Building Bridges

The Client/Vendor Relationship: Getting Off to a Great Start!

What happens when you are asked to take on more work than you can handle– either due to capacity or capability? Let’s say your manager just laid a huge project on you – to develop a new training curriculum for a group that has been having some challenges. Because you don’t have the resources you’ll need to get the work done by the date it is expected, you consider hiring a vendor.

In a series of posts, we propose five guidelines to help you, as the program manager, select a vendor and lay the groundwork for a successful relationship. At the same time, we share tips for the vendor about positioning yourself to become a strong partner with the client. We have been in your role, we gladly share our experience in this series, and would be happy to talk with you about our ideas and hear yours.

The first step for the client is to define the problem.

1. How do you define the problem and related supports and challenges?

Veronica Clements, Client perspective

Who has ever had a short-term project thrust on them seemingly out of nowhere? Or maybe I should ask who hasn’t?! I get those requests more often than I would like to admit! Imagine yourself with a new project you are quickly trying to scope, knowing you need to find an L&D vendor to work with. Where do you start?

As the client, I begin by defining my problem. Here’s an example of a project definition: A new process is being introduced. If the employees don’t follow the new process, errors and rework would result, causing frustration to internal customers. I determine that I need a course developed about the new process and I expect 200 employees to be trained in the next three months. In preparation, I identify related supports for the project, such as available subject matter experts (SMEs) and pertinent existing content and documentation. Next, I identify any potential challenges, such as the process that is still being updated or the target training launch date just 3 months away.

After review, I determine I don’t have adequate internal resources to work on this project, so I ask vendors to prepare a proposal to address my problem and the challenges I’ve listed. It is important for me to gather basic needs assessment information from the stakeholders before finalizing a request for proposal. This helps me to clarify course goals, project resources, and high-level timelines.

The next thing I do is define success, which we will discuss in the next blog post.


Irene Stern Frielich, Vendor perspective

When I, as the vendor , receive a request for proposal or am discussing a new project with a client, I ask a lot of questions. I recognize that my client might be deeply immersed in her challenge and may find value from the objectivity I bring. Based on the project outlined, I’ll ask more about context. For example, why was the process changed? What problem was that intended to solve? If it sounds like the client conducted a high-level needs assessment, I might add: What were the results of your needs assessment? What were the surprises? What challenges were identified? When I as the vendor ask these types of probing questions, I gain some insights and get more clarity about results the client is expecting. Sometimes the conversation raises additional questions the client may need to research further.

I’ll also ask about existing related documentation, such as procedures, presentations, and process flows, as well as a list of SMEs available to work on this project. If there is little existing documentation, we’ll need the expert to spend time “brain dumping” for us and we’ll make that expectation clear from the start. I’ll also ask more questions about the audience – why are they not following the new process? What, besides training, might help them? What has already been tried and how/why did it help or not? Basically, I want to ensure that if we do prepare a proposal and ultimately engage in the work, we are able to have a positive impact.

I will also ask questions about the client’s internal capabilities and capacity. For example, if this will be an instructor-led classroom course, are there skilled trainers to deliver the training? What level of detail is needed in the instructor guide we create? Or, if it is an online course: What authoring tool does the client’s organization use? Is there an internal resource who will make post-launch course updates? This will help me determine the tools we will use and our approach in documenting the production notes and programmer explanations.

Keys to success

CLIENT: Complete basic information gathering to define and document your problem with related supports and challenges.

VENDOR: Ask questions to clarify the issue, gain context, and uncover additional challenges and supports in order to write a proposal with clear project scope.

Next time: Defining success.

Veronica Clements, formerly a Learning and Development leader, with 25 years’ experience engaging vendors.

Irene Stern Frielich, President of EnVision Performance Solutions, with 20 years as a vendor providing solutions to clients.