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Sometimes I email with suppliers of different software products we use, may use in the future or have used in the past. In these conversations I of course provide the info necessary so that the supplier can answer my question. However there are also situations where i want to write:

"Hi, you mailed me to schedule a phone call but there is really no point. We are discontinuing your products because management has decided to go with technology X from competitor Y".

Of course they don't really need this detailed info, but it feels contrived to be secretive. Is there any harm with telling suppliers what tech we use and why?

Context: I am a developer and I don't have the last say in what we'll buy. EDIT: I do go to meetings and presentations to learn about products we (might) use. This way vendors get my contact details.

We are a services company, any (software) technology we use is there to support the services. So we do not compete directly with technology.

  • 4
    @joeqwerty The OP should refer the supplier to their management to be told that they've decided to discontinue using their product. If the supplier is still contacting the company, they either don't know the company plans to stop doing business with them or they're hoping they can change the company's mind. If it's the former, the OP has just told somebody something they really shouldn't be. If it's the latter, the OP isn't the person who makes the decisions anyway. – Anthony Grist Feb 26 at 14:25
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    I can't imagine why you'd want to tell them exactly what you're going to be using instead of their product. However you might consider instead telling them why you won't be using their product - 'updates break thing', 'missing this essential feature', 'awful support'... Especially the latter :-) – George M Feb 26 at 17:43
  • Is this your decision to make? Or should this question be answered by your boss? – usul Feb 26 at 18:31
  • Are you asking for employment consequences, or business consequences? The answers seem to address the latter, but it's not uncommon in NDAs to see that you cannot share information about tech stack. – luk32 Feb 27 at 9:59
  • @luk32 business consequences, we have no NDA (about tech anyway). – Ivana Feb 27 at 15:28

11 Answers 11

65

Is there any harm with telling suppliers what tech we use and why?

Would your competitors be interested to learn what tech you use and why? If so, then you shouldn't be giving this information to any supplier (who may also be a supplier to your competition).

Some suppliers seek to curry favor with their clients by passing along industry information they have gleaned.

I am a developer and i dont have the last say in what we'll buy.

Then it's not clear why you are conversing with suppliers anyway. It might be best to leave it to those who are in a position to make such decisions, and who have been properly trained to deal with suppliers.

I worked for a software company in a highly-competitive arena. We learned what our competition was planning through many channels. Talking with vendors was one way. One of our competitors in particular was extremely careless with their conversations and we learned some significant details about an important upcoming project. That knowledge allowed us to quickly plan a competing product and marketing message that could counter their new product.

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    'It might be best to leave it to those who are in a position to make such decisions, and who have been properly trained to deal with suppliers.' -- You are really giving people in those positions a lot of credit by assuming that they have been properly trained! – USER_8675309 Feb 26 at 18:01
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    Nothing gets a vendor motivated to spill the beans like saying their product will no longer be used. – trognanders Feb 26 at 22:18
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    "Then it's not clear why you are conversing with suppliers anyway" because suppliers host workshops and such where developers like me learn about their products. And the suppliers get my contact info and use it to get a foothold ;-) – Ivana Feb 27 at 9:29
  • This seems to ignore the fact that sharing means peopel also tell you about developments in the field. Which is good as in the end that means everyone, you and your competitors can all evolve to a better product. Improving research and development manifold. – paul23 Feb 27 at 16:59
  • re conversing with vendors: it may be that the vendor person is trained and knows how to get information they need. I was once invited to a very posh dinner by Dell where there were Dell salesmen on one side and "I'm just a dev, what I'm doing here?" on the other. Much interesting information flew through the air that evening, usually in one direction and not the other. – Pavel Feb 28 at 5:29
33

While the other answers are good, I think that responses close the door too soon, especially if you or your company may reach out to the supplier or sales rep in a different company.

How you could respond is:

Thanks for your time and help! At this time, we are going in another direction.

This kind of reply:

  • Does not divulge any information.
  • Doesn't leave much of a door to ask for more info
  • Doesn't burn any bridges
  • I really do like this advice but it doesnt really answer the question. – Ivana Mar 5 at 16:09
14

Imagine the following:

Apple decides to release iPhone 20 but instead of using iOS 17 they want to bridge a gap in the market and use Android 17 instead.

You get an email from a supplier of your iOS department (let's pretend that apple decides the split the company from hardware and software) and they tell you they want to book a meeting about the implementation of iOS 17 on iPhone 20 to which you reply that there is no need as you are using Android 17 instead as per management decision.

What impact does it make to the market share value?

Could this be considered insider trading? Would this most likely be a breach of sensitive information?

I will give you a real example now.

I was working as a project manager for a CRM system on a previous job. The company providing the CRM failed every single goal we had given them. After 15 months of work spent with a massive team for this migration, the board decided against the migration.

