Tactics > small-business spotlight
Cut through the
By Murray Kenneth
and Patrick Pitman
sk the right question, and a prospective signifi cant because .NET is integral to Microsoft’s
technology supplier will reveal technology strategy—and it was released circa 2002.
wonderfully useful information to Seven years ago? Ah, so there’s a legacy ﬂ avour
help you in your evaluation. While to this supplier’s product! There may be a perfectly
merchants can feel intimidated good explanation for the supplier’s holding back.
by acronyms and jargon, you can Ask for it. Maybe the business is not profi table
talk tech about the product you’re thinking of enough to make the necessary investment. Or the
buying. The secret is to ask qualitative questions, company doesn’t think it has to bother upgrading
then follow the scent of evasion and pride. That’s given its ongoing successs. Or maybe the supplier
because it’s often not just about the technology. will avoid answering your question. And maybe
The more critical the supplier’s role in your that’s because the founding partners split, and the
operations, the greater the scrutiny you need remaining partner lacks expertise in managing
to apply to the supplier itself. Products matter, technical operations and so he outsources the
software features matter, technology stacks sort of company’s “maintenance” to India, and the
matter, but they evolve at a pace few of us are likely software hardly evolves anymore.
to totally understand. You All very interesting. But what if you don’t know
need to trust your vendor to the difference between .asp and .aspx? How would
really understand. Through you ever spot a vulnerability like that?
evaluating his technology, The point is to ask leading questions, appealing
Here are some qualitative, leading questions you can
you can lead your supplier to the suppliers’ aspirations for their product. Ask
ask a prospective IT supplier about its technology to demonstrate whether his for qualitative descriptions. Prompt the suppliers
product even if you don’t speak geek:
company deserves your trust to describe what they’re proud of; they do have
and investment. something to be proud of, yes? Pride’s important.
1) Why is that important?
Here’s an example: A Suppliers also know what’s old and crusty about
multichannel merchant in their product; give them a chance to describe all
2) How does that help you serve me better?
search of a new ecommerce the great improvements they have planned, and ask
platform asked our evaluation why. Sniff for evasion. Then read between the lines.
3) What’s exciting about that to you?
of the search engine Listen. Sometimes say nothing. Grunt and nod a bit.
friendliness of a supplier’s Your most effective questions will be those
Which part of it are you proud of?
URLs: “They end in .asp. Is that that can’t be answered with a defi nitive, factual
5) How would you improve/upgrade that if you could?
okay?” Our question in reply, response. Factual questions are less useful because
having nothing to do with we’re assuming you don’t know enough to
6) Why haven’t you done it already?
search engine optimisation, evaluate the technical decision-making that drives
sought to reveal the product’s a product’s evolution. “What’s the technology
7) When did you last do something like that?
technology foundations: “Why behind your product?” might serve to open the
not end URLs with .aspx?” The conversation, but does it mean anything to you if
What part draws the most support questions?
intent of asking this was not to the answer is “.php” or “.asp” or “.jsp”?
9) Why do you think that is?
make a value judgement on the Probably not. But you can learn to follow a scent.
technology per se but to give What sounds evasive? When do you hear pride?
10) What else?—MK/PP
us an opening to explore the Explore this with multiple points of contact within
product’s evolution and infer the supplier companies. Trust where the scent
the company’s health. leads you, and keep asking why. In the end, you’ll
(We did answer the SEO question as well: Yes, be better informed when it comes to the biggest
.asp URLs can aid your SEO efforts so long as decision: Can you trust the company?
they resemble an English sentence and contain
relevant keywords separated by hyphens in a
Let’s explore this example further: If a supplier’s Multichannel marketing veteran Murray
product still relies on Microsoft’s old-style Active
Kenneth offers advice and investment
Server Pages, as the .asp fi le extension implies,
then it appears that the supplier’s product isn’t
to growing merchants. Patrick Pitman is
yet upgraded to the .NET framework. And that’s CEO of E-business Coach.
Catalogue e-business www.catalog-biz.com
ceb 170.indd 22 26/10/09 19:19:31
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