Be A Business Jedi: Learning To Interview Vendors

“Before we move forward, who are your best competitors?”  This question – skillfully applied – is a Jedi-level tactic when interviewing a vendor. Here are some other great ways to ask it: 

  1. So, who are your strongest competitors?
  2. Who else should we talk to before deciding whether to move forward with you guys?

 An apt reply can set a company apart from its competition. But first let’s talk about the context.


Do Your Research

Expert research is a vital part of any complex or strategic purchase. That usually means talking to salespeople.

While a salesperson at worst can be a lying manipulator, most of the ones I have encountered are largely honest and enjoy the education part of their job.

But aren’t they biased?

Of course they are, as they should be. That’s why you never talk to just one – you talk to at least three. It won’t be hard to find three who are happy chat, for virtually anything you want to buy.

This is a great deal for anyone willing to put in a bit of time: borrow the expertise of others, for free, with no strings attached.


The Conversation

There’s a skill to interviewing a vendor, but there is also nothing wrong with plodding through a few clumsy conversations while you learn. (Remember – it’s your money.)

Here is the premise that you offer the vendor:

We are interested in buying, but not ready to commit. We will be talking to multiple vendors, and we’re not going to make a decision today. Given that situation, would you like to talk?

Yes? Well great.

Here’s our situation:

[blah blah blah]

Here are a few of our questions:

[Question 1, Question 2, Question 3.]


Final Jeopardy

As I mentioned, I’ll be talking to a few people about potential solutions. Who are your top competitors?

The fun begins with the initial reaction. (Pay close attention to this.)

They may say “Why should I tell you that?” or “After I’ve shared all of this information, I’m not going to point you to my competitor!”

But the better vendors won’t react this way. If you think about it, there are only three responses:

  1. Don’t Answer
  2. Answer in a Misleading Way
  3. Answer Honestly

Choosing 1 or 2 is high-risk. If you have already stated that you are doing research and are planning to talk to other vendors, they are banking that you like them so much (based on this phone call) that you’re going to be lazy and not follow through or not find anyone else.

That leaves the honest answer on the table.


The Great Answer

(Keep in mind, if you’re buying ball bearings, you don’t need to do this research. You’re making these calls because the solution is at least somewhat complex.)

The vendor who is looking for the right clients – as opposed to just chasing business – has a mature understanding of who they serve best. They also know which prospects would be better served by their competition.
Here’s an answer that separates the contenders from the pretenders:

“There are some other good vendors that we see from time to time. If you’re looking for a solution that has [this] and [that], then you might talk to [company X].

We’ve also heard good things about [company Y], though they generally serve clients that are smaller than you are.

From what I understand about your problem – based just on this conversation – I know we can help and we’ll probably be able to offer you the best value, but why don’t you talk to those guys and get back to me?”


What do you hear?



An understanding of the problem and their strengths.

You still need to do your homework, but you’ve learned a lot about the vendor, and a little about the marketplace.


So next time you buy, ask that question.


And by the way, how would you answer if a prospect asked you?


Here are some other excellent articles on dealing with vendors and gaining the best deals:

3 Ways To Save Money: The Only Things You Ever Need In Business Dealings

Business Buyer Beware: The “Lowest Price” Mirage


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