This is a true story. And like all good stories it has heaps of strong emotions - with some of the seven virtues and lashings of the seven deadly sins. There's hope, persistence, anger, despair, arrogance and sloth, but greed is most definitely absent from the list.
It all began innocently enough . . . IDG (the publisher of this magazine) VP of circulation and database services is expanding her portfolio and moving into research. To date she and her team had been getting by with Excel, but now needed robust statistical analysis software. She had to decide fast. Our financial year ends September 30, and as any business unit manager with a budget knows "use it or lose it". So the VP asked our IT manager for some advice and, after a bit of investigation, he recommended a well-known package. Even better, the vendor was running a demonstration seminar in August, which the VP and a team member were able to attend.
They were very, very impressed with the product. The VP turned an evaluation form and indicated that:
- her organisation had a budget for analytical software,
- she had purchase authority (along with her name, title and contact details) and she could approve the purchase immediately.
Okay let's do a recap here. You've got a potential customer, with a need, with authority with a chequebook and with a timeframe. Is this a no-brainer or what?
Indeed in the end, no-brainer is exactly what it was - but not as you might guess at first pass. Here's what transpired over the next four weeks.
1. No one from the company contacted the VP although she had registered her interest based on the feedback form. (Okay, let's face it, this type of "fall-through-the-cracks" stuff happens all the time.)
2. After a week or so, the VP called the company and asked for a meeting. "Sorry," they said, "we don't do meetings. We try not to visit clients, however, we're happy to deal with this over the phone." (Huh?) The VP insisted company reps come to IDG's offices so they could see the data types and formats and what the team was hoping to accomplish. Finally the company reluctantly agreed. (This company is a 20 minute walk from us.)
3. First meeting, a rep shows up with the wrong information. He'd been briefed that the VP wanted to do online surveys. Very embarrassed. Mucho apologies. Good-byes all around. (Oops. Not the best of starts, but Que Sera, Sera - right?)
4. For brevity purposes here, the second meeting is best characterised as chit-chat.
5. Third meeting two reps show up. One manages to piss everyone off (including the IT manager, who's usually a pussycat) with questions not about the data and its manipulation, but irrelevant ones like: "How much money do you intend to make with this project?" (Huh? Did we ask for a business development manager? Could you just sell us some damn software, please.)
6. Fourth meeting takes place at vendor's office. It's a "kiss and make up meeting". The vendor's brought in a "travelling" expert and he asks for examples of data files to work with. (This is the first time anyone's asked for the data files?)
7. Expert e-mails back the following message on September 27: "First try (after Fri dinner and a half-bottle of wine). . . I'll work a bit more on the other stats next week."
As of this writing the VP has not heard another word. The end of our financial year has come and gone. The sale is nowhere near the dead cert it was a month ago.
And it's entirely possible that the VP, who is known to love a glass or two of red herself - is liable to say: "So PiSS-off" when they do finally get around to calling.
By the way, they just reported a 14 per cent drop in operating income for the quarter I am writing about. Can't imagine why.
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