We all know the stereotype of the used car salesman who's willing to say whatever it takes to sell you a car. They're even willing to give you a special price, because they like you and you have nice smile. (Side note, if you haven't listened to the episode of This American Life about a car dealership on Long Island, it's highly recommended).
While the world of enterprise SaaS sales is a bit more legit, there is still a level of subterfuge that happens. We thought it was important to showcase these common pitfalls as they can really hurt your buying experience.
HR Tech Lies
Every week, we do a ton of demos to better understand the HR Tech landscape. We're lucking in that many times we get to speak to the head of sales, marketing, product, or the CEO of the company. They want to put their best foot forward so they can get listed on our site, so we get the big guns.
But, sometimes we get the sales rep experience too. And, many times the lies vendors tell us start at the top. So, just because we are speaking to the head of product doesn't mean we aren't going to hear a few fibs.
Here are the common lies we hear on a call, along with a bit of context around how to suss them out. We hope looking out for these makes you a better buyer of software, and allows you to optimize for working with teams you can trust:
- We've Never Lost a Customer: We've had vendors tell us they've never lost a customer. If a vendor has >100 customers, it's insane to think they've never lost one. Customers go out of business or fall on tough times. Your point of contact moves to another role. Things happen. That's ok. Everyone loses customers. Why lie unless there is something really nefarious going on? And, what else are you lying about?
- We're a good fit for everyone: We always like to ask vendors questions that will give us a proxy for how truthful in general they are being with us. It's not a malicious attempt to entrap them or catch them in a lie. It's more an attempt to say "yes, these guys are being honest" as most companies will answer you in a straightforward way. One of these questions is "what sorts of companies aren't a good fit for your solution?" It's hard for me to think of a vendor out there that is truly good for everyone. Some are for small companies, European companies, companies in the trucking industry, etc. But, there's almost no one that can service everyone well.
- Amazon is a customer: It seems like every vendor in the world has Amazon as a customer. Or, Wal-Mart, Facebook, Google, etc. Last week I was on the phone with a video interview software vendor that had Amazon listed as a customer on their website. This was odd to me as I'd looked up the company in a tool called AHREFs which can give you an idea of how popular a website is, and it wasn't all that popular. So, I asked the sales person if they did in fact have Amazon as a customer, giving them an opportunity to clarify. "Yes, and it's very exciting!" was the response. I asked if it was just a smaller part of Amazon as I expect there is probably a grain of truth here and maybe someone in a warehouse somewhere was using this solution. Nope, it was all of Asia "as far as I know." Qualifiers like this are always a bad sign - someone is representing they don't know the full truth so can't be blamed in the future. Then I asked how many video interviews they were doing per month. The answer was 10k. That may sound like a lot, but it's nothing if Amazon Asia is your customer.
- Pricing: Most HR Tech vendors don't list their pricing on the website for various reasons. This means that the price you get is negotiable. So, while your initial quote is most likely not the best they can do, it's pretty darn common in our industry to get this. Going a level deeper, many times companies will have specific discounts on various product lines, or want to bundle modules into your offering. Always ask why, because there is an answer and sales leadership has probably told the rep why they want to bundle these. If you get an "I think they are just being generous this quarter" response, that's a red flag. The more likely answer is "to be honest, it's something we've had trouble selling standalone so we want to include it in larger deals."
- Yes we do that: Have you ever gotten on the phone with a sales person and all you hear is “yes we can do that”? Someone once recommended we make a drinking game out of it. Hearing “yes” a lot on a call is not a bad thing, but it’s rare to find a vendor that meets all of your dreams. “Can we implement this enterprise wide ATS in one day?” should not get the answer “of course!”
Here are some quick tips / advice:
- Qualified answers: If a vendor says "to the best of my knowledge" or another "qualifier" before answering a question, that's a yellow flag. Get them to corroborate their answer with whomever in the org they need to. Don't rely on their "knowledge" - get the facts.
- Triangulate the data: We always look at publicly available data to get a feel for the company: LinkedIn employee counts, Glassdoor scores, their career site, fundraising, etc. If they have four employees but say they are the best ATS out there (yes, that happened), then clearly there is a disconnect. If all their sales people just quit and left bad reviews on Glassdoor but the company is "growing really fast" - you need to call them on that!
- Push for the number: Many times we'll ask companies what their retention is, what their growth is, etc. These are all proxies for the strength of their product. If they don't know, that's fine. But, that's not an answer, we need to get an answer that we can be confident in after the call. Don't just drop these questions, push for the number.
- Lying isn't everything: Your average sales person will stretch the truth. They are financially incentivized to do so in most companies. A good sales person will shoot straight, and a good sales person is a strong indicator of a good product. But, maybe you got a bottom quartile rep for a top quartile product. Lying is one signal, a few stretches of the truth shouldn't be a deal breaker if everything else checks out.
At the end of the day, vendors are actually incentivized to do good. And, most are going to shoot straight with you, especially if you represent yourself as a knowledgeable buyer.
That said, a vendor that is stretching the truth too much means there is something they are hiding, and that the information you've collected about feature alignment, customer support, etc all need to be called into question.
If you're on a demo and find the sales person lying in these common ways, our advice is to be more alert, more pushy, and have a strong backup plan so walking away is as simple as possible.