A response to Alan on those “lying no-goodnick” vendors

A response to Alan on those “lying no-goodnick” vendors

3 Comments on A response to Alan on those “lying no-goodnick” vendors

Judging by Alan’s comment to my Managing Expectations post, I think he is a little aggravated with me for picking on vendors.  It probably had something to do with this comment:

…the marketing departments of companies typically make it sound like their product can cure world hunger and make you a sandwich at the same time it is keeping your network totally secure (and it does all that in a nice little 1U appliance that takes five minutes to install and configure). 

Or maybe this:

So as the sales person and sales engineer (often the same person), it is imperative that the expectations for a product are managed up front.  If the customer calls you in and says that the brochure for XYZ Security Widget says that it can perform a certain function, you have to be able to explain if the claim is true or not.  You have to make it clear that often case studies are done in pristine situations.  And you also have to clarify that the “setup” of the widget (yes, the one that takes only five minutes) in a network often means that it was simply screwed into a rack, plugged into the network, and assigned an IP address.  There is usually little to no configuration done on the widget, and it is absolutely worthless in this state.  You have to enlighten the naïve customer by telling him that trade rag product reviews are often rigged (it sucks, but it is true).

I was going to respond in the comments, but it got long, so I thought it was worth a post. OK, here goes.


To answer your “what would I do working for a vendor” question, I would honestly have to look long and hard at a vendor before I would go to work there.  Not because they are all a bunch of ” lying no-goodnicks”, but because of the situations I would be in that would require me to sell a product that was not a good fit.  I have interviewed a few times with vendors.  One interview stands out because they asked me what I would say to a client if our product was not a good fit.  I said that I would tell the client it was not a good fit, and the interviewer’s jaw almost hit the floor.  He couldn’t believe I would say that.  But how could I not and stay true to my morals?

I know I give vendors a bad rap, but I have a good bit of experience with them on the customer side and reselling side (this is not my first go ’round as a reseller).  And many, if not most, push their product on everyone, no matter if it is a fit or not.  And then they get aggravated at me for telling the customer the real deal.  Since more often than not Accuvant is the trusted adviser at clients, I am not going to listen to grief from the vendor when I step in as a reseller and try to protect my customer.  I just can’t afford to let a client buy something that is not a good fit.  If I do that a couple of times, I am no longer a trusted adviser.

As an example, I spent 30 minutes on the phone with a vendor sales guy a couple of weeks ago on this very thing.  He was griping at me because I was bringing in a competitor of his into an account he thought he had brought me in on.  The reason I was bringing someone else in was because my client has an internal policy that they have to bring in at least three vendors of any one product before they can make a purchase.   I explained that I could not refuse the customer, especially if he was specifically requesting that I do all the work.  Again, if I don’t help my client, then my status as a trusted adviser gets hurt or lost.

But what really got my dander up was that I knew that the guy had not brought me in to the client.  In fact, the client requested Accuvant (the client and I were old friends – we had worked at another reseller together).  And in the course of the conversation with me, the sales guy got so flustered that he actually admitted that he had suggested another reseller first (a big mistake on his part that essentially killed his argument, no matter what my argument had been).  This was just pure and simple dishonesty, and it irked me tremendously.

I am not saying that all vendors are dishonest.  And I know that vendor product sales make up a huge amount of our revenue at Accuvant.  But I would rather not be put in a situation where I have to choose between making my boss angry by not selling the product or convincing the customer that the product is what he needs when I know it is not.  I just don’t know if I can work in the situation.

Having said all of that, I would really love to hear your deeper opinion on this matter.  Obviously you have had a lot of experience working for vendors, and I want to hear your side on this and how you handle this kind of thing, what you teach your sales people, etc.  I have heard that the vendor side of the house is great, so I want to know what the argument from your side is so I can keep from limiting my options for future employment. :)


About the author:

My name is Michael Farnum. I am a Practice Principal at HP Fortify on Demand. I live in Tomball, Texas. I have been in the IT and InfoSec field since 1994. I am the founder and chairperson of HouSecCon, THE Houston Information Security Conference. These are MY words, not my employer's or anyone else's.


  1. /

    […] OK, now that I am settled in my hotel room in Dallas, I have some time to respond to Alan’s post calling me a hooker (like I said to Alan, at least he called me high-priced).  I will also be responding to a comment left by a reader who goes by the name of Shaneo.  You can read that comment here. […]

  2. Shaneo  - June 11, 2007 - 9:39 am

    You make me laugh! A VAR is still always a VAR – a sales engine. If you were an Independent consultants and didn’t sell any product, then I could support some of your statements. However, your in the food chain, the benefit is that you can choose more than one product for the customer as you probably have more vendor relationships. But you are STILL a seller that needs to sell product to win.

    It’s great that you have morals and I have found a lot with dubious morales being both Vendors and VARS, but geez, don’t put yourself so high and mighty above all the rest…When your a part of the food chain. Maybe you have been walking around too long in the emperor’s new clothes

  3. SamVR  - June 10, 2007 - 10:46 am

    It’s a balance on all 3 sides. (Oh, and I also have been on all sides of this argument.) The customer first needs to define their needs before they embark on a product hunt – at the same time, the “bring in 3 vendors” approach is somewhat archaic. The reseller would like to be a trusted advisor – and in many cases is – but at the end of the day (or quarter, as it may be) revenue rules. As noble of a stance you may take with your customer, the salesguy’s compensation is grossly tied to sales, so a sale must be made or (s)he doesn’t eat. The vendor, at the same time, cannot let his marketing folks go off and create some story – it should be based on real experiences – so case studies are done. And although some case studies may be done in pristine environments (tip: ask to speak with those folks to find out), many are not – I know during my time at StillSecure, the case studies were not baked and I can say the same for my current gig (because I know the real stories behind them). Product reviews may be biased (same situation on the evaluation criteria – if the vendor is involved in setting up the criteria, the competitors will not shine – this happens with customers all the time – or if ad revenue is an influence) but most are not. I have seen the battle at bakeoffs at several vendors and it is no picnic – it’s just as hard as fighting to win a customer. There is a lot more to the above than I care to puke at one time, so, my final word: It takes three to tango in this case.

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