Why do you need my email address before I can see your Brochure?

As a Business Analyst, Technology Consultant or in any role where you need to identify suitable Applications, when trying to find a Solution or Product to meet your Requirements, particularly a Customised Off-The-Shelf (COTS) Product, you will no doubt come across blog posts, updates and group comments purporting to give you access to a ‘white paper’, ‘product review’ or ‘industry overview’…

These often turn out, frustratingly, to be nothing but a mechanism for gathering email addresses for the Sales & Marketing departments of various Vendors.

What’s worse is when you’re trickled into giving your contact details to gain some insight, only to discover all you’ve got access to is a product brochure.

Sound familiar…?

I hate it when I have to provide an email address before being allowed to even see a brochure. Usually, I don’t bother, and those Products get filtered out of my consideration very early.

Do you also hate that Vendors actually expect you to provide your name and contact details simply to know if Product X has features A, B and C…? If so, how do you get around this – or do you just accept it as part of the territory?

Imagine if suppliers and vendors did this in the ‘real’ world…? 

Picture the scene: you’re in your local shopping mall looking to buy a new TV (or a new pair of trainers, a new computer, a new washing machine: doesn’t really matter which). You see a product that you think you might like and the sales blurb on the nearby flyer seems promising. So, you seek out a salesperson and ask “How much is that…?”

You might expect a response that includes reference to a price – perhaps supplemented by how fabulous the product is at that price, how there’s only two left in stock or how that’s the exact model s/he has at home.

You wouldn’t expect the salesperson to respond by saying: “I’ll need your email address and phone number plus the names of the other people in your home and your role in the household”.

If that happened, you’d no doubt leave the shop, bemused and a little irritated – and probably resolve not to go in that store again. On the way home, you might pop into your local convenience store and, on spotting a rather appealing new brand of whiskey (well, assuming you’re me), with a view to cushioning the shock of your earlier encounter, you might ask some innocent question about the product – not even including the price. Maybe something like “Is that a 10-year-old Bourbon? Can I read the blurb on the box?”.

Imagine how annoyed you’d be if the guy or girl at the counter stated that, before they can allow you to read the Product info, they need to know how many people would be sharing the product, how often and for how long…?

Seems more than a little bit ridiculous, right…?

Yet this is exactly what many enterprise software product vendors expect ‘passing customers’ to do.

Often, vendors of potential candidate systems create the constraint that rules them out immediately, by demanding to know who I am, what job I do, how important I am in my Organisation, how to contact me, what I prefer for breakfast, the name of my first girlfriend, whether I prefer cats or dogs or other irrelevant nonsense – BEFORE they will tell me how much it costs or even whether it does what I need it to do.

In recent years I’ve had the task of finding suitable solutions for Secure Managed File Transfer, Human Resources Management, Issue Tracking, Corporate-to-Bank Bulk Payments, Document Scanning & Management and many others.

In just ONE if those cases, I started with a ‘long list’ of all the potential systems I could find. I then ruled out any obvious non-runners (e.g. based on Tech stack or whatever). My next step was to identify those with in-Country resellers, support and/or training. Then I looked at the set of requirements, created a matrix and literally checked the features of every remaining candidate system against the 20+ main customer Technical & Feature requirements.

Of the products I didn’t even bother to shortlist, dozens of them were dropped because I couldn’t find even the most basic information about basic product features unless I supplied my details. So, rather than ruling them in as candidates, I ruled them out without even knowing if they are candidates or not. In the past, I may have contacted the Sales people and asked a bunch of questions (that should be answered by their website and freely-available brochures) but, these days, there are so many suitable Products for almost every routine Business function that I don’t see why I should waste my time doing that. Yes, I accept that I might miss out on the ‘perfect’ Product but, if I do, I’m sure I can live with the consequences since the one I eventually recommend will also be perfect (or as close to it as to not make any real difference).

Of course, I understand why Companies, Vendors and Resellers do this: they want to follow up with marketing or sales calls / emails. However, what would be the point in wasting their time and mine if the product is not what I’m looking for? Since I’ll never know whether their Product is the perfect Solution for me unless I ask them, and they won’t tell me unless I give them all sorts of unnecessary information, we reach an impasse. Both parties lose out.

What makes all of this even more annoying for me – other than that I might miss the perfect Solution and I might (for a short while) feel a bit guilty that I didn’t do the perfect job (because I live in the real world of constraints and timelines) is the knowledge that, even if I did supply contact details in order to gather basic information, all this means is they’re likely to use my contact details to Spam me, meaning I’ll add them to my blocked-senders list and I’ll never see anything they have on offer in the future.

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