There is a funny and arcane expression whose derivation I have never quite understood, but whose meaning is clear in any language: Don’t buy a cat in a sack! It’s the same in German, ‘Die Katze im Sack kaufen.’ Whererever it comes from, the idea of purchasing software sight unseen is fairly prevalent. Yes: you watched the demo and you saw the screaming on-stage endorsement of the huckster and the adulation of the fans. But what about the site visit?
Ah, the site visit! I was with a client last week and I suggested that they go on site to a reference customer for the product under discussion. They thought that a good idea, but it would be time consuming and costly. “You mean like a CRM project? That kind of costly?” I asked. They were weighing a customer service center re-build that would replace an eleven year old system. Estimated total cost: US$ 4 million. And the site visit? Maybe $4,000 if they really made it a five-star junket.
Flash forward one week: the client found that the software vendors were unable to find a good fit. The vendors all had good reasons – references are reluctant to be bombarded, they don’t want to talk, it is a bad time of the quarter….
Well, the good news for my clients is that I do a lot of reference calls and visits, and the results are eye-opening. The IT leaders responsible for these projects are incredibly smart people 99% of the time. They know technology and have been on many IT projects. They know what is ‘normal’ in an implementation and know what is ‘difficult.’ They are loquacious and honest and sincere. They will reveal everything and anything about the software providers technology, professional services, and costs. About usability, scale, latency and configurability.
The two-fold beauty of the reference check is that you ascertain the competency of the vendor in your industry, with your business problem, in your geography, within your similar IT environment. If you are Public Sector Case Management, then Banking or Insurance Case Management may not be a good comparison. If you are single language English then multi-language simultaneously in Kanji and English might not be a good match.
Just don’t neglect the reference check, and if at all possible the site visit. You will meet amazing people and shorten your project time by at least 15%. And then you can be one of those rabid fans at the next User Conference, or the silent heckler in the back of the room. Caveat Emptor.
Anyone with a good story on this?