Get the most out of your digital vendor

Get the most out of your digital vendor

All organizations work with vendors at some point in time and these can be large costs. So, how can you be sure that you are utilizing vendors most efficiently? How can you be sure that you are getting the most “bang for your buck”?

I’ve spent 15 out of the 18 years of my career working in the professional services industry. No matter what type of services are being provided, there are always some consistent rules of thumb that help all clients get the most from their vendor.

  1. Always have a single point of contact that works with your vendor. This assures that at any given time, someone in your organization knows exactly what a vendor is working on and where your money is being spent. When there are multiple contacts giving your vendor tasks and work, you start to run the risk that your vendor is working on the wrong priorities at the wrong time.
  2. Dive into the details early. It is important to work through as many details around your work requirements with your organizational team as you can prior to bringing the vendor into requirements discussions. You won’t know every requirement. That’s ok. Use the time with the vendor to focus on teasing out the requirements for which you need help.  Take advantage of your vendor’s ability to take an outsider’s view and be open to their observations. Your sessions will be more efficient and you will better leverage the expertise that your are purchasing.
  3. Report technical issues so they can be replicated. Before you report a technical issue to a vendor, write down the steps you took before you saw the issue. Try to recreate the issue so that you can isolate when it happens. Take a screen shot of what you see. Tell the vendor what operating system and browser you are using. Check to see if it the issue happens in a different browser. If you provide these types of details when you report an issue, you can save up to an hour of billable time going back and forth with your vendor in an effort to get the same information. Sometimes you won’t have these details and that’s ok. But getting in the habit of presenting the info on a regular basis can result in noticeable budget savings..
  4. Know which vendor does what. Do you have a hosting provider for your website? Do you have a software integrator that supports your website software? What happens if your website goes down? Who do you call first? When your website goes down, it’s best to go to your hosting provider first. These providers support the servers and other hardware that all your software lives on. Rule out hardware/performance issues first, as that will be a very quick process. If hardware is fine, then move on to software issues. If you report that your website is down first to your software integrator, they will send you right back to your hosting provider to check first. Again, just save yourself some time.
  5. Make sure you are getting weekly updates from your vendor. This may be through a status report or a status call. You need to know what your vendor is working on and what they are potentially charging you money for. You need to know if there are any issues/risks with the work that is getting completed.  For example, let’s take single sign-on (SSO). This is a complex, “behind-the-scenes” feature of modern website redesigns that are intended to enable sites to “talk to each other.”  At Balance Interactive, many of our projects involve this type of integration.

    The fact that SSO is largely done behind the scenes can make it even more difficult to understand what is being done and what the risks are.  It’s important to understand the situation before your vendor just goes ahead and spends extra hours solving technical issues in a vacuum. While status meetings aren’t the most exciting thing in the world, they embody the old adage of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure.

    In the case of an SSO integration, it’s often the case that the estimated level of effort, based on existing technical documentation, was not enough. There are also usually multiple ways such an issue can be resolved, and it sometimes requires the client having a conversation with the different parties involved in the integration. By expecting to be updated on these complexities during weekly updates, and by being willing to play the role of mediator between multiple vendors, you can emerge as a project’s hero. Especially if this role is embraced early in the process.

  6. Ask why.  If your vendor is communicating to you that there is an issue, ask them for the root cause.  Do not settle for “It was broken and we fixed it.” Ask “Why did it break? How have you prevented it from happening again?” In our experience, our best client relationships involve knowledge sharing and being able to help our clients truly understand how to make their websites function to their potential. The more you’re educated about how they work, the better prepared you will be, and which can also result in preventing issues that can require expensive repairs.
  7. When possible and prudent, put yourself in the driver’s seat. If you have multiple vendors working together, determine how much coordination that you can do as the client and how much coordination you need your vendors to do on your behalf. If the task that the vendors are trying to accomplish is highly technical, then you may need the vendor to drive the discussions. However, if you have a firm grasp on what needs to happen, drive the discussion. This will save you time and money. It will also keep you knowledgeable and better able to make quicker decisions if there are disputes. The last thing you want to have are vendors pointing fingers at each other. It happens frequently. It can cause delays and scope overruns if the client has to come in after the fact and get educated before making decisions.
  8. Anticipate the unknown. It is impossible for everyone on a team to know everything about a project in the beginning. There is always change, there is always the unknown. That is a given with any project. Your vendor should help you understand the risks based on their experience. That is why you hired them. However, there is always unknown. A good way to unearth some of the unknowns is to encourage your stakeholders to ask lots of questions.  Get them to think asking questions can have significant positive impacts on the overall budget.  People are busy. Attention spans are short. Many deliverables can be subject to interpretation. By getting stakeholders to articulate their interpretations, you can do a lot to expose unknowns early in the project, when they can be addressed affordably.
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