Six infuriating tech sales reps and how to avoid them

When Craig Urizzola’s company decided to make a seven-figure investment in a new ERP system, he contacted his local reseller to order hardware to run it on.

“We told them exactly what we wanted and said, ‘We don’t need SANs or clustering or any of that,'” says Urizzola, CIO at Saladino’s, a food service distributor in Fresno, Calif.

“But their proposal came back with SANs and 10 more servers than we asked for. They just don’t listen.”

That IT salespeople just don’t listen is a familiar refrain from technology buyers. But despite your complaints, you know that you can’t quite live without them.

You need them to execute transactions and help guide you, to offer advice and recommendations, and to give you a heads up about forthcoming products that may solve real business problems.

Unfortunately, although technology has made quantum leaps over the years, salespeople haven’t changed much. And today, as ever, too few of them act as honest advisers and problem-solvers.

Too many are dime-a-dozen drones who stick to marketing scripts and are more concerned with selling what they want to sell than they are with selling what you need to buy.

We spoke with seasoned IT executives to uncover the sales archetypes that drive them crazy. So bar the door, unplug the phone, and read on.

The Yes Man

This person oversells his product, promising you the moon and delivering nothing but trouble. When pressed on whether the product can solve your problem, he says, “Sure! It will do that and unify all your systems and make everything run nice and smooth. And by the way, it also cures male-pattern baldness.” (We’re kidding about that last one. Sort of.)

The sales rep simply might not know whether the product meets your needs, but he’s afraid to admit it, so he takes the easy way out, which is to nod and say yes to whatever you ask.

“A lot of salespeople pretend to know our business, but they end up giving us something we don’t need,” says Joshua Koppel, assistant director of IT at the Chicago Department of Revenue. He adds that salespeople frequently gloss over or altogether miss compatibility and integration issues. “We end up tweaking and tweaking, and that costs money,” says Koppel.

Sometimes the yes man is just trying to hit his monthly quota. In that case, he’s often hard to find after he makes the sale.

The Armageddon Evangelist

“Some [salespeople] present the doomsday approach, like you need to buy their service or product or something bad will happen,” says Katie Goodbaudy, technical support specialist at Airgas Nor Pac, a subsidiary of Airgas Inc. in Vancouver, Wash.

In IT, that’s called spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt), and it often involves allusions to a competitor’s products or some nebulous security vulnerability.

Goodbaudy says she does her own due diligence to make sure her company is protected from security breaches and other threats. And she’s wary of salespeople trying to upsell her by mentioning trumped-up security weaknesses.

But Saladino’s Urizzola says he can understand how some IT buyers might fall into the scare trap. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, you might spend a lot more money than you have to,” he says.

The Stalker

Sure, salespeople need to be tenacious to do their jobs. After all, their pay is usually largely based on what they sell.

But this guy goes too far every step of the way, from sticking his foot in the door to forcing a sale. And in the process, he ends up alienating potential customers.

After being harangued by a persistent wireless service provider, Goodbaudy says the only thing on her mind was “What can I say to get this guy off the phone?”

Relentlessness is a big turn-off, she says, adding that salespeople will often “say anything to get what they want.”

Urizzola says his company’s big ERP deal almost fell apart after IBM got involved, insisting that Saladino’s had to buy its hardware from a particular reseller. “I had to call the senior VP at SAP to tell them to tell IBM to back off,” he recalls. “They just wouldn’t let it go.”

Mr. Know-It-All

The salesperson who thinks he has all the answers is particularly annoying. His knowledge is doubtful, but he’s never at a loss for words.

He won’t admit that he can’t answer your question, so he often responds like a slippery politician, talking around the question endlessly without providing any real detail.

“I’m a very technical person, so I listen to detail, but a lot of these guys speak in boilerplate,” says Koppel. “I appreciate it when someone says, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you.’ It makes you feel better about the answer when you get it.”

Cousin Clueless

The flip side of Mr. Know-It-All is the salesperson that clearly hasn’t done his homework, knows nothing about your business and comes to meetings unprepared.

“I’ve dealt with reps that don’t know what they’re doing, and it’s clear they’re dealing from a script,” says Goodbaudy.

“Hardware resellers don’t seem to do any homework and don’t seem to care what we do,” adds Urizzola.

He surmises that this may be because hardware is a more interchangeable commodity than enterprise software, but the impersonal and unresearched approach doesn’t help grease the wheels of commerce.

The Entourage

This is the sales rep plus posse. He shows up at meetings with a large team of co-workers (usually including his boss) with the intention of upselling you.

Larry Pritchard, CIO at Schaeffler Group North America in Charlotte, N.C., refers to this as “non-value-added overhead.”

According to the pros we interviewed, this tactic rarely succeeds. “We’ve already talked to the rep about what we want, and my team has already defined our requirements, so now we’ve got to shut it down,” says Pritchard, explaining how he handles upsell come-ons.

Koppel recalls an instance of having a modest $10,000 item to purchase when the vendor showed up with nine business associates in suits. “I’m sitting there wondering how much of what I’m giving them is to support the nine guys in suits,” he says.

“They think that once they get their foot in the door and sell you one thing that they can then sell you five things,” Goodbaudy adds.

Fighting Back

Technology may change, but human nature is constant. In dealing with all these archetypes, our IT pros say there’s no substitute for due diligence — and experience. “Salespeople have remained pretty much the same over the years,” says Koppel. “But every time I see a new trick, I file it away.”

The key for IT buyers is to be prepared, know exactly what you need now, recognize what you will need in the short and medium terms, and understand how the new systems will interact with your existing systems.

It also helps to have your baloney meter on high alert and to know how to say no.

Ultimately, if you’re not getting any satisfaction from your tech provider, the solution is often straightforward: Vote with your feet and take your business elsewhere.

DiCarlo is a freelance writer in Newton, Mass.

Comment: [email protected]

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