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I am in charge of maintenance for a large business application, bought off the shelf from a major software editor, in Europe.

We are now deeply committed to them (as in the cost to change would be enormous), and still need to pay them more money from time to time, for things like additional licences, consulting, ...

The thing is the sales rep handling my sector knows we're stuck, and is not trying at all, making me wait a month for 3-digit quotes, and so on.

I was wondering about asking for a new sales representative, but;

  • I don't know if that's a thing. Can you simply ask for a different guy?
  • Who do I ask? The current guy?
  • Is it costing THEM money at all? – Gregory Currie May 12 at 6:21
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    (Are they losing sales because of this?) – Gregory Currie May 12 at 6:21
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    @GregoryCurrie No, since I'll end up buying it anyway. It's just bothering me... – Jean-Pierre May 12 at 6:26
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    So basically there is no reason for them to care that you're unhappy? That sucks. – Gregory Currie May 12 at 6:28
  • To clarify: you're asking for quotes about something in the value range of up to 999EUR (three digits)? – Lars Br. May 12 at 23:40
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What you want is the situation to improve. Talking to your current sales rep could work, sometimes you have a little motivating to do. Changing the rep could work too.

And you are not stuck, you have strong incentives to stay. Which is different. Once incentives to change mount up, change can happen! And dissatisfaction with a supplier/service provider can even make people switch to an inferior solution, if they get better treatment there.

I used to work for prediction provider (certain topic of predictions, not general). For some subtopics we were great, for others not so much. One day, we rolled out an upgrade which impacted stability negatively. I personally advised for rolling back, but the new features were deemed strategically important to acquire new customers, so the decision got made to not roll back. Users groaned. We worked on improving stability, but it went slow. Users groaned so much their bosses listened, and SLAs got checked. We were within in the limits of the SLA, but we used up our yearly allowance in 2 weeks! (Luckily for us, it was in December). Then a big customer cancelled their contract 1 year in advance and told us: Either things improve drastically, or this cancelation stands! This finally got the attention of our boss and priorities shifted. So this worked!

In the same company, we were so dissatisfied with our database provider, we switched them out. It wasnt highest priority, but they worked on it for 5 years! Little by little. Their reps never got alerted to that fact, the dissatisfaction was that high.

So, if you are dissatisfied enough, switching may become suddenly an option. Even when it's costly. So you have still some leverage. When you call with the rep, you dont have to go nuclear right away. Simply stateing your dissatisfied and want things to improve may be enough.

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    Make sure to clear it with your boss before you threathen a nuclear option. – Taemyr May 12 at 17:13
  • "And you are not stuck, you have strong incentives to stay". Usually it's your boss who is saying "we cannot afford the change", but you are the one who has to deal with the unresponsive sales rep. I'd say this totally qualifies as "stuck". – Andrew Savinykh May 13 at 5:43
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    If you think it's worth switching you have to make a case internally. The company as a whole has incentives to stay, the individual then has to make a case that it's better to switch. Projects get delayed because of that sales rep? That's likely to catch attention. Even better when you start communicating early, e.g.: "This sales rep is unresponsive, this has x, y, z effect on us. I try to change this with them" Then hopefully your bosses realizes, this is not a onetime incident, but a pattern. Who knows, maybe he calls himself? Sometimes boss calls can do wonders... – Benjamin May 13 at 6:20
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    A very long time ago, I saw a system ported from HP to Sun workstations with just a high enough quality that it could be seen in use on the Sun workstation on the day the HP sales director visited. HP reset their discounts and started to work hard to give a good service. – Ian May 13 at 15:10
  • How were they able to cancel their contract one year in advance? – Prometheus May 14 at 1:50
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Like you would in a shop or in a restaurant, ask for the manager, voice your lack of satisfaction and ask for a different contact person.

Make clear how the delays are affecting you, so that they are aware that you are not stuck, but you are only stuck as long as the cost of the opportunity loss due to their "not even trying" is lower than the cost of changing application.

