5 Great Questions to Ask Vendors

Most of us tend to consider ourselves savvy professionals. After all, if you own a business, you clearly have some level of aptitude when it comes to the business world around you. Yet there are still situations where we may end up taken in, tricked, misled, or just plain romanced. The problem is, all around in the world there will always be some new technology or feature that could help change your business.

If you are smart, you at least take the time to listen to new ideas, but the downside of that openness is that you might unintentionally open yourself up to being the victim of a scam of some sort. Not every scam stinks the first moment you see it, because not every one is malicious in nature. But your time and money are valuable and you need to be able to protect yourself from those who might waste one, or both — whether they realize they are about to do it or not.

Here are five questions you should ask anyone who might be selling you something to test whether they will be a good partner to work with or if they might just be full of hot air:

1. How will you measure if our partnership is successful?

Most people will be ready to answer a question of how to measure success for you and your business — or at least they should. The more challenging question is about what makes entering a relationship with your business successful for them. The answer they give you will tell you a lot about how they see the relationship they are about to enter with you.

2. What else will I need to budget for next year?

Many technology buyers are familiar with a concept commonly abbreviated as TCO — or the Total Cost Of Ownership. This simply refers to your overall cost of buying something over time. Asking the question about budgeting for the next year, though, can get a sales person to open up about ongoing costs in a way that asking about ongoing costs might not, because they can see dollar signs for future money. And the upside is that you will get real info on what your total cost of ownership will be.

3. Who else will I be working with (or what other products will I need to buy)?

One of the oldest tricks in selling services professions is bringing the "A-team" to a first meeting with you and getting you to fall in love with the stars on the team (who you may not necessarily work with). To make sure you are not getting romanced by one superstar, insist on meeting more of the team members and individuals who will actually work on your business. If you are buying a product, make sure you see the other products in the range that you may need or want to purchase at some point in the future.

4. Where will I be in your range of customers?

It is a fair question to ask to find out how important your business is likely to be to a new company that you will be working with. This does not, however, mean that you always need to find a company as a partner where you will be a big part of their customer list... it will just give you a sense of what you might expect and also help you ensure that you are not paying a premium for service when you know you are just a small part of the overall portfolio of customers for who you decide to purchase from.

5. What do I need to do to get a better deal in the future?

Once you understand the costs that are involved in whatever you are purchasing, you should also get an answer for the future on how you might be able to negotiate a better deal. This will be valuable to know because if your business increases and you end up purchasing more, you need to know the thresholds to get more preferential pricing, or how else you can improve your contract moving forwards.

Asking these questions will not only help you make sure you are getting the best possible deal, but also to see your way through any unscrupulous marketing or exaggeration that you may encounter. If you have other tips that have worked for you in the past, please share them in a comment on this post as well.
By Rohit Bhargava
Image by Paul Moore  

Rohit is a marketing speaker, author, blogger and founding member of the 360 Digital Influence team at Ogilvy, a marketing agency. He published the award winning new marketing book, Personality Not Included in 2008 and also writes the Influential Marketing blog, one of the most popular marketing blogs in the world which has been called "intellectual and educational" by the Wall Street Journal.




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