Spoiler Alert, I’m not going to have the vendor give you three good references. It’s safe to assume they will be good and chances are this will really not give you the entire picture of the vendor you’re tasked with vetting.
After being around this industry a while you get to know your competitive landscape quite well. You get to know the ones who are strong and the ones who are weak. It’s really easy to figure out the “A” players from the rest. Unfortunately in my opinion there are not many “A” players considering most UC vendors
are all stuck in the “traditional ways” of telecom and IT.
My goal today is to share some insight on how you can ensure you’re aligning yourself with an “A” caliber UC vendor.
My thoughts are derived from direct client feedback more than anything. Feedback is paramount and we are always eager to hear it. One of my most valued conversations around feedback is when a new client is leaving another service provider to join the Converged family. That candid conversation is critical to our success.
It’s just as important as adding a new happy client to our base. At Converged the feedback we absorb is then presented to our teams and constantly scrutinized to see how we can challenge the way we do things in an effort to better our internal processes.
Moreover, it also exposes the weaknesses of our opponent. It by default allows us to strengthen our organization to ensure we don’t fall subject to the same result. Our clients are our livelihood and feedback is the most powerful thing we have. It also happens to be the most powerful tool you have when choosing a UC vendor.
Inline are several things we’ve learned along the way that you should ask of vendors like us and others. It should help you with your B.S. radar and ensuring that your reputation along with your fiscal responsibility is being placed with a vendor whom is worthy of your business.
I believe all of these questions should be asked on your first meeting in person with the vendor. I believe it is key to do this in person. When put on the spot these answers should be fluid with no hesitation and exude confidence.
Question 1: Explain your sales process to me?
What we are looking for here is an understanding of the rep and the organization in front of you. Understanding their sales process is critical. It should be detailed and there should be a plan. What we do in the UC industry by no means is cookie cutter.
The absence of a clearly defined strategy is a recipe for disaster and a tell-tale sign that choosing this partner may invite problems down the stretch. Items we want to hear here are as follows:
Discovery, Needs Assessment
This should be before a presentation. Should we be presenting before we know you? Without a discovery phase and needs assessment in place, everything being discussed is based on assumptions about your business.
Post the Discovery session who is engaged internally/externally?
This should foreshadow the resources of the vendor, sales professionals are just that...sales. Every successful organization has engineers behind the scenes to ensure the notes taken are accurate and there were no assumptions made.
At the end of the day once this is all done the engineers are the ones who are served your job. It’s important they get their eyes on your assessment early.
More times than not an engineering led follow up call with an engineer should come after your initial discovery meeting for you to get a feel for the competency of the engineering staff as well as the empathy and professionalism. Remember once the sale is done your rep is off to another client. You’re investing in the engineers not the sales professional.
Simple enough right but what we are looking for here is this precedes the items above. We can’t demo what we don’t know. The demo should be tailored around the nuggets you helped us discover together. It should talk about obstacles and how we will overcome them to achieve “your” objectives.
It’s not a feature presentation it’s a detailed presentation to fit your business challenges.
Question 2: What do other customers have to say?
It’s important that you don’t phrase the question do you have some references I can call. Even a blind squirrel can find a nut. Here is what you should be asking and you should be doing it early.
Should you feel this vendor is worthy of the next meeting, this part of the due diligence should be done by you now. Very often we get asked for references after we’ve already won the hearts and minds of our audience. The true vetting should come early not late.
“Can you please provide me the date and client that you most recently finished a new project for? Something preferably that is similar size project to ours.”
If the size does not match yours that’s ok. What is key to this question is the most recent project that was completed.
By phrasing the question this way we find out two things. They provide a recent date that eludes to the fact that they are doing projects quite often or the date is in the past. Should it be the latter this should raise some concerns. A good UC vendor
has 3-4 active projects a month...potentially more.
What we are looking for is this is pretty routine and there is constant activity. Chances are with recent activity and a similar subset of clientele you’re on the right track. Calling this client post the cut is going to showcase the UC vendor’s operations team competency.
Remember you're buying the processes of the operations team and engineering competency not the sales shtick.
Chances are when provided a recent reference you will receive candid and valuable feedback from that client you can leverage in your project i.e. “Looking back, I wish we would have done this…” Conversely if they don’t have a recent reference to provide the B.S. alarm should start ringing in your head right about now!
“Can you please provide me a client that is currently in an active project roll out?”
You can see where we are going here. The meat and potatoes of the project is right at this critical phase. The sales team is gone and the success of this project is all about project management and execution. To have that insight from a client at this point in time in invaluable.
You should be asking the reference some of the following:
- How is the project management?
- How is the communication between the teams?
- Overall to where you are now how has the process been?
- Are you still on schedule with the initial project dates?
- Have you hit any unforeseen delays?
These two type of reference calls will prove to be invaluable. Should you get an excuse of any sort that the vendor in front of you can’t provide you with these clients, it’s time to look at removing them from your plans for your project.
They either have projects that they can share this info or they don’t. Regardless of the reasons why they don’t have these references available. It’s not worth your time to continue with them on the project. Every “A” UC vendor can provide this information.
Question 3: Can you share a project plan?
They key to IT and UC success is project management; it’s the mortar in the bricks or the glue to your elbow macaroni art. First and foremost we need to know there is a defined process that’s routinely followed. Then beyond that there are few deeper questions you can ask to ensure you are aligned with the right vendor.