Monday, May 7, 2012

Get the Most Out of a Vendor Demonstration

This weekend, Andrea and I will be heading to St. Louis, MO, for a two-day, hands-on demonstration of one of the products we’re considering for our startup engraving business, an Epilog Laser.  These products are advertised as extremely user friendly.  As with any equipment purchase, we have to make sure we have all of the information before getting into negotiations with our vendors.  We haven’t yet decided if Epilog is the product we will definitely buy, but getting a hands-on demonstration, as well as two days of classes in laser engraving, will help us make an informed decision.  In a previous article, I wrote about Seven Steps to Product Evaluation.  We have been doing a lot of research and will be taking all of the information into consideration before we decide on the final vendors to give us quotes.  In all, we’re currently looking at about a half dozen different vendors, and will get quotes from probably two or three of them.  Looking at the pros and cons of each product will give us the best chances of deciding which is right for our specific business needs.

One of the most important things we have to realize going into this business trip is that the vendor and reseller may be pressuring us to buy on the spot.  As with working with car dealers, it is imperative to not let a sales person pressure you into making any buying decisions before you are ready.  Being ready includes having enough information about the product you are buying and its competitors to make an informed decision.  While we do know a lot about Epilog and their competitors, making a purchasing decision “on their turf” (after 2 days of company sales pitches), without competitive quotes from other vendors is not in our business’s best interest.  So how do we handle the situation?

This seminar will be a great learning experience for us.  We get to see how the Epilog laser line works and we also get to see the representatives of the company.  We can get a feel for what we will be getting into if we do business with them.  By being honest, letting them know that this is an investigative and educational experience for us, hopefully the sales representatives won’t try to push us into buying.  I haven’t dealt with Epilog Laser directly yet, but the reseller (Prism Sales) has been great to deal with.  Yes, he mentioned “we’ll have a special pricing deal at the seminar”, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t ask for the same deal a few weeks later when we have other competitors to compare against.  Terry (the sales rep) has been full of information and very quick to respond to all of our questions.

We also need to evaluate if the Epilog solution is really what we’re looking for.  Their laser engraver seems very easy to use, with not much more to it than a desktop printer.  While this may make producing our line of gifts easier, it may also be limiting.  Some of the other products we’re considering, including the AP Laser product line, are not quite as automated, but instead offer more flexibility in the types of projects you can create.  Again, the most important thing to remember is to get all of the information you can on each product, and then decide which is right for your business.

As for this weekend, we do not expect to fly out of St. Louis with an order slip for a new Epilog laser in our pocket, but we will know if their product is still in the running or not.  The amount of information they offer, how they handle their sales pitch, and how they deal with current and potential customers will help us decide if this is a company we want to make a major part of our new business.  And, just like I did with AP Laser, I’ll be asking the Epilog rep for references of current customers.  I know that sales reps will only give you the names of those customers that will speak glowingly about their products, but talking with someone who works hands on with the product will give you some insight into the benefits and problems they face.  This applies to any system or product.  Never be afraid to ask for references, and call them!  In a future post, I’ll discuss some of the important topics to cover when talking to a current user in this situation.

There are three really important things to remember when going to a vendor presentation like this:
  1. Don’t feel pressured into buying something.  You’re the customer, you’re in charge.  Don’t make any decisions without the right information, including competitor’s products and pricing.
  2. Learn as much as you can.  Be that person in the room who asks all of the questions.  I’ve taught my children that the two most important questions one can ask are “How” and “Why”.  If you are investing your time, energy and money into a product, be sure to learn as much as you can so you can make the best decision possible.
  3. Have fun!  My wife and I are going to St. Louis for a two day laser engraving seminar.  How cool is that?  While we’re there, we’ll see the arch and hear some live blues at BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, we’re finding ways to incorporate “couple time” (the all-important work-life balance) into a business trip.  Best of both worlds!
Whether you are a startup company like us, or you have been around the block for a while, don’t rush into anything.  Always make informed decisions.  You’ll end up saving yourself both a lot of money and a lot of headaches down the line!

We look forward to hearing back from you.  Feel free to share your experiences with these types of seminars and dealings with vendors.  And if you have any questions or suggestions for future topics, just let us know!

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