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Appearances can be deceptive

We tendered for a relatively small project last Autumn, but were not successful.  We tried to find out why we were not selected, but the client said although they were impressed with our approach and subsequent proposal they had decided to go with someone else.  So you can image my surprise when the company contacted me over the Easter weekend, saying they were having some issues with their software developers and would we be prepared to enter discussions with them.  I said that although I had reservations " based on past experiences in similar situations " I would be more than happy to see if we could (a) act as an intermediary or (b) take over the software development (their preferred option).

So what went wrong?

During the meeting the client explained that the overriding reason for selecting the third party software company actually they say they are “the premier web design S.E.O Search Engine Optimisation & Marketing company” on their website was that they appeared to be a larger business than our own and they felt more comfortable with a similar sized company than with Ayrmer Software.  I understand the initial decision, although as the title of the blog suggests appearances can be deceptive.

When the contract was originally awarded, the software development team used the clients specification which I had expressed concerns about and had explained the importance of good business analysis and a written specification and started the development work.  The client initially liaised with the project manager who was based locally and everything seemed to be going fine, but after a while they started to realise that all was not as it first appeared.

The project manager was actually a salesman who had over promised and under delivered, the developer was based in the States and going through a series of personal crisis that affected the project. Things came to a halt, discussions broken down, the project was only around one third of the way through, although the client has paid three quarters of the fees.

What appeared to be a large business, was in fact a salesman not a project manager that outsourced all the development to freelancers and actually under cut our proposal by over 50%.  The company’s website is very impressive and does indeed give the impression of a significantly bigger business.  Furthermore, the salesman kept this facade up throughout the sales process, misleading the client and clinching the deal, job done!

How do you avoid making the same mistake?

During our meeting I asked if the client had been to the companies offices, checked references or done some background research on the company.  Unfortunately they had done none of these, so never uncovered the facade the salesman had created.  It is easy to be fooled by a great looking website, but you need to do the following when entrusting your business to a third party supplier, especially a software partner.

  1. Go out to three companies, if one price is significantly lower / higher than the others discount it.
  2. Ask business colleagues if they know the company and / or if they can recommend a reputable software house.
  3. Make sure the software house understands what your business needs are.  How are they going to develop a business system if they don’t understand what you need?!
  4. Visit their offices and make sure the claims on their business website stack up in terms of the number of employees and capability.
  5. Ask for references and follow them up.  Although these are going to be biased in terms of selection, they are real businesses that have used the supplier and will be able to provide some background information and peace of mind.
  6. Ask to see any recent projects and get the supplier to give you a demonstration of the system.
  7. Check their on-line reputation, it isn’t difficult to check most software companies using sites like linkedin.com and twitter to name but two.

Lastly, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Date: 15/08/2010

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