The evaluation of a new vendor requires a great deal of planning to avoid getting lost in the process or bogged down in conflicting requirements and bureaucracy. A mismanaged evaluation or, worse, the selection of the wrong vendor, can have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences, potentially disrupting productivity, wasting time, resources, and money in an effort to make a bad solution better, and even resulting in political fallout for the team responsible for the decision.
So, how do you avoid making the wrong choice?
Before you even begin to reach out to prospective vendors, you’ll want to make sure that you have identified all the key stakeholders within your organization who will be impacted by the addition of a new product or vendor and assessed all of their requirements and preferences. When building your evaluation team, include stakeholders who are directly impacted by a new product, like end users and their managers, as well as representatives from related functions or systems, and anyone who may need to determine compatibility, compliance, and the financial impact of your selection, like IT or finance. To ensure that their requirements are being met, these users should be encouraged to provide feedback throughout the evaluation process.
A few things to bear in mind while forming the evaluation team:
Determine what roles stakeholders will play, not only once a new product is launched, but also during the evaluation. Participation from impacted groups will not only indicate that their preferences are being considered, it will also create advocates within the company once a decision is made.
Identify an executive sponsor for the project or, at a minimum, someone able to navigate the potential politics and determine how to handle issues that are escalated. Without an executive sponsor, you may find the involved parties are unable to make a final decision, leaving you without the consensus needed to move forward with any vendor.
Confirm everyone’s availability and commitment to the process. The absence of a key player will inevitably result in issues later on so, when determining who will represent a particular functional area, find someone both familiar with the implications of a new product and willing to participate in all of the evaluation activities.
Meet with and document requirements from each stakeholder group and make sure everyone is on the same page as to priorities and the baseline functionality for the product or vendor. Without clarifying your goals for an evaluation and the selected vendor, you increase the risk of making compromises that will leave everyone unsatisfied. Keep in mind that how you prioritize your requirements, whether they are related to features, culture, price, or something entirely unique to your company, can dramatically change the outcome of an evaluation.
If organizing a team and gathering - then reconciling - conflicting priorities seems daunting, a consultant can be a boon. An experienced consultant will be able to expertly run meetings with stakeholders to collect requirements for a new vendor or product, organize the information into an easy to consume format, and help define the key attributes against which to measure your prospects, all without the risk of partiality that internal resources may encounter.
After you have identified your stakeholders, you’ll need to refine your list of potential vendors based on your curated set of requirements and determine who you will need to connect with to answer your questions and provide demos. Here, too, a consultant may be of assistance to leverage existing relationships or knowledge of the vendor to narrow the playing field and broker the initial introductions.
Finally, determine if you or your consultants have access to any existing customers of a particular vendor in order to get a “first-hand” and practical perspective of the vendor’s capabilities. Sometimes, these reviews are the key to a final decision on who will make the best long-term partner.