Vendor Fatigue: Real or Imagined?

Jan. 26, 2017
Do customers get fatigued with vendors, and what might help avoid it?

Over several recent imaging information technology engagements, I have come to coin a new phrase to represent a phenomenon I have observed, known as “vendor fatigue.” I think there is a factor involved that influences the way customers consider an incumbent vendor when considering a system replacement. This has significant consequences to the incumbent vendor, as it appears the customer may have developed biases over time the affect the outcome.

In one such instance, the product installed was an older product long since obsoleted by the vendor’s current offering. Despite demonstrating the latest product, there was a perception that it was just “lipstick on a pig” as one individual described it!

In another instance, the customer had significant issues with the current vendor’s support resources, so no matter what differences there might have been in the vendor’s latest product, it didn’t matter, given the perception that the vendor’s support would be the same.

In the first case, the incumbent was displaced by another vendor, where the product was perceived as superior. In reality, there may not have been operationally that much difference between the two vendors, but in the eyes of the customer, they could never get past the deficiencies of the existing product.

In the case of the second circumstance, there was a strong negative in terms of the vendor’s support resources for after-hours coverage. The particular vendor happened to have roving off-shore support after hours, and in the customer’s mind, this impacted the quality of support available after hours.

Could the vendor have done anything differently to impact the outcome? Or, is the notion of vendor fatigue insurmountable? Playing “Monday Morning Quarterback,” in the first case, perhaps the vendor could have done more to convince the customer that the product offered was not the same as the current product, and they could have identified the areas of difference. Would it have been enough to convince the customer to take a serious look? Perhaps, but there could have just been too much momentum to make a difference.

In the second instance, perhaps if the customer had been more vocal about the support issues, the vendor might have been open to addressing alternatives before it became an issue. Had the vendor done this, they might have averted an early elimination. Conversely, was the customer wise to have not brought this up with the vendor early on? Or, perhaps they did and the vendor just wouldn’t or couldn’t change their support resources to accommodate them.

The message is that vendor fatigue can be a real factor when evaluating system changes. It is incumbent upon both vendors and customers to be forthcoming about issues. Part of the problem may be in the way vendors are organized, with separate sales and support organizations. Problems on the support side may not filter back to the sales organization in time to avert consideration issues. Taking a longer-term perspective to the customer relationship might be a means of averting problems that might impact a future sale. Similarly, keeping the customer abreast of new developments even though they are not currently in the market for a change might avoid associations of the new product with an older one.

In an environment of ever-increasing replacement of existing imaging information technology, a greater sensitivity to vendor fatigue might improve the odds of maintaining satisfaction and retaining customers.

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