I, among others, was called into a meeting room and signed a NDA. We continued to meet with the other company who had onsite employees, we continued to work as if nothing happened for another 2 months while the company was preparing a legal case against the supplier.

Moral of the story: don't share without knowing that you must share. Check with your superior.

  • I appreciate your answer, but here the information is obviously related to the core business of the company. This is not he case for us. – Ivana Feb 26 at 14:39
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    @Ivana not entirely really. Even if your company has decided to use a different software, from the point of "decision" to actually using that software/product, you still don't have the product. Less is always more. Politely declining the invite as unavailable or simply going through with it is better. Specially if you are not able to make such decisions, why would the supplier want to hear this news coming from you instead of the correct means? – fireshark519 Feb 26 at 14:52
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they don't really need this detailed info, but it feels contrived to be secretive.

They don't need it, so you shouldn't supply it.

Even if they do 'need' it, it probably isn't your place to reveal this.
Don't feel bad, your suppliers will (should) know this, and won't (should not) be offended if they find out (or figure it out).
This is how the game is played.
As an example: if you know someone in a different softball league (who your team will never play) you don't discuss your secret signs with them... just because.

Is there any harm with telling suppliers what tech we use and why?

A possible harm is that it could have an effect on the support your company gets. Not very ethical... but I've seen it happen.


Here's an unrelated example, that demonstrates how leaking information can be detrimental to a company in a way that wasn't expected:
I worked at a company owned by a guy who we will call Jim.
Jim's company mostly installed this one phone from this one supplier in Texas.
This supplier sold phone systems across the US to other companies like Jim's company. Jim was one of their bigger customers (selling a few hundred phones per month).
One day the president of the supplier flew in for a meeting with Jim. At the meeting he told Jim what the new phones were like, and showed pictures to see if he liked them. Jim asked for a couple of the new phone and the supplier's president said, "We don't have any yet. We are retooling our production lines from the old phones to the new ones."

This told Jim that there was a limited supply of gray phones and the new white ones wouldn't be available until the lines were retooled (months).

As soon as the supplier's president was out the door Jim called his procurement person and said, "Order 10,000 phones from [company]. If they say you can't have 10,000 order as many as they will let you order and let me know. I'll call back and ask why we can't have more."

Soon after that (a month?) the supplier didn't have any phones for the rest of his US customers... and it was almost a year before the new phone arrived.

Leaking information, even if you are authorized, can have terrible consequences for a business.

Jim's company offered the old gray phones several years after this event, along with the new white ones!

Does that help you think about things differently?
Unintended/unexpected consequences are a real thing.

  • That is a very good example, it doesnt really apply to my sitation but it's still we very good story. – Ivana Feb 27 at 9:33
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    @Ivana it may not seem to apply to your situation, but the whole point of this and answers like it is that you don't (and probably can't) know the full potential impact of disclosing your company's internal decisions. – Mr.Mindor Feb 27 at 20:49
  • +1 @Mr.Mindor Thanks, yes... that's exactly why I typed it. – J. Chris Compton Feb 27 at 21:46
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While I understand the motivation of the other answers, I feel like posting a Devil's Advocate answer explaining why it can be useful to give the declined vendor more information about why you went in a different direction.

This can motivate them to improve their product so that it's better than the competitor's, and maybe in the future you'll find their product more attractive. If you don't give them any details, they might be able to figure out what they need to improve through their own competitive analysis, but there's more guesswork involved. They might make improvements that aren't as useful to you.

  • Thank you. when applicable I would certainly provide this type of info. In the current situation it's really more about our architecture and the setup of the departments that dictates the tech we use. That is, we no longer use product X which uses database Y, instead we outsourced everything to company Q which uses a different set of products. – Ivana Feb 27 at 9:31
  • This information would be certainly useful for the vendor, but that's not the poster's job, either. Always remember you work for the company that signs your paycheck. – spuck Feb 27 at 23:21
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    @spuck And if the vendor improves their product, your company may benefit from that in the future by switching over to them. It also may improve the industry as a whole, and a rising tide lifts all boats. – Barmar Feb 27 at 23:31
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OK, I know I'm a bit late to the party, here but: Yes, there is risk in sharing info to suppliers!

Two things to ponder:

  1. When the "Heartbleed" bug security hole became famous in the OpenSSL library, many companies were very quick to publicize that they didn't use that tech stack. Others didn't say whether they did or not. If you publicize your tech stack, you not only leave yourself open to targeted attacks, but you leave yourself open to "social" attacks as well. "We know Brand X uses OpenSSL, and OpenSSL is cracked. You should stop using them immediately!"

  2. I work in a pretty "small" niche in the video production industry. There are only about 10 major players. I had a potential vendor call me and try to "sell" me by telling me how other companies in the industry had integrated their technology. I was quite shocked. I hadn't asked for that information, and I would not, as it would be inappropriate to push for it. However, without any prompting, he laid out what should be confidential information on our competitor's activities to me. I declined even listening to his "pitch" after that, as I realized nothing we discussed would be private.

