It\u2019s the time of year when most enterprises are involved in a more-or-less-formal technology review cycle, as a preparatory step for next year\u2019s budgeting. They\u2019ve done this for decades, and it\u2019s interesting to me that in any given year, enterprises share roughly three of their top five priorities. It\u2019s more interesting that over three-quarters of enterprises carry over at least two of their top five priorities for multiple years. Why aren\u2019t they getting addressed? They say their top problem is an \u201cinformation gap.\u201d\nBuyers adopt network technologies that improve their business, not just their network. They have to justify spending, particularly spending on some new technology that someone inside or outside has suggested. That means that they have to understand how it will improve operations, how they\u2019ll deploy it, and what the cost will be. To do this for a new technology, they need information on how that improvement would happen\u2014and they say they\u2019re not getting it.\n\nLet\u2019s look at another expectation. Enterprises don\u2019t plan on how to adopt abstract technology concepts, they plan for product adoption and deployment. Network vendors who offer the products are the usual source of information, which can be delivered through news stories, vendor websites, or sales engagement. Enterprises expect the seller to explain why their product or service is the right idea, and sellers largely agree. It\u2019s just a question of what specific sales process is supposed to provide that critical information.\nTechnology salespeople, like all salespeople make their money largely on commissions. They call on prospects, pitch their products\/services, and hopefully get the order. Their goal is a fast conversion from prospect to customer, and nearly all salespeople will tell you that they dread above all the \u201ceducational sell\u201d. That happens when a prospect knows so little about the product\/service being sold that they can\u2019t make a decision at all and have to be taught the basics. The salesperson who\u2019s teaching isn\u2019t making commissions, and their company isn\u2019t hitting their revenue goals.\nWhat do the salespeople think should be resolving this problem? Marketing. Most sales organizations work from leads developed by one or more marketing processes, and historically those leads have been created by collateral that also provided prospects the basic education into the value propositions and technologies involved. Those very salespeople tell me that isn\u2019t working well these days.\nThe marketing people agree, but their view is that the sales organization has to pull more weight. Creating collateral relevant to a given prospect\u2019s business case for a technology and educating them on the basics of that technology is difficult. Websites can become so cluttered that users never find anything on them. My own experience looking at vendor websites bears this out; often I can\u2019t even find the topic I\u2019m trying to research.\u00a0 The salesperson can lead a prospect down the right path, wading through the options to get to what\u2019s relevant for them.\u00a0 \u201cIsn\u2019t that what sales is about?\u201d marketing asks.\nIt would be nice if vendors could get their sales and marketing processes on the same page, but buyers don\u2019t have much control over that. What could you, as an enterprise-network technology buyer, do to close the information gap? The answer is to push an RFP-like process into your first contact with providers of those new technologies you\u2019re considering.\nDon\u2019t think of this as a formal RFP; save that for when you have enough information to really buy something. What you need to do is solicit collateral you need from both marketing (meaning visiting the company website) and the sales organization. To direct that process, get answers to four specific questions from both sources:\n1. How will this technology improve my business operations?\nBe specific, and try to provide some references to others I can contact in my vertical who have applied the technology and seen the improvements.\u00a0 The goal here is to direct your detailed assessment at the points that you\u2019ll have to defend in order to make a business case, and to help you quantify a benefit set.\n2. What are the three key features of your product that will realize those improvements?\nPlease provide product collateral on each, and explain why these features are key, and what their role is. This is aimed at linking features and functions to specific benefits in terms of business operations, and it lets you prioritize your review of the vendor\u2019s material to avoid a long slog through things that may not matter.\n3. How is your product introduced into my network? Is it a layer on top, underneath, a parallel function, a replacement for existing technology?\nCosts provided by vendors rarely address the possible write-downs of current gear, or the issues relating to integration and interoperation. The relationship between the new and your existing equipment also defines the areas where vendor finger-pointing excursions are most likely to bite.\n4. What will you need from me in order to provide me with a quote on what I\u2019ll need?\nThe answer is essential in helping you prepare an RFP properly or simply to ask a specific vendor for a quote, but it has other values too. The biggest is that you can assess the answer to this question against those of the prior three. If there are inconsistencies, you\u2019ll need to get them resolved because they could indicate the vendor isn\u2019t preparing responses thoughtfully or may be glossing over details.\nIt\u2019s best to look at company websites first and fill in how you think the questions are answered there, noting where answers are unsatisfactory or even missing.\u00a0 Then ask your sales contact to supply the answers, perhaps emphasizing the areas where your own research didn\u2019t turn up what you needed.\nWhat happens if you still can\u2019t answer the questions at the end of this?\u00a0 Go back to vendors who answered things best and ask for clarifications and expansions where needed and keep drilling down until you have at least one fully satisfactory response. If you can\u2019t get one, it may be that the technology\/product under consideration just isn\u2019t ready for prime time. If you do have a good response, use that to create your RFP and take that to the vendors whose responses gave you at least some confidence. Do all that and you can get those stalled technology projects moving.