10 (Uncomfortable) Questions for your Data Quality Technology Vendor

Considering a new purchase of data quality technology but don’t know what you should you really be asking of your data quality technology provider?

The following list provides a range of questions that go beyond the typical requests you would have around product features, they may help you dig deeper and gather insight around important areas such as customer loyalty, long-term strategy, competitive positioning and quality of service.

Q.1: What innovations are on your product roadmap for the coming year?

Most companies will be reluctant to answer this, at least without a concrete Non-Disclosure Agreement. However, it will give you some indication of how keen the vendor is to be your future technology partner. By sharing this information you’re moving forward with a position of trust.

It pays to come at this from a position of research. Check out the press release or news area of the company website, see what trends you’re seeing. Have any announcements been made that relate to your sector? How often are they putting out new releases? Get a feel for what their roadmap has look liked historically by looking at the press release dates. Are they a progressive, innovating type of company or do they rest on their laurels?

Ask other companies about their roadmap experiences and form a broader opinion than what the sales and marketing folks would have you believe.

Q.2: What is the long-term strategy for your data quality product?

Following on from the earlier point, does the vendor have plans to extend the product into areas that could link into your business or technology aspirations?

If a product vendor has performed little innovation in recent years, what does this say about them as a progressive technology supplier?

Are they focusing on delivering a stable solution or are they lagging behind?

The key here is to be clear about what you need now and in the future so you can make an objective assessment.

Q.3: What will happen if your product is acquired by a larger vendor?

Acquisitions are a regular event, particularly in the competitive data quality sector but they don’t always result in a better product or service as some customers have recently reported.

Is the vendor actively looking to be snapped up by a bigger player?

Why not ask them and see what kind of response you get. They may not disclose their complete strategy for long-term acquisition but it’s certainly a question worth posing to gauge their response.

Acquisition can be a positive step of course, affording more access to larger development and support teams to take the product forward but it is certainly worth understanding if there is any press speculation about the technology provider and potential acquiring company.

Q.4: Why did your last two customers cease their contract? Can we speak to them?

Chances are you’ll be brushed off with this question but again it’s as much about their approach to how they respond which is as critical as the question being posed.

You’re looking to build long-term trust with a vendor so this question can really be used to gauge their openness.

Remember that sometimes a product just doesn’t work out for a customer. They may lose funding or the business shifts its focus and the need for data quality changes. There are lots of perfectly valid reasons for contract termination.

If your request for a discussion with past clients is rejected it could point to wider issues, perhaps you can track down past clients via the social networks such as LinkedIn and here at Data Quality Pro.

If your request to talk to ex-customers is granted, it shows trust and a desire to get you onboard as a new customer.

Q.5: You mentioned that you have lots of case studies and experience for our sector. Can we speak with three of the case study companies featured?

This is similar to the previous question. Vendors are only too happy to send you case studies of how successful their product has been in solving your type of problem. Why not put them to the test by connecting you with past clients. Are they still as satisfied as they were on the testimonial?

Having purchased enterprise products in the past, I was always happy to share my experiences with prospective customers.

If the vendor can’t connect you with any past customers then go online and find some out for yourself via the many forums, LinkedIn groups and members on Data Quality Pro. Point out to the prospective vendor that you will be doing this anyway so the more they help you the more it will favour their bid to win your contract.

Q.6: Do you have a method for calculating the Total Cost of Ownership for your solution?

In practice, most customers would do this themselves but it helps you identify any missing extras and instantly compare the TCO between different vendors.

It also helps during vendor negotiations as you may be able to demonstrate the difference in pricing strategies across the vendors as you’re going through procurement.

Understanding the TCO is vital for creating a business case for data quality and this is not a trivial activity. Ask each vendor for advice based on their past experiences of being involved in business cases and see what response you get.

If the vendor product has delivered gains in the past they should be able to advise you, if they can’t offer any assistance on the TCO or business case then it may flag up the fact that the product has limited exposure in the field.

Q.7: What are your support hours, response times and escalation procedures for my region?

Support is a critical factor for any product and this type of question will help you gauge the performance of different vendors. Escalation in particular is vital so asking this question and getting a solid response will give you added confidence that the vendor can back up a great product with great service.

Q.8: Will we have a single point of contact for managing our account?

If you’re showing commitment by purchasing a product you need the commitment from the vendor to assign a single point of contact that can deal with escalations or any other issues that go beyond the everyday support request.

Particularly in the first year when you’re getting to grips with the product it really pays to have a designated member on the vendor team who can help you resolve any difficulties.

Q.9: How do you differentiate your product against your 3 main rivals?

Here is a secret many vendors don’t want you to know:

Many vendors simply don’t know why their product is better or worse than their competitors

I find that vendors are increasingly poorly informed about what their competitors have to offer. They typically claim that it’s impossible to understand competitor product features as they’re not able to evaluate competitor products.

The reality is that competitor features are easily discovered via analysts, website reviews and the practitioner community at large.

If a vendor is open and honest about the differences between their products and others on the market it can give you that added security that you’re building a relationship based on trust. I occasionally speak to vendors who openly admit that their products have certain weaknesses but then paint a different story to prospective customers.

This question can help you understand whether a vendor is being totally honest and transparent about their capabilities.

Q.10: What discount will you offer for a full testimonial?

Another little known secret that many customers fail to capitalise on – vendors will grant you, in most cases, significant discounts if you agree to a testimonial strategy.

I would broach this subject upfront so you can gauge how flexible the vendor is on pricing and how keen they are to get your business.

Work out a testimonial strategy yourself that shows you are serious about offering real value for your discount.

Here are some suggestions: 

  • Podcast or interview for a vendor newsletter, website or blog
  • Appearances on webinars, seminars and trade show slots
  • Full, quoted testimonial 

Testimonials and interviews can net you major reductions in the overall license fee if you’re not afraid to hustle!