Saturday, October 3, 2015

Get better at buying stuff (Part 2).

If you haven’t read part 1 already I recommend you do so first!
So now we know we need to acquire something. And we know the relative importance of the features we need. What next?
There are lots of organizations out there clamoring to meet your needs. The key is to hook up with the right one. The key to success is to understand what you are really buying. Maybe it’s obvious. Maybe it’s not. Let’s think about it.
Say I’m buying a vacation. My needs for the vacation are focused on the vacation itself, with the hope of a great time and happy memories. The life of the product I am buying ends at the end of the vacation. Now say I am buying a washing machine. The feature themselves are really important, but the life of the washing machine is going to be longer than most people’s vacations. So over that life you are buying a relationship with the vendor from which you made the purchase, and to some extent, the original manufacturer of the washing machine. After all, you will usually need parts and repairs at some time. So see the acquisition as being not just the washing machine, but the relationships. It’s the same when buying new kitchen equipment, and a car, with each requiring progressively more rigor.
Now imagine needing to acquire something really important and / or complex. Say a brand new house. Or a computer system for a large enterprise. You know what is essential and important and you are ready to assess what is available. Unless you only intend to keep your house for a very short time, or if you are desperate for a house, then relationship with the vendor is really critical to manage the risks of your acquisition. You must realize you are buying a relationship as well as product. And further, you need to be very, very careful about customizing your acquisition. More on that later.
So with our essential, important and desirable features (that I will now call requirements) in hand, you can start on the acquisition process. In summary, what you need to do is find out what options are available in the market place, assess how well each option meets your requirements, and then decide on the option you prefer.
You’ll start by doing your research. At this stage you are not buying, all you are doing is seeking information. Use the Internet to obtain information, and be sure to consult independent reviews of the products. Obtain brochures. Visit the companies who supply the products you are interested in, but don’t reveal that you are buying (yet). Ask questions and assess the answers. Seek out anyone who already uses a product you are using and record their experiences and opinions. Write it all down. Ignore “buy this quick / special offer today only” unless you want to risk making a mistake or you are absolutely certain that all of your essential and many of your important requirements are being met at a realistic price from a vendor with which you are confident you can will have an excellent relationship. And even then, think twice at this stage.
When you have completed all your research, lay it all out and review it. Then look at your requirements and assess the extent to which each option meets your needs. An option is rejected if it doesn’t meet all your essentials. After that it is rejected if it does not meet any important requirements. Hopefully you have some options left! If not, you will have to either compromise on one or more of your essential requirements, or do more research.
Hopefully you have at least two options left. And no more than three. Now you can scrutinize the remainder to make your decision. Consider first the number of important requirements, and then the number of desirable requirements, that are met. And be sure to consider all of the relationship factors for important acquisitions.
Now let’s come back to customizations. Providing you don’t compromise the integrity of the original product, customizations can be ok. A different color on a car, a new type of entertainment system offered by the manufacturer, are all reasonable examples. But changing the engine to a new, third party product may not be the best idea, unless you really are looking for something special. Because if the engine is non-standard maybe the hood has to be non-standard, and that makes more work. And if you are in a wreck and the body gets damaged, getting the hood replaced will likely be problematic. If you are going to buy a standard product it is better to adapt your needs to the standard product, rather than having it tailored. And this is never more true than with computer systems. Never tailor the standard product, because computer systems (almost unique to computer systems products) can be upgraded (on some occasions they must be upgraded). And if you have moved from the standard there is a very high chance you won’t be able to upgrade. With computer systems and products like them that can be tailored and upgraded, never do customizations to the product to meet your needs. Adapt your needs to meet the standard. And remember you are buying a relationship as well as a product.
Now you are in a position to buy. I’ll leave the commercial aspects to someone else, or maybe a later blog. What do you think/ Do you instinctively do this? Or something else? Have you used this successfully? Let us know – comment below!