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A vendor is described as an individual or company who offers a product or service for a cost. Organizations often partner with vendors to achieve a strategic goal or to obtain a product or service that is not available internally.
As a training professional, you may be tasked with selecting a vendor for your organization. This is often true for training managers, instructional designers, and project managers. In my career, I’ve worked with vendors to provide several services from hosting an LMS platform to delivering sensitive training such as sexual harassment prevention.
Finding a vendor that completes a project on time, within resource requirements, and to specifications is not an easy task. I’ll share a few considerations I’ve used to procure vendors that meet the highest of professional standards.
Most organizations begin their search for a vendor using a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. A thorough RFP defines the requirements of the project and the vendor. Several potential vendors are then evaluated against each other to determine the most appropriate one. I recommend you consider the following four factors during your RFP evaluation.
A comfortable vendor-client relationship is crucial to the success of the project. The level of customer service that the vendor provides is worth considering. Is the vendor friendly, cordial, and professional? Are they prompt in their communication, such as replying to emails and returning phone calls? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, it often ensures you’ll be working with a quality vendor who practices good customer service.
Let’s face it, stuff happens! During the life of a project, things change. Your deadline may change. The scope of your project may change. Heck, your actual deliverable may even change.
It’s critical that you inquire about the vendor’s policies regarding changes to an order, product, or process. If the vendor is reasonably flexible when it comes to changes, that’s a good sign. However, if they enforce heavy penalties for changes, they may not be the vendor for you (especially if you anticipate significant updates and changes).
If you are working with an established vendor, they should willingly provide you with several references. Contacting these references gives you substantial insight into the vendors’ work and reputation. But what exactly do you discuss with the vendor references?
According to an online article written by Lori Gershaw of GCE Event Partners in Boston, you should always inquire about two things when checking vendors’ references:
- Ask the reference to describe their relationship with the vendor. Inquiring about this information may help you determine the significance of the relationship. You may find out the reference is a best friend or family member versus a paying client.
- Ask the reference to identify a time when they were less than pleased with the vendor. No vendor is perfect. So, inquiring about this information gives you the chance to explore the vendor’s opportunities for improvement and the specific steps they took to rectify the situation.
Reference verification is a critical step in the selection process, so do your best to reach out to every reference provided.
Price is probably the most significant factor to your organization’s bottom line. While it may be tempting to select the most cost-effective vendor, the “cheaper is better” mentality may only achieve short-term cost savings. Sometimes low vendor fees indicate low quality or inferior workmanship. Low quality work combined with adjustments, re-work, and wasted time could cost your organization more money in the long run.
When it comes to outsourcing a vendor, cost factors may include anything from the actual cost of the product or service to time and labor savings. Reputable vendors structure their price point fairly based on these components. In reality, it all boils down to the fact you’ll likely get what you pay for.
Armed with the information that you’ll gain from addressing these four factors, you now have a solid strategy to select and secure a high-caliber vendor.