Editor’s note: Terri Grauer is a consultant and writer specializing in the application of network technologies to business challenges. Sanity Check is a regular feature in LTW.
_______________________________________________________________________________________In the technology world there seems to be a new “free or low-cost assessment offer” on a weekly basis.

Your network vendor offers to come in and do a “free network analysis” to help you locate hot spots.

Your storage vendors offer a comprehensive “storage assessment” in three days (and for a small fee, they will give you a copy of the results).

And of course your server vendors what to learn more about your applications, operating systems, platforms and server utilization. All in the name of “helping” your organization ‘do more with less’. So what’s the catch?

The ulterior motive is they want to sell you something else while they are in there doing their “assessment”.

No problem. You can always say no to anything else they offer, right? Wrong!

Make sure you read the super-fine print before you agree to let anyone conduct a ‘free or low-cost’ assessment. Some of the ‘engagement agreements’ for these services have stipulations and conditions that lock you into a future purchase or a penalty payment for not buying anything.

The Review Hook

Another tactic, used by one of my favorite vendors, is the “Mandatory Annual Review” included with the purchase of some of their products. The customer is obligated to this “Vendor Audit” during the sales/purchase cycle, and it sounds like a bonus to most.

Nine or ten months pass uneventfully, meaning no stalking (sales+talking) going on so the vendor then invites themselves back to the customers table by pulling out their “Annual Audit” voucher. Customer XYZ doesn’t recall a “Mandatory Annual Review” in their license agreement, but there it is, in the super-fine print. The date is set and the vendor arrives to conduct their “Annual Audit”. (For which the customer was charged $4,000 dollars for by the way, also in the super-fine print.)

The information gathered during the “Audit” is useful, even down right helpful, everyone agrees. The vendor informs the customer of serious infrastructure holes, knowledge gaps and other wholly-creatures in found in their environment. The customer is now enlightened and thankful for the information. Sounds great, but–. There’s another catch.

The vendor has placed a proposal on the table to “fix” the problems at the customer site, for a fee. The quote for the “Professional Services Fixer-Upper Project” to fix all the audit-discovered problems is outrageous! Priced at three to seven times the going rate for the same type of project work, by any other vendor, and not consistent with the vendors’ own pricing either.

What to do, what to do?

The answer is a no-brainer to just about everyone.

The customer decides to “pass” on the “Professional Services Fixer-Upper Project”, and tells the vendor, “No thanks, we’ll handle the issues in-house.” This should be the end of the Annual Audit (sales) escapade.

Who Owns Data?

But you guessed it, it’s not over yet. The vendor then demands all information regarding the Audit be immediately returned (information was not distributed electronically anyway) pending ‘penalty’.

The customer is dumbfounded, after all they paid four-thousand dollars (or more) for the Mandatory Audit; shouldn’t they at least get to keep a copy of the results?.

The vendor destroys all the customer copies of the results and then as they angrily storm out, they announce, “We’ll be back next year!”

Now you might think I am making this up — I am not. This is a real scenario that happens over and over again, exactly as I have described (and with variations).

How can a vendor charge a customer to conduct an audit, then not deliver findings to the customer? Isn’t this some type of “Arthur Anderson-ish No-No”?

I’d like to offer an alternative to this bully behavior; instead of strong-arming customers into audits and assessments they don’t want — find out what they do want and offer to do it. Heck you could even offer to do a “string-LESS-assessment” as part of the service you are bidding to win. The customer will appreciate the offer for the really free assessment and you’ll learn more about what your customer needs and wants. Plus the assessment will provide lots of opportunity for discussion regarding future engagements.

(Just a suggestion; it is how we do it in our business and it works.)

Terri Grauer is a consultant and writer specializing in the application of network technologies to business challenges. She can be reached via email at terrigrauer@NthET.net .