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Why You Should Visit the Customer Site of a Prospective Vendor

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One of the best methods for researching a vendor and its technology is to visit one of its customer sites. This article discusses the benefits and drawbacks of the vendor customer site visit research method.
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One of the best methods for researching a vendor and its technology is to visit one of the vendor's existing customer sites. This visit will enable you to examine the solution firsthand and find out what the people using it think about it.

There are several benefits of using the vendor customer site visit research method. The following list provides an overview of these benefits:

  • Seeing the product: It is very difficult to visualize a product without actually seeing it. By examining the product at a customer site, you can verify that the product exists and isn't what is often referred to as "vaporware." In addition, it provides you with a chance to see how usable the user interface is for the product.

  • New ideas: You might get some good ideas from the vendor's customer (even ones that don't pertain to this acquisition). These can be especially beneficial if the company is similar to your company. There are usually several ways to address a business need. Visiting other companies with the same business need can provide you with new ideas about how to best address your business need.

  • Vendor customer satisfaction: If you want to know how the vendor is to work with and whether customers are happy with its customer service, visiting the vendor's customers is one way to get this important feedback on the vendor's customer service.

  • Vendor integrity: Visiting the vendor's customers enables you to find out whether the vendor lives up to its promises. Salespeople can make their company and product sound pretty attractive. Talking directly to the vendor's customers allows you to validate its claims and ensure that you are getting what you expect if you choose that particular vendor.

  • Experience: Certain information is only apparent after you have experience working with the vendor and its technology. Find out what others have to say about the vendor. Learn from their experiences. This can save you from making a bad decision based on false information or hollow promises.

  • Decisions: Find out how other companies made their decisions. Why did they choose a particular vendor, and what was the deciding factor? Was it a close call or was one of the vendors the clear leader? What research methods did they use during their technology acquisition process? Did they use a competing product prior to using the current one? Knowing how other companies chose their vendors can help you understand what was important to them. Keep in mind that their business needs might be very different from yours.

  • Differences: The vendor's reference companies might have uncovered major differences that you haven't yet uncovered. This is even more likely if the reference companies are experienced with the technology, and you are not. You might want to ask them what the key difference was between the vendors they had to choose from. Their answer to this question could open your eyes to something significant that you previously missed.

  • Contacts: You might establish mutually beneficial relationships with the contacts you make during the reference calls. These can be valuable if the company is similar to your company.

There are also a number of drawbacks to using the vendor customer site visit research method. The following list discusses a few of these drawbacks:

  • Time: It can take weeks to plan and conduct site visits to vendor customer sites. You should visit the same number of customer sites for each vendor in order to remain fair in your evaluation.

  • Costs: It can be very costly to send several project team members to multiple vendor customer sites. However, if the technology solution is a large purchase, it may be wise to use this research method. If the purchase is small, you might not be able to justify the costs of this research method.

  • Objectivity: The vendor's customer sites that you visit will not be random selections. Vendors will only send you to happy customers. However, wouldn't you do the same? Keep this in mind when visiting these customer sites. Make sure you find out about both the positives and negatives of working with this vendor and its technology.

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