the end of the year, they may not love their current relationship and be ready to re-engage.
Step No. 5: Negotiating the contract
At this point, most of the details should have already been hammered out. The contract phase should simply be dotting Is and crossing Ts. Of course, it's never that easy and the bigger the deal, generally the longer the contract phase.
Advice for buyers
For many marketers, the fine art of negotiation is about getting as much as you can for as low a price as possible. But, let me pass on this piece of advice from an old mentor of mine: "Don't beat your vendors down so much that they cannot stand." What he meant by this was that just because you can swing a couple percentage points lower at the signing table, it doesn't mean that you necessarily should. Yes, if you are absolutely sure that the price you have been quoted is above market norms, then you should try to bring it down to reality.
Technology vendors have literally been run out of business due to shrinking margins because marketers keep chasing a lower and lower price simply because they have the power to do so. Resist this urge as much as you can. You won't win anything if your vendor can't afford to service your account properly. Most vendors won't complain and just suck it up and drop their rates, but what's happening behind the scenes because of your "incredible negotiation skills" may shock you. Many tech companies have to operate on a skeleton crew because of price pressure. If you negotiate lower rates, make sure to ask what impact it will have on your account. You may want to pay a few bucks more to ensure that your vendor (now your partner, mind you) can hire the best people and continue innovating and advanced the technology which will soon become a relied upon piece of tech in your stack.
Advice for sellers
Don't overpromise or agree to a contract that doesn't work for you. If the buyer is trying to negotiate down the price, then you have the right to counter by pulling out some part of the total package. Be transparent and work with them. For example: "Okay, if you want to get down to this rate, we'll have to move our weekly meetings to bi-weekly, drop from 20 licenses to 15, and we may have to pull out custom reporting work. I'll price that separately in case you ever want to come back to it and have us do that for you."
Bad contracts can sink tech companies. You may be locked into a high level of service that you could literally be losing money on to fulfill. Look, the marketer's job is to negotiate you down as low as possible. That's one of the primary values that an agency brings to a brand, and they wear their negotiating skills as a badge of honor. But, remember, if they spent weeks and months through this evaluation process and they picked you, then you actually have a leg to stand on. As long as you articulate exactly why the price needs to stay where it is (and it doesn't just seem like a money grab), then most buyers will come around eventually. I know it's tough to stand your ground, and the buyers are trained to put pressure on you, but you can't sign a bad contract simply because it's a contract. Not all deals are good deals.
The bottom line is that marketers need technology to do their job. With hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide dedicated to advertising, there's a lot of buying going on every day. It can sometimes be a giant chore for buyers and sellers to conduct business, but ultimately business will get done.
Buyers and sellers should be more transparent and treat each step of the buying process as an opportunity to build strong partnerships. Just because you went with Vendor A this time doesn't meant that you won't work with Vendor B sometime in the future. There can be unneeded tension and complexity simply because of a lack of understanding and empathy toward each other. Unfortunately, there's not a good manual or training program to help buyers and sellers work together better, but I hope that you'll take some of the tips I've outlined in this post and build upon them.
Final advice for buyers
Recognize that the sales people you are working with are spending a ton of time and effort on you, even if it doesn't seem that way. On the buy side, I used to cancel vendor meetings at the drop of a hat if I got busy.
Now, seeing it from the other side, I know that sometimes when a vendor rep says that they're "going to be in town and would like to drop by" that really what's happening is that they're waking up at 3 a.m. and getting on a 6 a.m. flight to come see you. They sit at a coffee shop around the corner from your office for three hours studying your business, conferring with colleagues over the best strategy, and planning how they're going to open and close the meeting. Then, they show up at your office and are turned away because you got busy and don't want to stay a few minutes late because of it. Of course, they'll never complain. That's the role. But, just keep that in mind the next time you cancel a call at the last minute or treat a vendor rep like they're a door-to-door bible salesman.
Final advice for sellers
Choosing how to spend thousands, tens of thousands, or even millions on technology is a hard job for buyers. It's difficult to know which vendor is right for or even the right questions to ask. Sometimes they'll get it right and sometimes they'll get it wrong. In many cases, your company could be an awesome fit for a buyer and they just won't see it. The best thing you can do when pitching business is to be very clear on what you can do for a buyer and demonstrate that working with you will be a pleasure, not a chore. Don't crowd the buyer as long as they keep communicating with you. Ultimately, there's only so much you can do and you have to trust the process.