When to Call BS on Your Billing Vendor

A few years ago, I brought a team of people to Northern California. We had submitted a set of use cases to three highly regarded billing vendors a few weeks earlier, and now we were going to see live demos of working systems executing our use cases on our sample data. That was the plan until one of the vendors pulled out a PowerPoint presentation of a simulated demo. And about ten minutes into that riveting presentation, one of my business users said, “This is total … ,“ Well, you get the point.

Promises made, promises broken

The vendor above had promised a working prototype based on a few simple use cases. If they couldn’t keep that promise, how were they ever going to deliver on our full set of requirements? It turned out that even in our simple use cases, there were things the vendor couldn’t deliver. They had immediately overpromised and under-delivered.

So how do you know when a vendor is overpromising? I’d suggest three things to watch for. These are going to sound really simple, like “Duh, who would ever fall for this?” The answer is, you. And actually, me, as I’ve been bitten by all of these. But now my loss is your gain!

Meaningless metrics

Not too long ago, a software salesperson for a company I’d love to name but won’t (because lawyers) told me that his system could real-time rate every mobile phone call on the planet—something like a bazillion transactions per nano-second. Impressive right? Yeah, if they could actually do it. It was also irrelevant. I was batch loading transactions and the long pole in the tent was the transaction load, not rating. What he was really telling me was that his company had put a ton of R&D expense into creating something we didn’t need, but that we would be paying for. And funny thing, the same person was evasive when the topic came around to batch performance. We didn’t buy that solution.

There are metrics that matter to vendors. Sometimes they’re really impressive, like a bazillion real-time transactions in a nano-second. And then there are metrics that matter to your business. Don’t confuse the two.

Too good to be true

One reason that billing projects have a high failure rate is that vendors often oversell their software. This is not necessarily because they’re bad people (most aren’t). In fact, most of the people I’ve worked with in this industry are obsessed with solving your problems. Which means that just about the hardest thing on earth for them to say is, “no, we can’t do that.” The best ones will, and they’ll usually follow it up with something like, “But what if you did this instead?” In fact, if you don’t hear these words at least once during discovery, it should raise a flag. Changing your practices is often much simpler than the vendor force-fitting an enhancement request. Great vendors will help you do this and overcome the internal resistance that often comes with doing so. When you know you have a complex problem, and someone says, “We can solve that without breaking a sweat,” beware. As in most things, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

We’ll sort that out later

In all likelihood, they won’t. The worst project in my career was the result of letting a vendor get away with a “we’ll sort that out later” answer. The question was related to scale and how the product catalog would support the variety and scale of products and bundles we would be deploying. The vendor spent months talking around the question, without ever really answering it. And kicking the can down the road ended up costing us a lot of money and time. Funny thing is, a couple years later, one of their engineers said, “Wow, we sold you that? I’ll bet that solution architect isn’t around anymore!” OK, it’s funny now, but it wasn’t funny at the time. Get the answers you need, and get them now.

Know when to say when

It’s human nature to hear what we want to hear and to filter the other stuff out. And we want to hear that things are going to go perfectly smoothly. We’re also inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially when we perceive them to be good people who are trying to help us solve a problem (as the vast majority of people in this industry are). But to protect yourself and your company, you need to take a step back, to listen and evaluate more critically. And sometimes you need to say, “This is BS.”

Read the 5 Questions to Ask Billing Vendors whitepaper to make sure you can sniff out all the BS!