10 Offshore Deal Showstoppers

I love English and it is slowly becoming my true second language. While English is still very much a work in progress for me I think I am doing better every day. Nowadays I can even challenge some native speakers with language questions that would get them quite puzzled. For example, is a “showstopper” a good thing? Almost anyone working in IT industry will tell you – No, that’s a very bad thing. Well, it is not exactly correct – take a look in a dictionary… Anyway, I am planning on covering a few showstoppers (in IT sense of the word) that I consider a deal breakers when it comes to hiring an offshore outsourcing vendor.

1. Acting like an idiot –fighting with me, bragging, being condescending, doubting my intelligence, etc. I have seen all too often vendors torpedo themselves by acting rather shallow. Here are just a couple of real life examples:

  • “Nick, we hear it all the time… What a dumb question!”
  • “Why use Skype? We’ll set you up with the software we developed in house – it is 100 times better.”
  • “Nick, you just don’t understand…”
  • “We have the best people in the entire city of Moscow and as a matter of fact in Russia altogether.”
  • “Nick, this is so simple, anyone would understand it. Let me take you through it step by step…”

2. Lying, in particular when the lies are obvious. I typically tell to my prospect offshore vendors upfront that’s I am not a neophyte in outsourcing, yet some of them almost immediately after introduction launch into telling me how their clients saved over 300% in IT costs, about virtually zero turnover ratio, building 100+ member teams in 2 weeks, etc. These claims go beyond lying and fall in category “treating me like an idiot”. There are many areas where I see offshoring vendors commonly bend the truth a bit too far, and that why I always interview prospect employees – all kind of things came to the surface.

3. Playing games. I am not a strong negotiator and do not sell or buy for living. That doesn’t mean that I fall for every trick in the book. More so, if I recognize that a vendor is playing games with me chances are I won’t continue the discussion even without asking them to play a flute first. That is particular common and less offensive when it comes to negotiations, yet still annoying and the chances are will throw a bucket of cold water on my desire to work with the vendor.

4. Bashing competitors. Very common practice that is likely to give a vendor a single benefit – never talking with me again. Here are just a few examples from my recent past:

  • a. From a talk with a Hungarian outsourcing firm: “Nick, are you really comfortable working with Russians? You know that all Russian outsourcing companies are owned by mob, don’t you?” Obviously these guys did not know that I spent first 30 years of my life in Russia…
  • A discussion with a founder of an offshore company in Odessa, Ukraine: “Nick, are you serious about considering China? That’s just silly. I’ve worked with Chinese for years and can tell you they all dumb and lazy…” In response I told the guy that my wife was Chinese; while it is not true, that was so worth it – watching the tap dance that followed.
  • From a discussion with VP of Sales for an outsourcing firm in China talking about another outsourcing firm in China: “I know them very well, and I have to tell you working with them will give you nothing but headaches – huge turnover, very low quality of resources, practically nobody with fluent English…”

5. Showing signs of dysfunctional company. Breakdown in communications, mixed messages, process breakdowns, “right hand doesn’t know what the left hand does”, not responding to my inquiries – these are just some of the common signs of a dysfunctional company. Those signs surfacing during presales / sales process or contract negotiation stage are sure deal killer in my book.

6. Displaying signs of bodyshop. Bodyshops or/and software sweatshops are not the organizations I would partner with for many reasons: low quality of deliverables, incompetent staff, high rate of conflicts – just to name a few. The trick is to recognize it early. Fortunately, signs of bodyshop are often right on the surface. The most common is condescending attitude of sales team towards resources to be involved in delivery. Another one, a bit less obvious, is a very quick turn around on sales materials with no visible impact on sales team (bunch of worker bees in back office slogged through the night to get the drones ready for presentation).

7. Unreasonable pricing. Typically excessive pricing comes decorated with statements such as “we are not the cheapest but we are the best” or “these are just list prices and we can negotiate from here”. That approach turns a large portion of contract negotiations in a slapstick comedy which I do not enjoy. Unreasonably low pricing has a turn offs of a different nature, ranging from “these guys are desperate” to “what’s the catch”.

8. Going over my head or behind my back. Not sure whether that one needs an explanation. Doing something like that is known to be a “corporate culture crime” in any industry / environment. And yet I see it surprisingly often. The funny part is that the email sent to my boss is likely to end up in my inbox with “FYI” or even “Nick, why are thy contacting me?”

9. Applying overly aggressive sales techniques. Having been in the industry for a while I have seen a lot of them ranging from twisting arms and applying pressure or guilt to outright pathetic begging. Once a CEO of midsized Indian outsourcing company literally cried in my office begging my to give his company just one chance, he showed me the pictures of his kids and wept talking about so many of his employees to go hungry – you might think it was a scene from Bollywood tearjerker.

10. Picking a wrong tone for the discussions. That’s a tricky one as everyone has their personal preferences and pet peeves. I think you can’t go wrong by just being consummate professional in all aspects of your communication. For example, I believe that you are better off being cold rather than getting too casual too quick – “Nick, buddy, take a foot of the breaks! When are you goona sign the doc I sent you?” But maybe that’s just me…

Many of the items are not necessary related to integral components or cultural fabric of specific vendor organization. Many of these items are mainly related to sales person who represent the company and you might ask why I would stop working with a vendor just because their sales person is not the sharpest cheese on a platter? Well, there are at least few reasons –

  • Most of the time what you see during sales process is enhanced version of what will appear during the delivery stage.
  • A company that hires and uses sales staff that could be defined by one of terms is probably not worth working with.
  • There are plenty of alternatives to spending time with people who annoy you.

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