Andy on Enterprise Software

Price is in the eye of the beholder

May 25, 2010

I enjoyed an article today by Boris Evelson OF Forrester, discussing whether a 20% or discount for BI software was “good” or “bad”. As Boris so correctly points out, vendors go to great lengths to keep secret the list price of their software, as they prefer to assess each pricing negotiation separately. Indeed most vendor contracts have a non-disclosure clause that prevents companies from sharing any pricing information.

Given this, what sense does a 20% (or 50%) discount make? None at all. If the vendor was offering an enterprise deal at USD 2 million initially, and you haggle and get them down to USD 1 million, that may make you feel good, but what if they had been prepared to settle for half a million all along? Vendors are aware that many corporate procurement people have targets to achieve a certain percentage over list, and in most industries that is clear enough. After all, if you wanted to buy a new Mercedes then you can just look up the list price. Then if you get 10% or 20% off that from the dealer it is clear what you have saved.

But if the list price is shrouded in mystery, discounts are meaningless. You need to achieve the lowest price that you can, and the only way for that to happen is to be in a competitive situation. As soon as a vendor knows that they are the sure-fired winner or (even better) the only bidder, then they can basically make up any number that they want and stick to it. I have been on both sides of multi-million dollar software negotiations, and I can assure you that companies frequently pay well over the odds, sometimes millions more than they have to, simply through foolish procurement practices.

You need a well structured evaluation, with several competing vendors, bidding against each other on price as the evaluation is proceeding. In this case you will see who really wants to offer you a good deal. I saw one bid drop from USD 12 million to under half that in a single day once the vendor was convinced that they were genuinely in competition.

I have put quite a few procurement tips together in one module of this course.