When a company is shopping for software, most everyone is confused. The executives know what they want - kind of - but they don't know where to get it or if it even exists.

Managers are pretty sure it's a good idea, but they don't know how to explain it to their team members.

And in the information technology department, they're just wondering how this new software is going to mess up their lives for the next six months.

This confusion sets the ideal tone for software salespeople, who are what I like to call "truth-framers." They don't lie. What they do is present their products - whether they truly meet your needs or not - in a way that closes the deal and provides a big payday (for them).

A salesperson who says, "My solution meets your needs," is really saying, "I'm going to shoehorn my product into your world so you'll buy my stuff."

It is possible to avoid the traps set by this confusion. First, figure out exactly what you want out of a software package before you open the conference-room doors to any salesperson.

Second, and most important, draft a list of questions (and the ideal answers) ahead of time.

Let me get you started with some great ones. Ask these of your salespeople, and you'll set the kind of we-know-what-we-want tone that will shut down the "sales-speak" and get instead to the meat of the product.

Which three companies are your fiercest competitors, and what would they say they do better than you?

If the answer is, "We have no competitors," shuttle the salesperson to the door.

When (not if) you run into obstacles thrown up by my IT department, are you prepared to deal with them and how?

The company you go with must have take-charge project managers who know how to expose IT grandstanding and "resource constraints."

What is your help desk's average time from call-in to resolution?

Just ask. Most salespeople will have no clue, but you'll sound smart. If he or she answers you with real data, be impressed.

If I want to reduce the training required to save money, will you let me?

Hope the answer is no. If the software company allows you to sacrifice valuable training to shave dollars off the price, think twice.

If deployment falls behind schedule, what's our compensation?

If the software company falls behind (and it will), you need to know that this matters to them.

What's the typical return on investment for companies like ours that have deployed your software, and can you provide me with case studies?

This question is designed to see what experience the company has in quantitatively assessing results.

What's the one contract term that your clients challenge the most?

This can start a great conversation. The collaborative salesperson will be honest and give you hints as to what you might consider. If he or she says the agreement usually goes through like a greased pig, dig harder.



Doug Mitchell is the president of West Des Moines-based Rental Metrics and the author of "Confessions of an Ex-Enterprise Salesperson: What I Really Meant When I Said: ______," a free e-book at www.rentalmetrics.com.