[Updated March 26th, 2017]
I’ve heard it a hundred times over the last 20 years – “Thanks for getting your quote to us so quickly. Now we’re just waiting for our other provider(s) to submit theirs”.
That’s an oddly common scenario in some industries but when that “waiting” turns into weeks, even months, you have to wonder what the holdup is. In the Information Technology space where we’re providing support, development, and training services for complex, integrated IT and business software applications, we’re finding this scenario to be more and more common.
As an example, we produce upgrade quotes for systems that we implement and support like Microsoft Dynamics AX, Dynamics GP, and Dynamics CRM. An upgrade quote takes several things into consideration like the number of users and workstations, customized code, custom forms and reports, integrations to external systems, third party software applications in use, even the network infrastructure and hardware the software runs on. That might sound like a lot but having done hundreds of them we can quickly determine a reliable range of hours to quote to complete a given upgrade. Very rarely, and only in unusual circumstances, would it take more than a couple to produce a detailed Statement of Work.
Why then do so many customers wait 2, 3 weeks (a month?) for a service provider to produce a quote when we can do it so efficiently? Is it simply that we’re just that good? Well sure (my humble opinion) but I don’t think that’s the only reason.
My theory is that if you’re waiting a long time for a service provider to give you a quote on a service they claim to provide it may be due to them having potentially detrimental and ultimately expensive traits such as:
- They don’t care. This may sound harsh. Nobody wants to think that the people they pay for support don’t care about them but in many cases the sad truth is your project and/or overall spend with your support provider is too small for them to treat you as a priority. Many service providers will make their smaller customers wait while they focus on larger, more profitable work. Every business focuses on their best customers first right? Perhaps, but the problem with that is yourproject is no less important to you just because you’re a smaller customer. Your IT systems and software are still the mission-critical transactional backbone of your business no matter what your size.
2. They are too busy. This goes hand in hand with the first bullet. In addition what frequently happens when your service provider’s status is “too busy” instead of simply “don’t care” is when your quote finally arrives it is unreasonably high. This is common in the construction industry during a building boom when contractors have a backlog of business. Now it has also become commonplace in IT services as well. The scenario is this – your service provider has multiple projects already lined up. You approach them with a need and they delay responding hoping you’ll just wait. When you persist they throw out a big number hoping that it either makes you delay further, shelf the project until they’re ready, or even better, accept the quote. In which case they’ll reallocate resources because they’re suddenly making more money on your project.
3. They’re not sure how to do it. This is often the most high-risk and costly scenario of all. In this case the service provider is faced with a problem – they want to accept the work you’ve approached them with – a development project, upgrade, integration, etc… but they’ve either never done it before or aren’t sure how long it will take. The answer? They delay the quote while they do research in hopes of determining if they can provide the service profitably. When the customer presses them for a response they “pad” their estimate to ensure that if they run into a problem or have to hire a subcontractor to complete the work they still make money. The scary part of this scenario is that not only is it costing the customer more from a time and monetary investment standpoint but the service provider may still not have the expertise necessary to complete the project. They’re essentially learning on the customer’s dime.
So what do you? Take a deep breath and look for alternatives. They’re out there. While acknowledging that many service providers have planted the seeds of FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt – in their customer’s minds when it comes to leaving them. They’re told things like “nobody understands your configuration/integrations/customizations/etc… like we do so we know how long it’s really going to take” or “if someone else does work on your system we’re not going to be able support you if anything goes wrong”. For most businesses the only thing they fear more than overpaying, is the fear of uncertainty which equates to business risk.
The huge problem with those arguments is that it’s 2017 and what one development group can do, another can usually do. The systems we work with are fairly commonplace. Buyers are better educated to what their options are and nobody has a monopoly on skills and smart people anymore. And for the consumer, that’s a good thing!
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