At the recent Gartner MDM Summit in Las Vegas, I was approached at least a half a dozen times by people wondering what MDM vendor to choose. I gave my usual response, which was, “What are you trying to accomplish?”

Normally a (short) conversation ensues of functions, feeds and speeds, which then leads to my next question, “So, what are your priorities and decision criteria? The responses were all the same, and I have to admit that they surprised me.

“We know we need MDM, but our company hasn’t really decided what MDM is. Since we’re already a [Microsoft / IBM / SAP / Oracle / SAS] shop, we just thought we’d buy their product...so what do you think of their product?”

I find this type of question interesting and puzzling. Why would anyone blindly purchase a product because of the vendor, rather than focusing on needs, priorities, and cost metrics? Unless a decision has absolutely no risk or cost, I’m not clear how identifying a vendor before identifying the requirements could possibly have a successful outcome.

If I look in my refrigerator, not all my products have the same brand label. My taste, interests, and price tolerance vary based upon the product. My catsup comes from one company, my salad dressing comes from another, and I have about seven different types of mustard (long story). Likewise, my TV, DVD player, surround sound system, DVR, and even my remote control are all different brands. Despite the advertisers’ claims, no single company has the best feature set across all products. For those of you who are loyal to a single brand, you can stop reading now. I’m sure you think I’m nuts.

The fact is that different vendors have different strengths, and this causes their products to differ. Buyers of these products should focus on their requirements and needs, not the product’s functions and features. Somehow this type of logic seems to escape otherwise smart business people. A good decision can deliver enormous benefits to a company; a bad decision can deliver enormous benefits to a company’s competitors.

What other reason would there be for someone saying, “We’re a [vendor name here] shop?” Examples abound of vendors abandoning products. IBM’s Intelligent Miner data mining tool, OS/2, the Apple Newton, Microsoft Money are but a few of the many examples.

Working with a reputable vendor is a smart. Gathering requirements, reviewing product features, and determining the best match creates the opportunity for developing a client/vendor partnership. So why would anyone throw all of that out and just decide to pick a vendor? I guess lots of folks thought that Bernie Madoff was their partner. Need I say more?

Evan also blogs at EvanJLevy.com.

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