How Do You Choose the Right Vendor of a Product Information Management system?

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Price/Quality Ratio for PIM

When you buy a PIM system and you cannot tell the different options apart, should you just pick the cheapest one?

I recently shopped for a mobile subscription for use in my new business.

I applied the same buying strategy that I use for most purchases I make when I roughly know what I need, but do not know what will be the best option for me: I searched the web for answers and expected to find a solution that would fit my needs.

I immediately weeded out all the discount brands. I do not want to run the risk of a sub-par experience with customer support and service, so right out of the gate I was left with only the major players on my shortlist.

I was thinking that it couldn’t be that hard to find a good solution with all the information available on user forums, review sites, and the operators’ homepages.
I especially made certain to check and double-check the coverage maps provided by each operator to ensure that I was not caught in some black hole. They all looked good – most of them even provide 4G coverage in my area.

By the looks of it, the ability to deliver a good mobile phone signal in a densely populated area is a commodity by now.

So after a good deal of research, I concluded that I could not find any substantial differences between any of the operators and their ability to cover my basic mobile phone needs.

Each operator had a multitude of packages with not just varying degrees of minutes, texts and data, but also with all kinds of extra options such as free music downloads, security and backup plans, TV subscriptions, and many other things I was not really interested in.

When I had distilled all this information and found the best suitable package from each operator, a clear winner stood out. One package was 15% to 250% cheaper than the other options.

Can you guess which one I picked?

The cheapest one, of course.

Based on all the information I had available, I was not able to spot any significant difference between any of my choices. I saw through all the marketing fluff and fake differentiation tactics and picked the one that could deliver what I needed at the best price. I was convinced that I had made the best and most rational decision.

Well, guess what?

When I activated my new SIM card the next week and eagerly tried to make a test phone call to my wife, I was not able to… There was zero coverage on the network at my home address. Not even a single little bar on my phone’s display.

I was sure that this was just a momentary problem on the network, or maybe something with the activation of my phone. I contacted Customer Service and I was asked to try a handful of different troubleshooting tips such as rebooting my phone, reactivating the card, and so on. They finally told me that my phone must be broken, so I should get a new one.

I tried another phone, but still found no signal.

After several encounters with Customer Service (every iteration took 3-4 days), they finally explained to me that they had now looked further into my case and informed me that my home address was unfortunately not covered by their network due to “circumstances outside their control”.

What???

I had done all this research, where I felt I had “dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s,” and ended up with a solution that was not just of lower quality than my other options, but had chosen a solution that was completely useless.

Just having started my own business, my phone is a crucial tool and it is critical that it works every time. Now, I had been without a workable phone for over a month before the operator informed me that I really did not qualify to become a customer of theirs in the first place.

All the information that I had gathered to solve this seemingly simple task proved worthless because I did not have access to information that would have disqualified this carrier from the beginning.

I did ask them whether their coverage map was worked out by their technicians or their marketing department. I am still waiting for a reply on that one, but I am not holding my breath.

However, this experience got me thinking about the situation that companies are in when they go out to buy a Product Information Management system.

This is not a trivial purchase decision by any means. Compared to a mobile phone subscription, the amount of information to gather and interpret is immense, and you will not find reviews online that boil the whole thing down to somewhere between 1 and 5 stars.

So, finding the right vendor to solve your Product Information Management problems can be a daunting task. It is a high-stakes game, where a wrong decision can be very expensive in both money and time, and can potentially even be career-threatening.

Most vendors know how to market themselves well, and from the outside their solutions can be difficult to tell apart. So which one is the best choice?

If you can’t tell the difference, you might as well go with the cheapest option like I did, right?

Well, as in my example, there can be very significant differences between the options you have lined up that are not apparent to the “untrained” eye, or the differences do not come out because the right questions have not been asked during the process.

I have seen many examples in my time of failed Product Information Management projects, across many different types of organizations and delivered by many different vendors (some of them no longer in existence, though), and many of them were simply the sad outcome of poor decisions made in the selection process of vendor and solution.

Another great share of the failed projects I have seen were a result of poor implementation, but that’s for another post.

When you make a buying decision for a Product Information Management system, you are making a decision for the long term.

Switching costs are high, and the time you spend until you realize your mistake equals lost opportunity, not to mention the accumulated investments you have made in the solution, which most likely can be written off as costs as sunk as a dead whale.

You may already be painstakingly aware of this, and maybe that is holding you back from actually making a decision.

In the world of complex software sales, there is an old adage saying that your worst competitor is not the other vendors competing in the race for the customer’s signature – it is the customer choosing to do nothing, the customer choosing the status quo.

As your buying process progresses further and further, your sense of risk increases as it slowly dawns on you that you will eventually have to make a decision and a commitment to go with one of the options on the table.

You might be overwhelmed by all the sales pitches, product demos and people trying to win your confidence and pull you in their direction, so deciding to do nothing may suddenly seem like the most comfortable choice to make.

But that is not going to solve your problems, is it?

So what do you do?

Well, you do whatever you can throughout the buying process to minimize the uncertainties and doubts that remain at the time of making a commitment.

That it is easier said than done, but it all starts with the planning of the process, and it is about setting the right team on your side consisting of people with complementary areas of expertise and background.

As part of the evaluation, you will need to judge each proposed solution on how well they fulfill aspects such as:

  • Functional requirements
  • Technical requirements
  • Organizational impact
  • Cultural fit with vendor
  • Amount of customization
  • Costs
  • Implementation approach
  • Level of support
  • Vision of vendor
  • Legal aspects
  • Etc.

In other words, it should be a team effort to make an evaluation.

Maybe it still comes down to one or two people to make a decision (or what to recommend to the board of directors or steering committee), but they should be comfortable knowing that within the team there are no “black holes” of understanding, because that is where the feeling of anxiety and risk-taking is coming from.

Even if you manage to rally up a large team within your organization, you may not be able to cover all the bases of such an evaluation – especially not if your organization is new to Product Information Management.

Consider inviting an outside expert to guide you through the process and help you choose the best possible solution. Oh, by the way, that expert could be me. If you are interested, get in touch with me now and let’s talk.

I would also love to hear your thoughts or good/bad experiences of buying complex software, so please leave a comment.

In an upcoming blog post, I will describe a proven model for planning and executing the buying process.
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