When it comes to making technology decisions in an organization, the process of vetting and ultimately selecting the right partner is mission critical. A great partnership can harvest an output that is far beyond your expectations; the wrong choice could ultimately land you on the career sites sending out your resume (that’s extreme of course, but I have seen it happen).
In this blog series I’m going to cover a few topics that can help educate you as a technology buyer and aid you in feeling like you’re making good decisions. In this post, part one, we'll cover:
- A handful of qualities to look for in your next technology partner
- Some not-so-typical questions you can ask vendors
And in part two, you'll learn:
- When you should give a vendor your budget range
- The questions you should ask yourself once you think you’ve made a decision on a vendor
Qualities to Look for in Your Next Technology Partner
Beyond being able to meet the requirements of your project, there are some qualities you should look for that only the best organizations truly offer and can showcase. These are akin to the “soft skills” employers look for when making the right hire - they don’t necessarily mean the candidate can do the job, but they imply that if the candidate can do the job, they’d probably also be a great asset for the future of the company.
I don’t just mean customer service. I’m talking about the kind of support that helps assure you that this partner’s mantra is something like: “Together, we will not fail.” A truly supportive vendor stretches and makes it their mission to help you achieve your mission. You might even ask them to provide some examples of when they’ve had to go above and beyond the call of duty to achieve clients' success.
The bait and switch should be a thing of the past, but it's not. It's sad how vendors often give it their all on the sales and marketing side, but they fall far short when it comes to delivery. Keep an eye out for transparency to ensure this does not happen to you.
The partner you select should allow you access to every layer of personnel working on your project. Sometimes your tech-folks need to talk to an engineer and sometimes your CEO needs to talk to the vendor’s CEO; these kinds of interactions should be able to happen.
Another layer of transparency is project progress and honesty in communication. When you’re vetting vendors you should look to understand exactly how they work with clients, how they communicate, and how you, as the client, will be kept in the know of project status. That even means when things aren’t going well. A good partner will tell you when something is off track, they will explain why, and they’ll propose a couple ways to right the ship.
The best providers out there are generally pioneers and innovators in a vertical, industry or specific discipline. You should strive to understand the organization’s industry awareness and recognition. Look for ways they can showcase their knowledge of trends and how they are preparing for the future. A company that is always thinking about “what’s next” is one that probably won’t go away any time soon. The innovation piece also depends on having good clients. When a technology company has clients that trust them, they test new things and push limits. If you review the vendor’s case studies, some of that innovation and cutting edge thought leadership should be on clear display.
A good partner should have a solid strategic vision for their own corporate culture and growth. Don’t be afraid to ask about their corporate strategy to see if it has a well thought out objective, a planned scope, and a competitive advantage that ensures this company has a future. If those things are in place, it's probably a good bet that this company can lend to your own corporate thinking and strategy. Remember, one benefit of an outsourced partner is an added layer of thinking. Sometimes tunnel vision sets in and you don’t even realize it because you are so focused. Having someone come in with some peripheral vision can result some really strategic thinking and truly game changing initiatives.
Not-So-Typical Questions To Ask A Potential Technology Partner
In general, the vendor selection process can be a less painstaking affair if you take a few key steps and ask a lot of the right questions. By narrowing down the set of potential vendor partners, you can then hone in on the capabilities and partnership potential of the adequate ones. Here are some questions you might not have thought to ask your potential partner:
- Rather than simply telling a vendor all of your requirements, ask:
- How would you work with us to determine a complete set of reasonable requirements?
- What is your process for helping to prioritize requirements?
- What do you think an MVP (minimum viable product) should look like based on our goals?
- Rather than asking how your project would be staffed, ask: What processes do you use to understand our needs and then build the proper team for our project?
- Rather than asking for a set of client references, ask: Can you share with us a few clients that you would be willing to introduce us to?
Then you’ll want to ask those clients questions like these, and ask them to elaborate a bit:
- Did the vendor truly work toward meeting your established goals within the reasonably set time and budget expectations?
- Were you happy with the vendors team selection and the performance of members of that team?
- What was communication like with the vendor’s team? Did you have access to the people you needed, and was it granted in a reasonable timeframe?
- Do you think that you are getting value from this vendor beyond what was in the contract?
One other note on the topic of questions (and a good one to keep in mind when thinking about a partner): the right agency should ask you questions about things you never thought of and prompt you to see things from another perspective. Asking questions validates that you’re talking to a partner who’s thinking hard about your problems before they even have the work.
Stay tuned for Part Two in this blog series to learn when you should give a vendor your budget range, as well as the questions you should ask yourself once you think you’ve made a decision on a vendor.