Submitted by: Katie Stellard, Senior Manager, Navigate

So, the time has come… you’ve determined that it’s time for a new vendor or solution and have at least an initial idea of requirements, but are unsure of which next steps to take. Should you engage with a top-tier vendor in the space? Is a more specialized vendor with subject matter expertise in your particular industry more important? Whose solution fits into your budget?

There are many questions when entering into a vendor selection process. Depending on your organization’s needs and willingness to adjust to predetermined functionality and capabilities, as well as many other factors, identifying and selecting the right vendor is crucial to a project’s success and the eventual adoption of any new tool or process.

Take a step back first and determine whether the functional requirements are thorough and well thought-out. Omissions in requirements will almost always lead to contract negotiation sticking points and change orders down the road (read: Budget Overrun 101). Dedicating time to documenting clear objectives will ensure the vendors have a clear understanding of what’s needed and how their solution will best meet those needs, and will save time later handling adjustments during the implementation process.

Next: The RFP.  Have you identified a pool of vendors to receive the Request for Proposal (RFP)? There may be some clear market leaders in the space, making this an easy list to generate. But in the case of specific industries or specialized needs, it may make sense to dig a little deeper to find vendors who can best customize a solution to meet your objectives.

Finally: Scoring and selection. A comprehensive set of scoring criteria should be decided upon from the start, weighted based on the priority of how each vendor performs in each area. For example, a software demonstration and the associated user scores may be worth a smaller part of the overall evaluation than the software’s ability to meet the agreed-upon requirements, or the financial investment. Additionally, the vendor demonstration must be guided and scripted to focus on your key business needs, in order to avoid being lured by flashy but unnecessary features. Establishing objective weighting criteria that are applicable across all vendors keeps the evaluation impartial and fair, and offers a clearer view of which vendor truly aligns with your company’s goals.

Katie Stellard is a Senior Manager with Navigate, a management consulting firm based in Wayne, Pa. Navigate has proven success guiding clients through the vendor selection process as a trusted and objective advisor.