You find an advertisement for a company that looks like it understands exactly what you need. You talk to a sales agent and you’re convinced. You invest thousands of dollars and countless hours in getting started with the system you are sure will get your business to the next level. But within weeks, you’re paying more than you expected and no one is returning your calls.
Unfortunately, it’s a common scenario in the Internet age when it’s cheap to put up a slick website and make a lot of grandiose promises. As a company, you could be dealing with anything from mere incompetence to outright fraud.
However, while the Internet makes it easy for those bad apples to set up shop, it also provides tools to help you weed them out.
The first step is to be aware of your vulnerability. As a business owner, you’re busy and you’ve got a lot of demands on your time and attention. The crooks and shoddy vendors know this and are looking to take advantage of it. They know what you want to hear and always looking for new ways to reach you. No matter how good or how cheap a product or solution is, it is worth your time to thoroughly investigate the offer before signing on.
Start with an evaluation of the website. Telltale signs of trouble include bad grammar and odd sentence structure, even is the visuals look professional. Those are indications of a hastily constructed site with little care for truly building a business. Check for an ssl certificate. It’s a basic safety protocol that any legitimate company will have. A quick way to check is to look at the URL. If it begins with “https” instead of “http”, the site is secured and your data is protected.
Beware of common malware techniques. This includes suspicious pop-ups that make outlandish claims, fake ads that lead to a site asking for your information, and phishing kits that look like commonly visited websites such as a bank. They may appear legitimate, but a closer look reveals spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, or odd graphics.
If a company appears legit, it’s time to dig deeper.
Check for endorsements from well-known and respected organizations like the Better Business Bureau or Angie’s List. If a company claims an endorsement, follow up to make sure it’s real.
Look for reviews and testimonials that you can verify. A company can make any claim it wants on its website. It can publish only favorable comments or make them up. Follow up to see if they’re from real people. Search for the people or the companies listed to find out if they exist.
Do an Internet search of the company. This can reveal if people have had negative experiences with the business. It can also give you a sense of the company’s history. Have they issued news releases? Have they been written about in legitimate publications? Are they listed on legitimate business sites?
Pay attention to how long a company has been in business. Often, experience matters. A company that has been around not only knows more, it has weathered difficult times and survived. That’s an indication that the company will be around for the long haul.
If possible, find others who have used the company and talk to them about their experience. Is the company available when there is an issue? How do they handle complaints? How good is the service?
Also, pay attention to how the company handles the sales process. Are they accessible? Are they responsive? Do they listen to your questions and concerns? An offer that seems too good to be true could be valid, but the company should be able to give you a plausible explanation.
By the way, these concerns are good for you as a company to keep in mind throughout your own sales process. Make sure you can pass this sort of evaluation and assessment by your own customers and clients. It’s not enough to be a legitimate, caring provider. You need to portray that and demonstrate it to those who might do business with you.
Questions to ask when you are vetting a company:
-What are the full costs of the product or service? Are there set up fees or upcoming charges?
-How is the customer service? Will the company be available if there is a problem?
-What are the terms of the contract? Under what circumstances can you cancel and how is that done?
-How much experience does the company have with your particular business?
-Who are the executives of the company and what is their track record?