Four ways smart IT managers deal with sales calls

Ever wonder if your phone is the only one ringing off the hook with technology vendor sales pitches? It’s not. Here’s how other IT managers deal with the relentless vendor calls and e-mails. Guard the Perimeter

In my younger days, my voice mail greeting included, “Leave a message after the tone. Please note that I do not return cold sales calls.”

I can’t justify helping someone make a sales call on me or pay for the call to them. Since our phones show the Caller ID, I don’t answer calls that are transferred from our front desk — these are salespeople calling our greeters and asking for the “person in IT who handles” something. — Dave Nagy, senior director, technical services/information technology, Abercrombie & Fitch Co., New Albany, Ohio

Use your staff to screen calls. I never take a “cold call” but will take an e-mail as a result of staff prescreening. Never use your official company e-mail to sign up for anything on the Internet, unless they have a very strong piracy policy.

I keep a noncompany e-mail account just for this purpose when I request or buy things on the internet. This way, what comes to my e-mail box I really want to read. — Pat Smith, corporate vice president, MIS, Stiefel Laboratories Inc., Coral Gables, Fla.

Consider establishing a Web form, and instead of spending a lot of time answering calls, redirect all calling vendors to register there. Type of business, area of competence, some questions about the size of their operations can be selected from drop boxes (so you have easy to search profiles in your database). Also, ask them about their experience in your specific sector, including a reference site, and allow for attaching proposals they think may be interesting for you.

Those who are serious enough to go through the form and register may be worth considering in the future. You may include some basic information about your business, so you don’t spend time explaining those again and again. — Andrew Guzowski, IT manager, Australian Council for Educational Research, Camberwell

Ask for It in Writing

Politely explain that it isn’t possible for you to listen to every vendor’s pitch either on the phone or in person. Ask them to send you written material rather then e-mail.

This gives you the flexibility of reviewing the material anywhere and anytime without wasting your corporate resources. Set up a filing system by area of interest, and file the materials that may be of future interest. — Shahri Moin, director of IT, Oscient Pharmaceuticals Corp., Waltham, Mass.

Tell vendors to send you literature before you speak to them. This way, you can do a little research to see if they have a product you need or want. — Timothy C. O’Rourke, vice president for computer and information services, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Fla.

When the salesperson calls, indicate that you don’t take unsolicited calls nor do you give out your fax or e-mail address. If they would like to provide you with collateral materials about their product, they can send them by U.S. mail to your address.

Ninety-five percent of them never do; the rest I know are truly interested in promoting their product since they took the time to mail it and personalize the package for me. — W. Garrett Grainger Jr., CIO and vice president, Dixon Ticonderoga Co., Lake Mary, Fla.

If the vendor is selling something I’m not actively searching for at that time, I request contact information and file it away in a potential vendor file. The potential vendor file is divided into broad categories, such as telecom, network infrastructure, etc.

This way, should priorities change, I have a grouping of vendors with contact information that I can use right away. — Gina Papworth, U.S. director commercial services, Precision Twist Drill Co., Crystal Lake, Ill.

Tell vendors soliciting your business that they can send you the information in the mail. But be reluctant to have them send it to you by e-mail. It costs nothing to send you a constant stream of e-mail, but it costs the vendor more to use U.S. postage — thereby reducing the volume of unwanted solicitations. — Don Eginton, deputy CIO, city of Phoenix

Before the Phone Rings

It is nearly impossible to take vendor phone calls or read e-mails and still have time left in the day to do any work. As a consequence, I simply no longer take cold calls, nor do I read every e-mail or letter I receive. Instead, I depend on trade publications, both print and online, and conferences for “casual” information gathering.

I pay particular attention to industry-vertical solutions but also look at interesting developments in other industries which could be applicable. I pay more attention when we are clearly in need of a solution, skimming through the library I have collected and leveraging my personal network, research groups and other sources. — Joseph A. Puglisi, group CIO, Emcor Group Inc., Norwalk, Conn.

Set up a “vendor presentation day” once a month or once a quarter and inform vendors that they are welcome to present during those regularly scheduled days. Allow and encourage interested staff members to attend. — Rod Traver, senior vice president, technology, Robert E. Nolan Co., Weatogue, Conn.

Don’t abdicate everything to a procurement office. Stakeholders need a firsthand sense of the market and the vendors. Both style and substance are important when selecting a vendor, and too much of that can be filtered out by a perfunctory procurement function. — Rod Traver

Rely more on leading technology advisory services than on vendors for unbiased information regarding the right technology solutions for your organization’s business requirements. This can be augmented by carefully selecting publications and Internet sources that provide quality information and analysis in your areas of interest. — Don Eginton

Establish and periodically update your own qualified vendor list based on defined categories of services. They are invited to submit the appropriate predefined categories of information about their company’s services at the appropriate time. — Don Eginton

Encourage newer employees to accept occasional vendor calls and presentations, and ask them to provide summaries of what they see. This is a helpful development exercise for new employees, and it helps filter the noise. — Rod Traver

Get Tough

Be direct with them. Most vendors feel that unless you say no, the answer is yes. — Timothy C. O’Rourke

Advise vendors that you utilize a competitive solicitation process only after your business requirements have been identified, defined and authorized. They will be invited to participate in the process. — Don Eginton

Clearly communicate how much time vendors will have with your top people. Even if the meeting goes longer with middle management, focus the vendors on their most important message upfront.

If you’re looking for some specific technology, be clear. Give them no more than 30 minutes to highlight what they think your senior team should know. — Bob Jackson, senior vice president, deputy director, systems and technology, Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., Memphis

Simply advise vendors soliciting your business, without being rude, that you’ll call them when you have a project that may require their products or services. You are busy, you want to be fair to everyone, you have a support staff and other sources that keep you well informed, and you don’t have time for fishing expeditions. — Don Eginton

Before you let a vendor tell you he has a solution, make sure you have a problem. — Timothy C. O’Rourke

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