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The Messy Middle Challenges Buyers and Vendors

By Hank Barnes | October 25, 2022 | 0 Comments

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In 2021, I shared some information from an earlier buyer study that looked at the clarity of vendor evaluation criteria and it’s role in organizations being effective, confident buyers.  The main finding—when buying organizations weight all criteria of relatively equal importance, they are more likely to be challenged.  Challenges come in the form of regret, delays, and no decisions.

A recent Gartner study focus on Fusion Teams and Fusion Team leaders reinforced that finding.  In that study, we characterize top performers as teams whose projects deliver positive outcomes without having bad outcomes (such as security exposures).   Only rougly 10% of the teams studied met this criteria–which is challenging, particularly with teams working on multiple projects.

One of the things we assessed about these teams was asking their leaders about the type of vendors they prefer–from those with a track record to newer vendors.   We also asked about what was more important in terms of selection criteria–issues of cost risk and compliance or innovation.   Respondents could rate these two statements from 1 to 5–one being strongly agree with a position and 5 being strongly agree with the opposite.

In looking at these results roughly 25% of the sample chose the neutral midpoint of either statement.   And the results for percentages meeting our  “best of the best” criteria?  See the two charts below.

In terms of vendor preferences:

And in terms of selection criteria:

In both cases  those with the clearest preferences outperform those that are less clear–with the neutral midpoint being a bit of no man’s land for effectiveness.

From a vendor perspective, there are lessons to be learned in multiple areas:

  1. When you prospects aren’t definitive about what matters to them, expect a challenging selling experience and a challenging customer.   Consider ways to guide them toward more clarity.
  2. Messaging that appeals to both ends of spectrums probably are not effective.  “Amazing Outcomes with Low Risk” is both hard to believe and actually appeals to the messy middle.
  3. Your own product positioning can be impacted.  Being in the middle is not a good place to be.  Make a choice and build from there.

The idea of being in the middle not being a great situation is something that has long been acknowledged (remember Jan Brady?).    Here is yet more evidence to reinforce that point.

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