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    this! I have seen contracts a year cancelled in advance to put pressure on a provider to increase their quality. If quality ups, the cancelation will be cancelled, otherwise it stands. That got the attention of the boss and worked! There are different tacticts to get the point across, hopefully talking first works for you. – Benjamin May 12 at 6:38
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    @Benjamin you should put this as an answer - especially as once dissatisfaction is sufficiently high the cost issue becomes smaller. – Solar Mike May 12 at 6:58
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    In addition, complaining usually comes with the fear of word-of-mouth spreading. You told them now, but it will cost them opportunities if you blog it next month. Or go to a conference and people ask you about your experiences. – mabi May 12 at 16:56
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I think you should try to keep this an impersonal as possible.

If your vendor has a channel for complaints, you should engage with that channel.

The underlying problem may not be the sales-rep at all. There may be widespread business issues that make it problematic to get quotes.

They are more likely to care if you look like you're likely to walk.

You should double check your SLAs to see if they are complying.

If you feel like you're getting the run around, you should ask the sales rep who you need to speak with to get things moving along. If you look like you may go over their head, that may spur them into action.

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My guess is your sales rep's boss is pressuring them to bring in new business and that's where they're spending their time, at the expense of their current customers. Or maybe the vendor is in difficulty and has reduced their cost of sales, or maybe they've had a lot of growth and haven't ramped up their customer service enough.

A lot of sales-driven companies will team their sales reps into an "outside" rep that goes out to meet customers and get new business, and an "inside" rep that stays at their desk to be available for calls, to issue quotes, and to follow up on orders. They work as a team so they know the customer's history, what discounts they get, and so forth.

What you might do is ask your current person whether they have an inside rep that you can deal with directly. Maybe they do, and the sale rep just isn't referring them to you--or maybe they are doing so, and isn't aware that the inside rep is dropping the ball so much.

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I have always heard that the customer is king(?)

The thing is the sales rep handling my sector knows we're stuck, and is not trying at all

Sounds like he think that he has the whip-hand. and he does - for the time being.

Your company has made a basic supply chain error, where the tail is wagging the dog. The bus factor applies to companies too. As thing stand, if they go under, you go under. And there is no company that cannot go under; I am sure that you can think of a few major examples yourself.

You need multiple suppliers - there is no question of that.

Your only decision is whether you want to let the current supplier know that you are looking for others or not. As trump says "what have you got to lose?".

Just innocently remarking to your current supplier that another source offers better terms might be enough to gee this particular rep up. Or, you might take it higher up the food chain.

Or, keep it to yourself and start buying elsewhere. Sooner or later your current supplier will notice that. What you tell them at that point is up to you.

But, you must secure multiple suppliers, otherwise you know who owns "your" company.

(your company might also want to consider the employment of whomever got them into this mess)

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    When it comes to "large business applications" multiple suppliers isn't necessarily an option. – DBS May 13 at 9:06
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    I will upvote you, as I was probably thinking more of physical goods. However, as software developer, I can't help thinking that this why mission critical software should be developed in-house. Failing that, pay extra to get the source code &the right to modify it. However we look at it, this company has painted themselves into a corner and would be remiss not to look for a way out. Also, the next contact should specify that maintenance be done within X days or incur a penalty. Business common sense seems to have been lacking. – Mawg says reinstate Monica May 13 at 9:16
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    Yes "Customer is king" I heard the Marketing Dept say "that without them nothing happens" - I asked them how good their presentation will look if I cut the electricity... They were not impressed but all got the point that we are a TEAM... – Solar Mike May 13 at 10:48
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    @MawgsaysreinstateMonica Whilst I largely agree with you, developing mission critical in-house software just means that your employees have you over a barrel. MRDA. – richardb May 14 at 7:44
  • Lolx! C'est vrai (upvote). But, unless you are a one man band, you have to be defendant on someone. And employees are easier to replace than third part suppliers – Mawg says reinstate Monica May 14 at 10:21
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We are now deeply committed to them (as in the cost to change would be enormous),

(...)

The thing is the sales rep handling my sector knows we're stuck

Escalate the problem, and keep escalating until you get to someone who listens.

If they are a large company, they know that someone is "deeply committed and stuck" until they are not anymore. There have been multiple cases of costly switches which were very bad for the previous vendor and the new (competing) vendor made a lot of efforts to facilitate the switch and win a new business.

This works best when you have a seizable business with that vendor.

Now, if your business to them is peanuts, the effort to please you may not be there (especially when there know that you are stuck) - at some point there is an equilibrium to reach between the cost to please a customer (not only in euros, also in terms of PR etc.) and the benefit from said customer.

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