Reminder: You Can’t Do Everything Yourself

Having the right outside vendors to help your organization reach its full tech potential is essential, but you need more than a good Rolodex to find the right help. Check out these considerations before taking a big dive with a tech vendor.

There are plenty of things I’m good at—writing, graphic design, telling terrible jokes—but one of those things is certainly not camping.

This past weekend, my limits on the camping front were tested when my wife convinced me to make an excursion out into the woods. It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world for me to get comfortable with, admittedly, but I had a good teammate on my side. My wife and I frolicked through the woods; we slept in a sleeping bag on an uncomfortable patch of ground; we built a pretty well-organized campsite; and we got a whiff of the ups and downs of cooking by a campfire.

And, just like every new adventure we take, we got rained out. About a day in, with our clothes covered in mud and water and sweat and dirt and with a weather app signaling no end to the storm in sight, we decided we’d have to make the trip back to DC, closing down our campground before the rain got any worse.

Near the end, things got frustrating—at different times, we each fell onto the muddy ground, we had a lengthy walk between the car and the campsite, and we were definitely worse for wear by the end of it.

Then again, I don’t know if I would have made it out of the woods in one piece without my wife’s help. And no matter how much our muscles still ache, we made it through. (My boots, not so much.)

Helping Hands Wanted

Quite often, associations are in this kind of situation. They decide to embark on a major endeavor where they’re not familiar with the terrain, and by the time they realize they’ve made a mistake, it’s too late and there’s mud on their face.

For many organizations, that would be a deterrent to trying something new. But it shouldn’t be. Instead, associations willing to put money and other organizational resources into a major technology project should realize that they may need a vendor for the task.

There are plenty of examples of tech projects where it might make sense to work with a consultant or other vendor—think web design, AMS implementation, content creation, and event engagement. But the question many organizations struggle to answer is when they should start that relationship.

The dreaded RFP

In a lot of ways, finding the right vendor for a project is like dating. You have to meet up, figure out whether you can actually communicate well, and see if the vendor is a good fit. (The vendor is doing the same thing, by the way.) Once you figure all this out, you too can have a camping buddy who can bail you out during a rough situation.

Much like dating, however, the courting process has never been perfected. The hallmark of the “dating” phase—the request for proposal, or RFP—has gotten some mixed reviews in recent years from both sides of the relationship.

From the enterprise perspective, the RFP process can cause major headaches for firms looking to find the right client, notes enableUC founder Kevin Kieller.

“The RFP process is inherently confrontational, causing organizations to ask for long lists of features, many of which are not actually required, going so far as to denote many unneeded features as ‘mandatory,'” Kieller wrote last month in a blog post for No Jitter. “Respondents then over-promise, answering ‘yes’ or ‘complies’ to all mandatory features (they don’t really have a choice) while simultaneously trying to include the most minimal of actual costs.”

Miriam Hara, chief creative officer of 3H Communications, notes that the process can be unfulfilling financially and creatively.

“The amount of work required to develop a quality RFP is phenomenal,” Hara wrote for Business 2 Community this week. “The time and energy that is devoted to this non-profitable account adds an unnatural amount of stress to the agency business.”

Find the Right partner

If the RFP process sounds like the messy part of dating, it is—except you have to write everything down and spell out your exact needs, something you don’t typically do when building a relationship.

Your organization may require that you follow certain procedures when reaching out to vendors—for example, you may have to consider three different candidate companies as part of your RFP process—but ultimately, you want to be sure you’re thinking very specifically about your needs, the audience you’re trying to serve, and the reputation that vendors already carry in the industry.

As Fara Francis, CIO at the Associated General Contractors of America noted in an interview with Associations Now‘s Katie Bascuas last year, the good vendors generally have reps that speak for themselves.

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

I’d like to add another point to that: Make sure that you’ll have a strong working relationship with the vendor—for example, that you’ll communicate frequently—and that they care as much about the project as you do. They should be your partner, invested as much in a successful outcome as you are.

When you’re stuck out in the wilderness, trying to salvage a campsite in the middle of a rainstorm, it’s good to know that you’re not trying to save the day all by yourself.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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