Lessons in Vetting Vendors

Are you in the process of choosing a vendor or deciding whether or not to continue working with a particular outside service provider? An association CIO shares some tips and advice on evaluating vendors.

Working with vendors often requires a delicate balance, a give and take, between vendor and client. A good working relationship benefits both parties, but an unsatisfactory relationship is no good for anyone.

Fara Francis, CIO at the Associated General Contractors of America, recently shared some of her personal tips on vetting and working with vendors in Associations Now. While she spoke from an IT perspective, Francis’s advice and experience can be applied outside of the technology arena, as well.

For example, she had great advice on

  • what to look for when choosing a vendor: “Longevity, how long the vendor has been in business doing this type of work, their depth of experience, the skill set, and how they portray their best practices to us.”
  • establishing a good working relationship: “Let vendors see that you’re not trying to nickel-and-dime them. I think vendors respect a client who is willing to be flexible when it comes to the workload, cost, time, and so on.”
  • handling a relationship that is no longer delivering the desired outcome: “Acknowledge that their work product has changed, that their services are no longer meeting your needs. Be honest and give feedback. Be very clear as to why you’re disappointed.”

Here are a couple more tips from Francis:

Do you have advice on the process of choosing a vendor?

I always say vet about three or four vendors for a particular project. Do your due diligence. Be very specific and thorough in speaking to vendors.

A good vendor always has willing, enthusiastic clients who are willing to be a referral for them.

Observe their project management methodologies. It’s important that you see they have their risk management under control and that they have a communication protocol in place. They should have some sort of backup plan in case the project is going awry.

Be sure to get appropriate buy-in from all the internal stakeholders, and make sure your contracts are designed in a way that benefits both parties.

How do you determine whether it’s time to choose another vendor?

It’s very important to do an annual review and assessment of your vendors. Every year I have a list of vendors next to a list of the projects they’re responsible for, and I [share] that with my team.

I say: “Do we want to continue to do business with them? How many of them are willing to accommodate our infrastructure? And how many of them can build their systems to support our infrastructure?”

For those who are performing well, you keep them on their toes. Let them know they’re doing well, but sometimes push the envelope with them to see if they can improve on their services.

If a vendor’s service is shaky, email the account manager, and maybe copy the CEO, and give clear examples of where you saw a difference in the service quality. It gives them an opportunity to remedy the situation and to improve.

Have any advice for working with vendors? Let us know in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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