The confused mind says no – the psychology of OSS purchasing

When it comes to OSS/BSS vendor selections, a typical customer might say they’re evaluating vendors on criteria that are a mix of technical and commercial (and other) factors. However, there’s more likely a much bigger and often hidden factor that drives a purchasing event. We’ll explore what that is shortly.

I’m currently reading the book, Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense. It discusses a number of lateral, counter-intuitive approaches that have actually been successful and the psychological effects behind them.

The author, Rory Sutherland, proffers the idea that, “we make decisions… not only for the expected average outcome (but) also seek to minimise the possible variance, which makes sense in an uncertain world.” Also that, “A 1 percent chance of a nightmarish experience dwarfs a 99 percent chance of a 5 percent gain.”

Does that make you wonder about what the OSS/BSS buying experience feels like?

Are OSS/BSS vendors so busy promoting the 5% gain and the marginal differentiating features that they’re overlooking the white-knuckled fear of the nightmarish experience for OSS buyers?

OSS/BSS transformation projects tend to be large, complex and risky. There are a lot of unknowns, especially for organisations that tackle these types of projects rarely. Every project is different. The stakeholders signing off these projects are making massive investment decisions (relative to their organisation’s respective size) in the allocation of  resources (in financial, human and time allocation). The ramifications of these buying decisions will last for years and can often be career-defining (in the positive or the negative depending on the success of the transformation).

As someone who assists organisations with their buying decisions, I can concur with the old saying that, “the confused mind says no.” I’d also suggest that the scared mind says F#$@ no! If the vendor bamboozles the buyer with jargon and features and data, it only amplifies the fears that they might be walking into a nightmarish experience.

Fear and confusion are the reason customers often seek out the vendors who are in the top-right corner of the Gartner quadrant, even when they’re just not the best-fit solution. It’s the reason for the old saying that nobody got fired for hiring IBM. It’s the reason OSS/BSS procurement events can be so arduous (9, 12, 18 months are the norm).

The counter-intuitive approach for vendors is to spend more time overcoming the fear and confusion rather than technical demonstrations:

  • Simplify the messaging
  • Simplify the user experience (refer to the OSS intuition age)
  • Simplify the transformation
  • Provide work breakdowns and phasing to deliver early proof of value rather than a big-bang delivery way off into the future
  • Taking time to learn and communicate in the customer’s voice and terminology rather than language that’s more comfortable to you
  • Provide working proofs-of-concept / sandpits of your solutions as early as possible for the customer to interact with
  • Allow customers to use these sandpit environments and self-help with extensive support collateral (eg videos, how-to’s) enabling the customer to build trust in you at their own pace
  • Show evidence of doing the important things really well and efficiently rather than a long-tail of marginal features
  • Show evidence of striving to ensure every customer gets a positive outcome. This includes up-front transparency of the challenges faced (and still being faced) on similar projects. Not just words, but evidence of your company’s actions on behalf of customers. This might include testimonials and referrals for every single customer
  • Show evidence of no prior litigations or rampant variations or cost escalations on past projects
  • Trust is required to reduce fear and confusion (refer to “the relationship slider” in the three project responsibility sliders)
  • Provide examples of past challenges and risk mitigations. Even school the client on what they need to do to de-risk the project prior to commencement*

Can you think of other techniques / proofs that almost guarantee to the customer that they aren’t entering into a nightmarish situation?

* Note: I wrote Mastering your OSS with this exact concept in mind – to get customers ready for the transformation project they’re about to embark on and the techniques they can use to de-risk the project.


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