You’re tasked with making the call — or helping to make the call — regarding your company or organization’s next purchase of a commercial technology solution. Where do you begin?
If your first inclination was, “TO THE GOOGLE!”, slow down. Sure, you should look things up, but first, you must complete an entirely different, critical step.
Before you even think about Googling anything…
In order to truly settle on the best commercial technology, you need to understand everything you need the tech to accomplish.
That seems like a no-brainer, but are you really taking enough time to sketch-out what a perfect solution would look like?
“There have been times when I’ve had to demand information even if my upper decision makers didn’t understand the importance of it. I’ve said, ‘If we don’t have this info, we’ll waste a ton of money.'”
Failure to completely describe the desired tech’s functions down to minute details means you may overlook an aspect of the tech solution you might not otherwise have considered.
This is especially true if you don’t talk to all the people who may use the technology — no matter what their job description is or how peripheral they may seem. The “grunt workers” often know more about the practical side of technology than their CIO counterparts give them credit for.
“Tech doesn’t drive business; business drives tech. What is your company doing, where are your tech gaps, how are you going to address business needs through technology? THEN you go to market,” says Mark Geary, MSP consultant.
OK, we have a list. Now what?
Is it Google time yet? Depending on the situation, maybe. But consider this: are you buying a technically-complicated solution, such as meeting room automation, sound masking, LED video wall, etc.? Basically anything where the component options are seemingly-endless?
If so, keep tapping the breaks on your desire to compare hardware online by yourself. You may benefit more from a different approach, one which involves talking to other people.
LAN Infotech founder Michael Goldstein says it’s important to discuss project objectives with a trusted 3rd party technology partner, consultant, or even just a fellow colleague or acquaintance made through networking.
“I do find the decision makers are influenced by their own online research and maybe direct manufacturer discussions. This leads to a one-sided type of discussion, as opposed to working with their 3rd party integrators, which gives them options,” he says.
“When I was first looking into screens, I did my own research into how the screens worked, not necessarily the options I had to buy from,” Geary says.
“Just enough to be ‘dangerous,‘ at least enough to have a conversation with a professional. I’d ask the same question to three different screen experts. I wanted someone who had good customer care and other factors. But I leaned on them, who know their products and know their competitors’ products, to paint a clearer picture for me.”
There are massive established networks of relationships where people informally and formally get together to talk about best practices. LinkedIn, and even Reddit, can be good places to find people who have similar jobs — in similar markets — to you.
Integrators are the ones to turn to in general, but make sure you’re talking to specific people for specific problems.
“I’m a big advocate of specialty consultation services in complex categories like LED displays,” says Jeff Day, North of 10 Advisors.
“Imagine going to a general contractor for advice on a very old, specific water heater gauge. Specialty consultants and integrators are the ones to reach out to in general, as long as they specifically say in their mission statement that they specialize in the commercial technology solution you’re looking for.”
Time to write an RFP? We have RFP writing guides for almost every category of tech here
Only after you’ve had these in-depth conversations with stakeholders, coworkers, connections, and possibly consultants should you then start looking at real product offerings.
Side note — are you going to industry events (in-person or, during the COVID-19 era, online?) They’re great for expanding your network and learning from peers in similar positions.
Here are some great IT events to consider:
What about talking to manufacturers?
In some cases, decision makers seek to forge super-close relationships with the manufacturers themselves. This can be a smart move — as long as you talk to more than one.
Geary recommends you weigh what one company tells you against another. Vendors will help you, he says, but be upfront with them: tell them that the best partner who will help you do what you need to do will win out.
They are getting better at helping venture customers build better business cases.
“I believe in the idea that there are many people smarter than I am — and I’m going to use the heck out of them! Ask them: ‘why YOU, why not your competitor?’ You don’t need to be proficient in everything, you just need to know what you want and know how to communicate that with others in a way which ends in you becoming more educated.”