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Get your vendor's A team

Bart Perkins | July 23, 2015
Salespeople peddle the best-case scenario. When you're shopping for systems integration, outsourcing or other complex services, the salespeople will typically assure you that service delivery will be outstanding. They promise that the transition will be completed smoothly by a top-notch implementation team and that ongoing support will be provided by an equally talented operations team. They may well mean what they say, but the sad truth is that not every client can get the A team.

the a team
Credit: Stephen J. Cannell Productions / Universal

Salespeople peddle the best-case scenario. When you're shopping for systems integration, outsourcing or other complex services, the salespeople will typically assure you that service delivery will be outstanding. They promise that the transition will be completed smoothly by a top-notch implementation team and that ongoing support will be provided by an equally talented operations team. They may well mean what they say, but the sad truth is that not every client can get the A team; somebody has to get the B team or in some cases, the C team.

Getting a great vendor team is not always easy, even when the contract includes severe penalties for poor performance. Review the backgrounds of key team members as soon as the vendor identifies them, ideally before the contract is signed. Demand the right to approve any team members assigned to your project. LinkedIn profiles can be helpful, but the best information comes from professional colleagues who have previously worked with key vendor staff.

Undertake the following investigations as soon as feasible:

  • Assess key team members' relevant experience. ERP upgrades, server center outsourcing and other routine but complex projects require deep experience with the primary software tools. Industry experience is also highly desirable. Recently, a financial services outsourcing firm undertook a project for a hospitality company. The outsourcer initially planned to move servers over a weekend until the customer pointed out that some hotels and many restaurants do the majority of their business on the weekend, unlike banks or brokerages.
  • Specific industry expertise is less relevant with high-level strategic projects. The key skills required for such projects are creativity and the ability to envision your enterprise operating in new ways. Look for a team that has successfully completed a similar project in an industry with a similar structure. For example, a pharmaceutical company might work successfully with a vendor team from financial services, since both industries produce complex products that are heavily regulated. Similarly, insurance companies and franchisors both deliver services and earn revenues through semi-independent businesses.
  • Understand team construction. Be clear about key team members' roles, the percentage of their time assigned to your project, and when they will join the team. The project manager and key staff should be full time (excluding very small projects.) However, expect that architects and other technical specialists will support multiple clients at the same time. 
  • Beware of bait-and-switch. Sales teams often introduce highly experienced individuals during the sales process, implying that these people will be part of the delivery team. Determine whether each person will be an active team member or merely an observer.
  • Understand the vendor team's reporting structure. Some vendors only list assigned staff names and titles but omit reporting relationships. Figure out the hierarchy before you need to climb it in a crisis.
  • Assess team dynamics. Ideally, most of the team members assigned to your project will have worked for the vendor for several years. While they may not have worked directly with each other, they will share internal connections and a common corporate culture simply from working at the same company

 

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