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Three questions to ask to tell the difference between the vendors and the villains

Ominous music plays, shadows creep over the world, a stillness falls, broken only by the billowy flapping of a dark cape. The villain has arrived. 

They stand there with the dark helmet, twisted sneer, long twirling mustache, ear piercing crackle, deathly stare, nasty weapon or other telltale signs. But, whatever their appearance, they all have that cold, ruthless heart and sinister purpose. 

For me, the villain is very important because I love hating the villain, and I love choosing the side of good – in video games, stories, Halloween costumes, board games, in all those little choices in everyday life. You name it, I crave the triumph of good over evil!  

So, how is it possible that I have been thrust into the role of the villain? 

What am I talking about? 

I am … [awkward pause] … a vendor.

Typecast as the Villainous Vendor

Yes, it’s true. 

I am the founder and CEO of a HR technology company offering a candidate screening solution. My mission is to remove bias from the hiring process. And I do it, in part, by selling technology to organizations to help them build and maintain unbiased candidate screening while saving time and money and increasing compliance.

My intention is to help change the world, by introducing a new way of approaching a process plagued by flaws. But, as a Vendor, I sometimes feel the ominous music in the background when I step into a room. 

“You're just here to sell me something.”

“If you really wanted to change the world, you wouldn’t be charging for it.”

“I have heard that claim before – just another marketing ploy.”

“If I wanted to talk to a Vendor, I would go to a Vendor expo.”

“You don’t really care, you are just trying to get our money.”

My team and I have heard it all, and much more that is not fit for print. I get it. Quite honestly, there are many vendors, consultants, industry ‘experts’ that deserve the ominous music. There are so many of them that the role has been typecast as the villain, or, in other words, a bias formed that vendors will claim anything to get a buck. But there are many out there that are not as the bias dictates. So, how can we prove that we are, in fact, one of the good guys?

Luckily, there are many opportunities to tell the difference, and it’s all in the questions.

Hero or Villain, three questions to ask every Vendor

1) What is your mission?

Every organization, including vendors, exist for a reason. Understand that reason, and you understand them. There is no wrong answer (though you don’t have to agree with it), unless the vendor is lying. 

Some vendors treat the mission as a marketing technique (i.e. not their real mission, but something that sounds really good). This is disingenuous at best, and often gives the feeling of being slimy or manipulative. 

The big giveaway – organizations, especially small ones, are obsessed with their mission. It permeates everything they do, generates infectious excitement in every conversation, it is their purpose in life.

Dive into the mission: not just the what, but the why. Look for passion, understanding, depth, and that infectious energy that only comes with genuine excitement.

2) How are you achieving your mission?

It’s one thing to have a strong mission, it’s another to remain aligned to it. Look for vendors that can clearly articulate in a compelling, logical way, how their products/offerings are driving toward achieving their mission. 

Note, their products/offerings can do other things and have other value propositions, but if those other values overshadow or are optimized over what makes the product align to the mission, that is a pretty strong yellow (or red) flag. 

Don’t stop with the product; everything down to the way they communicate and conduct business should be aligned to the mission (or at least not contrary). 

Ask how their product, services, actions, internal policies, all serve to push the mission forward. Look for examples to prove the claims. 

3)  Can you also fix my sink?

Vendors are hungry for the sale, just like any other organization. However, some will go a bit too far, claiming to fix whatever ails you, independent of the truth.

This one is fun to test. With the mission and product in mind, give them a problem that is not well aligned. “Oh, you track post-hire onboarding tasks, that’s great, but my challenge is tracking references.”

If the vendor magically has a product that will fix your every need or spins that problem so that it leads right back to them, then you know you are talking with someone who’s primary goal is to sell, not to problem solve. Again, not bad or good, but good to know. 

A variation of this theme is to keep asking for more features “can it also do this, what about that,” and make it more and more outlandish. See when they say “no” (or if they say no). Extra credit if you can get the vendor to say yes to something that is clearly contrary to their mission.

Push the boundaries of the claims to see if the vendor is willing to admit that they do not solve every problem and can pivot to focus on what you need rather than what they have.

Bringing it all together – avoid the villain bias

I promise you, not all vendors are villains, many of us our just like you – providing products we are proud of with the intention of genuinely helping our customers. So, before you cue the ominous music just because we have something to sell, test us. Challenge what we are doing, ask the hard questions, make us show you who we really are. Let us prove to you that we are a hero, just like you. 

Of course, knowing if you are dealing with a hero or a villain is great, but it is only the first step. Even the best hero is not right for every challenge. You wouldn’t send Superman to clean up a kryptonite spill?

Selecting the right vendor for you depends on many things, such as the problem you are trying to solve. This is a whole separate topic, and one we will post about in the future. 

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