While supporting our clients in technology vendor selection, we find that many companies have limited time and resources to spend performing due diligence through a formal, “deep dive” selection process. They want to move fast but still want to select the solution that meets their requirements and fits with the IT technology strategy. If you find yourself in that situation, fear not. A few key steps with a cross-functional core team of invested contact center and IT leaders can lead to a successful outcome.
Start with a streamlined requirements definition. Begin by defining why the new technology is important and the challenges you are overcoming. Think about the operational gaps that you must fill. Consider the technical requirements that will meet IT standards. Define your expectations and the vendor’s role in implementation and support. Clearly define scope and the numbers for licenses and duration of the agreement (especially for cloud solutions) to make sure you get accurate, apples-to-apples pricing. As many features/functions are commodities across all vendors, don’t bother documenting the basics. Focus on requirements that are critical to your operational and technical goals and plans.
Make key decisions prior to determining the right vendor/VARs for you to pursue. (See Figure 1.) Determine the sourcing approach that fits your business requirements and IT strategy for new technology. Tie your sourcing strategy into your technology support decisions. Consider the business strategies that prospective vendors employ to reach their markets and whether or not they align with your needs. Choose the vendors (and VARs) on which you’ll conduct due diligence.
Define evaluation criteria. Evaluation criteria are not the same as requirements. Requirements help the vendor understand your needs so they know what to propose; criteria differentiate and evaluate vendor responses. We suggest you define criteria as categories like Features/Functions, Technical Fit, Implementation, Support, Vendor Fit and Price. Then define each category with a few bullets. (Rating individual requirements within each category is an exercise in futility.)
Match vendors—or VARs—to requirements. Research the market and get vendor presentations to understand your options and make sense of market complexities. When your requirements include combinations such as PBX and ACD, ACD and WFO, core contact center technology and CRM, or IVR and web self-service, you may need a combination of providers (vendors and/or VARS). Work with vendors to identify their partners that have the right characteristics (size, geography, industry, focus on similar solutions, etc.). If “one throat to choke” is one of your goals, make sure the vendors or VARs under consideration can address your scope with the right sourcing and support options.
Get bids that include clear pricing and detail on what they are including in their proposals. Distribute the targeted requirements in a Request for Proposal (RFP). Make it clear you don’t want “boilerplate” long responses. Most importantly, specify how you want the pricing structured and at what granularity.
Schedule vendor/VAR presentations that are targeted, specific to your situation. Provide an agenda that includes demos of key user interfaces, technical discussion to address IT needs, and a list of questions that need to be addressed about implementation, support, SLAs, pricing, etc. Ensure vendors/VARs cover all of your team’s questions based on the proposed solution. Leave “optional items” until the end.
Select the Vendor/VAR based on defined criteria. Use criteria and scoring at a level of detail necessary for your company to be able to defend your requirements, SOW, pricing, and selection. Work with your preferred vendor to ensure everything is included and minimize the risk of add-ons/change orders. Iterate and negotiate as needed, and use the competing bids as leverage where appropriate. Nail down contracts, SOWs, and SLAs.
Given your desire to minimize time and resources involved in the vendor selection process, it is more important than ever to adhere to a few steps that will lead to success. Put tools and processes in place to add objectivity to what is mostly a subjective process. Stay in the driver’s seat. Don’t let the vendor take control. Keep in mind that you should decide the VAR. Don’t let the vendor dictate. They can suggest, but you need to review and approve.
Encourage your whole team to leave emotions at the door. History with a vendor or VAR (both good and bad) can derail an effective process. Don’t be dazzled by a demo or marketing presentation and let that sway your opinion with no connection to requirements.