How to Sell Product Purchases Internally

Thursday Dec 14th 2006 by Eric Spiegel
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A guide to convincing management they need to buy you that shiny new software/hardware toy you’re lusting after.

I was feeling quite sure of myself as I walked into my manager’s office. After all, I was anticipating great accolades for the detailed research I had completed in coming up with a recommendation for a bug tracking tool. My proactiveness in replacing the problematic freeware tool we were using to track bugs was sure to be received well.

Didn’t quite turn out as anticipated.

Instead, my manager explained that we had little discretionary budget left over and that replacing our troubled, yet still functional, freeware tool was far down the priority list for next year’s funding. Even though this new tool would save us a boatload of time, my manager’s take was “We pay you developers well enough to take a few manual steps here and there.”

Nice.

Where did I go wrong? Turns out just doing some research and verbally explaining the reasons why the purchase would make sense was far from enough to convince management to make this move. I should have done a bit more planning, created a written proposal and delivered a more professional presentation to back up my recommendation.

We all come across products and tools that would make our job easier. But the harsh reality is that management doesn’t always care about increasing your leisure time. Well, actually they do care, if it is presented in terms they can understand.

Here are four basic steps to follow when evaluating a new product:

1) Evaluate need To avoid wasting your time you should evaluate the true need for a product to solve your problem. Unfortunately for you and your team, your definition of true need might not mesh with that of upper management or your business customer. A product that will make your job easier won’t get those with approval authority all that excited.

You need to show exactly how the product will increase productivity or money. If you can show that the product will save 10 hours per week in IT operations support, then do so – and then try to translate those 10 hours into other productive, money saving tasks.

If your company uses a balanced score card or has an ROI/TCO formula, make sure you include that in your review. If these tools aren’t being used, find templates on the web and really impress your boss! An example of this would be CaseBuilder for IT Initiatives.

Finally, take into consideration what it would take for you to build a custom application or to change a business process that would also provide a cost effective solution.

2) Comparison Shop If you come to the decision maker with one great product that is a perfect fit, chances are they will ask how it compares to other products. With this in mind, simply go to Google and type in a description of your need. You’ll receive a list of relevant natural search results and paid search results.

You can also go to a web site or blog that covers the topic you are interested in. For example, if you are looking for server based computing or virtualization solutions, good sites would be DABCC or Brian Madden.

Of course, IT related sites like Datamation also have pretty good information and product reviews (shameless plug!).

Click through all these sites and collect information from product data sheets, product reviews and web demonstrations. Request personal demonstrations from the vendor so you can have a Q&A session to dig deeper.

Next page: Making the Big Pitch

3) Get a quote For a simple product you will likely find pricing on the vendor’s web site or a distributor’s web store. If the product is being sold online there is less chance you can negotiate. But if you can talk to someone in sales at the vendor, reseller or distributor ask them if they have pricing incentives. Most vendors won’t haggle on the annual maintenance and support, but will haggle on the initial licensing.

If you can close the deal before an end of quarter, let them know this and encourage them to offer a price discount good through the end of the time period agreed to. Most vendors have quarterly numbers to make and are more likely to haggle if they know they can close the deal within that quarter. And this may also get your decision makers to move faster if they know a good deal will expire.

If you don’t ask, you’ll never know!

4) Write it up and present Don’t just send an email to your manager with a few details and a web link or product brochure. You need to be more prepared to make your case. Schedule a meeting with all the decision makers, prepare a brief presentation to present your findings. Cover how the product will save money, how it beats the competition, and the great price you received. Use lots of charts and graphs to visually show how the IT department and (hopefully) business units will benefit from this shiny new product.

If you follow these fundamental steps, you can save yourself a lot of wasted time and energy. And even if you don’t get the accolades for this in your next performance review, you may just end up with a product that will give you some well-deserved extra leisure time.

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