7 Questions to Ask When Selecting a Vendor

7 Questions to Ask When Selecting a Vendor.pngWhat are the key factors you should consider when selecting a vendor?

There's been a lot written about establishing your basic needs, how to determine if you're ready to issue an RFP, etc. But there's some more outside the box questions you should be asking as well.

Below are the 7 questions that the smartest prospects ask, including what you should be asking your prospective providers as well as your own team. 

(Looking for detailed instructions on vendor selection criteria? Check out our How to Write a Killer RFP podcast. Or find out how to evaluate more objectively with weighted scoring here.)

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Question 1: can you push past their sales rep?

As George LaRocque said in this great article:

"At the point where you do engage with a vendor you should demand that you get direct access with the product, and customer success and implementation teams... It also gives you a chance to evaluate the potential working relationship with the people that will truly make your implementation a success. Leverage sales to help keep the process on track, but don’t let them play gate keeper."

When selecting vendors, it's crucial to get a sense of person who you'll actually end up working with. The one will be doing your training, support, and day-to-day account management, because more often than not, it's that person who will make or break your experience.

Question 2: have you cut your own red tape?

It can be easy to forget that it's not only your stamp of approval that matters. As LaRocque also writes in his article:

"Leverage I.T. and Procurement early. Don’t wait until you fall in love with a product to get the vendors through any required compliance, I.T., or security audits. The vendor’s ability to work with your requirements there, as well as your extended team, will speak volumes to their ability to be successful with you long term."

It's especially important to understand if legal or I.T. have "deal breaker" questions you can use to help eliminate options early on. That initial short-listing is pivotal, it will save everyone a lot of work, especially on cutting down the number of RFP responses to evaluate. 

Question 3: who do they lose prospects to?

Essentially, this an honesty test. Because if your vendors aren't willing to admit who their competitors are, or why they lose customers to them, you might want to question their general transparency. And bonus, if they are honest, you'll find out what other options you should be considering. 

Question 4: are you really using your trial and/or warranty period?

Okay, the whole "try before you buy" concept isn't exactly new, but the real key is to fully leverage your trial.

Because if we're honest, most of us don't like investing in trying a platform/product when we're not sure if we're going to keep it. That's fair.

But if you're purchasing technology or software, the ease of implementation is where the rubber really hits the road. And you really only find out how intuitive a product is by really using it, testing your own data, building out a test sandbox, etc. 

Question 5: what do they think you're looking for?

We recently found a fantastic article from CIO.com on 12 Tips to Help SMBs Select and Manage Vendors, among their many excellent tips, they advised:

"'Seek out vendors who are familiar with your space – and have the necessary expertise/personnel. 'A vendor that is already tailored to your type of business will offer immediate value,' says Kean Graham, CEO, MonetizeMore, an ad tech firm. 'They will already know your pain points and how to solve them because they already [understand] your industry.'"

So when you interview vendors, ask why people like you come to them, what their needs are. Request case studies from clients who are similar to your organization. These specifics will help you understand just how much they really 'get' you, and if they'll actually be able to solve your problems. 

Question 6: do they offer both short-term & long-term solutions?

The CIO article also wisely suggested looking for "vendors who offer short-term or month-to-month contracts." 

"'Choose the vendor that has the confidence to offer month-to-month contracts and not lean on a long term contract,' says Graham. 'The result will be a vendor that works hard for you month-in and month-out rather than getting complacent knowing you have no way out of the contract for a long while.'"

It also gives you a chance to extend your trial and find out what the vendor is really like, before you're locked into a multi-year contract. 

Question 7: implementation time and response time?

Finding out how long average implementation takes can be extremely telling.

Especially if the company in question requires in-person training. Or if there are additional fees for data uploads, etc. Moreover, depending on your goals and needs, timing could be your determining factor in selecting a vendor.

It's also extremely helpful to find out their average customer support response time – is it the same day, hour or week? How can you reach them in case of emergency?

Because if they're only offering support during business hours, and your team is working round the clock that could be a huge problem.

What crucial questions did we miss? Let us know in the comments.

Want more detailed vendor selection instructions? Get a deeper dive in this How to Write a Killer RFP podcast.

How to Write a Killer RFP podcast