Short version: If there's anything going on at your company that should be public knowledge, let the public relations team handle it. If you don't have a PR office in your company, refer them to your company's website. While whatever you share could seem innocuous at the moment, you should treat it as confidential.

If you are planning on giving a tech presentation at a developers' forum or user group, be sure you clear it with the appropriate executive team, first.

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If the fact that you use that tech is public knowledge, like something that is listed in a job description, I see no harm in it. But, if you're talking about tech that is not public knowledge, you really shouldn't say it. A simple "I thank you for the contact, but we don't have further interest in your product" should be good enough.

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As a rule of thumb, whenever you decline something in business with someone external, go with a friendly "no". Don´t explain yourself when you don´t have to. It can gain you nothing. (This also goes for declining potential job candidates)

In your case, you´d just say:

Hi, you mailed me to schedule a phone call. Thank you very much for the offer, but in this case we´ll have to decline. Unfortunately, we already made a decision against your product at this time.

If you provide further Information, you will appear less sure of your decision. Also, you are opening yourself up to further discussion like: Oh, vendor B, yes we know their product, but have you considered our product hast feature X ... which will at best lead you to waste both your time and at worst you will give away even more information (but we don´t use feature X, we go with XYZ-Framework instead ...)

If the salesperson chases you up and want´s to know why and what you´ll use instead, you can just tell them:

I´m sorry, but this decision was not in my hands this time. Thank you for you service, and I´ll come back to you if we ever need your product again.

0

If you're not the person who makes that decision, you may not be the right person to communicate it to the vendor. Fortunately, this is over email, so you can simply check first with the person who made the decision:

Bob from ABC corp is emailing me to schedule a phone call. Can I tell him we're switching to XYZ?

The answer may be "Yes please go ahead" or it may be "Wait, I need to talk to someone first".

As mentioned in other answers, maybe you shouldn't spill the beans if there is some competitive secrecy involved, or any kind of delicate relationship to be preserved. On the other hand, maybe the decision-maker simply didn't get around to telling the vendor. The only way to know is to ask.

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That doesn't mean that

"Hi, you mailed me to schedule a phone call but there is really no point. We are discontinuing your products because management has decided to go with technology X from competitor Y".

The problem is, the statement you just said there, does not mean what you intend. It means something else entirely:

Official cover story, we are on the fence about continuing with your technology. We are threatening to go with technology X from competitor Y. Unofficially this is us holding your feet to the fire, to give us a better sales deal if you wish to keep us. The reason I am naming naming your competitor is I kinda want to keep you, and I want to help you develop a "keep us" strategy. I expect you to spam your whole rolodex of our purchasing people and product deciders. Needless to say, this remains undecided (or I wouldn't have wasted your time telling you). HURRY.

Yeah, I didn't think you wanted to say that. The way you say what you wanted to say is to give him the bum's rush, with language like "we went another way".


Of course they don't really need this detailed info, but it feels contrived to be secretive.

I'm going out on a limb here and guess you don't work for the military :)

It's not an accident that not telling him felt awkward. He used NLP and other tricks to make it feel awkward so you'd feel compelled to fill in the silence. Sales people are good at that.

0

You are taking this too personally. This is not about them liking you as a person, and you're not breaking up with an ex-husband or anything.

You are shopping for a product and your company chose to buy something from a different vendor, that's it. When you are in the grocery store and choose one brand of cheese over another, there are no cheese salesmen with tear-filled eyes that you feel compelled to apologize to. The difference here is that you have a rapport with your vendor and enjoy them taking you to lunch or chatting on the phone. There is a human connection here which is normal, but you don't owe your supplier any reason beyond "it wasn't the right fit this time, but we will definitely consider you for the next project." You can still like them as a person while declining their service or product.

Sure, it would be useful to Vendor A for you to spoon feed them all the reasons you're going with Vendor B, but if the decision has been made to buy from Vendor B, your information here potentially weakens your new partner's position as well as your company's. You don't work for either of the vendors, so it's not your job to fix their problems.

This post reminds me of the time that I (a software guy) was to give testimony in a court case. Our company was being sued for patent infringement, and I had written the supposedly infringing software.

Our in-house counsel scheduled a meeting with me to discuss the process and my obligation to tell the truth under oath. The advice that stood out was to answer the other attorney's questions honestly, but to avoid the temptation to volunteer additional information.

His advice boiled down to basically: "You're an engineer, right? You guys always want to prove that you know things, and you want to help when people don't understand how something works. When you are being questioned, just remember that's not your job. Your job is to answer his question with a yes or a no. If he wants to know more, he will ask more questions which you need to answer honestly. But it's not your job to lead him or help him with his lack of expertise or understanding. If the other side hired a bad lawyer who doesn't understand what questions to ask, that's their problem, not yours."

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