3. How do you identify and select the best vendor for your project?
In our last two posts we shared client and vendor insights about scoping out a project. In this month’s installment, we offer suggestions for selecting the best vendor for a project.
I begin my search for a vendor by checking with peers and colleagues, both in my company and with professional organizations to which I belong. I might also check our corporate-approved vendor list. Vendors referred to me by my peers and colleagues are usually my first choice.
Usually I identify three of the highest recommended vendors and contact them to set up a time to discuss availability for the project, pricing, and the services they offer.
If possible, I like to meet with the prospective vendors in person. If that’s not possible, a video conference is the next best thing. During the meeting, I share with them the project scope, measures for success, and our timeline. Some typical things I request are:
- A demonstration of a course or walkthrough of sample training materials (for example, a leader’s guide or an elearning storyboard/prototype).
- Work samples and CVs from the consultants who would be assigned to the project.
- Confirmation that those consultants are available to work within the project deadlines.
- References I can call.
Here are some interview questions I like to ask:
- Tell me about a project that went well. What do you attribute that to?
- What project did you learn the most from and why?
- Tell me about a project that was behind due to a client’s issue. What happened?
- Do you have concrete examples of effective communication strategies with clients in a challenging situation?
I listen for specific responses that illustrate how they execute their processes, work with clients, and manage conflict. I take notes to refer back to and also ask probing questions for more details as needed. Based on their responses, I hope to confirm their know-how along with the value they can bring to my project.
As a vendor, it is important to have relationships with a large number of individuals, companies, and organizations so that you are “on the list” as a potential vendor. The most effective way I’ve done that is through networking and staying in touch with prospects as well as past and current clients, reminding them about the scope of services we offer and updating them about our newer, innovative services. Other potential avenues are through procurement databases, leveraging our certified woman-owned business status, and through speaking and writing opportunities. I also ask clients to share with their colleagues how they like working with EnVision. We uncover many opportunities through word of mouth.
For clients newer to the world of engaging vendors, I’ll also offer guidance for selecting a vendor. For example, I’ll suggest they check references, with specific questions about ease of working relationship, scope of capability, and other things that are important to this client. And, I suggest keeping in mind that just because one vendor was great for a particular type of project, it doesn’t mean they’ll be great for this particular project. So, interviewing the vendor and talking to people who worked with them is really important.
I prepare well for the interview. I have work samples ready to show that are related to the type of work the client is seeking. And, based on previous conversations with the client, I anticipate the types of questions they might ask and prepare stories about our recent successes as well as challenges, and how we handled them.
Keys to success
CLIENT: Ask behavioral questions and review work samples and examples the vendor provides to support their proven success with similar projects. Find out about the communication methods they use for projects.
VENDOR: Network, offer guidance to clients navigating the vendor engagement process, and be prepared for whatever might come up during an interview.
Next time: Considering what else you want out of the client/vendor relationship.
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.