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Who is guarding your eCommerce project?

Hidden conflicts of interest can ruin an eCommerce project. We’re surprised when a retailer taps a systems integrator to recommend new software. A poor fit won’t just waste time and money — it can spoil a good career. Wake up! It doesn’t have to be this way.

ANY PARTY (whether it’s your integration firm, software vendor, creative firm, agency of record, or even your own I.T. department) who stands to gain resources by implementing the technology has a vested interest in the decision. This vested interest conflicts with any genuine desire to find you the best fit.

Integrators are especially at fault in this regard. Integrators are consultants who build business applications for hire. Some integrators have practices that specialize in building eCommerce sites. But to maintain efficiency, integrators are trained and aligned with a finite number of software makers. If your company seeks an integrator’s recommendation, your options will be limited to their gifts.

Have you ever searched for a vacation spot based on frequent flier miles? Limiting, isn’t it? The cities served by a single carrier are obviously less than among all carriers. In the same way, your selection is quite limited when you use a single integrator during software selection.

If your consultant benefits when their partners win, there is an inherent conflict of interest. Don’t risk putting a fox in charge of the hen house.

Now, don’t misunderstand: integrators are not bad. In fact, they are essential to your success. Someone has to implement what you purchase. But an integrator is not useful in helping you make that choice. Their opinion is biased. That doesn’t make them bad. It just makes them loyal friends, dependable employees and good sale people.

Visit any car dealer. Ask this question: “Which car maker do you recommend?” (Dumb question, isn’t it?) The dealer will point to the car maker on the door. As sure as the sun rises, the dealer will find something “perfect” on the lot every time. Did you expect any different? Silly if you did.

To be fair, you may already be sold on that car maker. I understand. But if that’s the case, the dealer assisting you may have a lousy record of service. How do you know? The car manufacturer would be a fool to tell you this dealer is clumsy in the shop. In fact, the manufacturer may have more qualified service partners than your advisor. But the manufacturer can never tell you. Not if your advisor is their gatekeeper. Not if they hope to win the sale.

Other software vendors may also want a piece of the action. Some will go so far as to forge partnerships with your consultant’s head office for the privilege of bidding on your a certain volume of opportunities. All these “understandings” are conveniently arranged behind the scenes well before they meet you.

If you are asking an integrator to recommend software, the methods and tools they use are “tailored” to reach one inevitable conclusion. The software vendor they recommend will be the one that gives your consultant the most formidable chance to build your site.

In 2008, a certain integrator called me. They requested information to support their recommendation at a big fashion retailer where they were managing the RFP. Knowing the parties involved, I explained to this consultant that the vendor they wished to recommend was a bad fit for their client. They responded, “We must make this recommendation, or we will have no follow-on work.” Of course, the retailer followed their consultant’s self-serving advice. A year later, I called the retailer directly. They explained what a mistake they had made.

To be sure, software vendors like when a partner runs your selection process; because the win is virtually assured. It seems IBM has turned the Trojan Horse method into a corporate selling strategy. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, IBM CFO Mark Loughridge stated, “We look for the consulting arm to lead our entry to the client.” Brilliant for them. Pity for the client who assumes otherwise.

In a 2007 story, Wired Magazine reported the U.S. Department of Justice sued Accenture for fraud. The whistle blower case accused Accenture of taking $30 million from technology firms who won government contracts through Accenture’s recommendations. In spite of the obvious, retailers continue to invite parties with a conflict of interest to recommend new technology. If you are making purchase decisions this way, shame on you! It is costing your employer far more than you realize. Is it any surprise so many big I.T. projects fail?

When it comes to choosing an enterprise ecommerce platform, you will live with this decision long after the integrator is finished. For your own sake, wise up. Keep these foxes a safe distance from the roost. If you want truthful advice, seek the objectivity of a consultant who does NOT accept integration work. Only then will you ensure the recommendation serves YOUR interests first.

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