Jul 28, 2016

Customer References: Be Careful What You Ask For

I‘ve got an extensive consulting background, which means that I spend a lot of time and effort to help customers architect and deploy smart SAM solutions. Since I’ve worked closely with so many customers over the years, I take great pride in the relationships we’ve built. Nothing says more about the strength of a SAM tool than a customer endorsement. It’s those real-life experiences – what worked and what didn’t – and what their path to success looked like, that are inherently most valuable.

Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that vendors aren’t always truthful about their customer references. If it sounds too good to be true, it just might be. My professional advice is to personally investigate any reference given to you by a vendor.

Get candid insights by requesting a 1-on-1 with that customer, without the vendor on the call. And always (I cannot emphasize this enough) perform a proof of concept. Any vendor that refuses a pilot should signal an immediate red flag.

Ultimately, your success is driven by the success of the solution you chose. Be proactive in your approach. Avoid being misled by a vendor who may combine customers from multiple product portfolios into their total customer count.

For example, perhaps a company claims 2000 customers, but only 10% of their entire customer base actually uses their software compliance tool. As you can clearly see, numbers can often be ambiguous.

It’s imperative to ask specific questions when speaking with a reference. And again, make sure you see a proof of concept before making your final decision.

Several focus areas should be covered when speaking with references about their experience with a SAM vendor. Learning about these key areas before you choose a SAM solution ensures there are no surprises after you sign that dotted line. Here are some suggested categories to include when having a conversation with customer references:

  • Overall Vendor Satisfaction (realized value, going over and above)
  • SAM Governance (provide guidance of where to start, being a trusted adviser)
  • Solution Scalability (thinking “outside the box”, complimenting existing solutions)
  • Vendor Relationship (nurturing/guidance, partnership focus, enablement)
  • Vendor Responsiveness (ability to address issue quickly, assist with escalations)
  • Software Baseline and Compliance (product & services team abilities, understanding)
  • Product Implementation (duration, expertise, delivery effectiveness, transparency)
  • Product Technology (functionality, intuitiveness, integrations, and organizational effectiveness)
  • Customer Support (expertise post-implementation knowledgebase, and resolving problems)
  • End-user Satisfaction (SAM team, stakeholders, program sponsor, executive management)
  • ROI/Business Case (metrics, savings areas, management alignment)
  • General Advice (vendor criterion, resource need, management support)

Finding the right SAM tool for your organization is a process. I hope that my advice helps you to navigate through your SAM journey. Whether you’ve built an established SAM structure, or are have specific questions about what to ask a particular customer reference, I’d love to continue the conversation and learn more about your path to SAM.

Topics: SAM Insights