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Understanding IT Vendor Management From Start To Finish

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IT vendor management happens in two distinct phases: procurement and ongoing maintenance.

During the procurement phase, you’re finding a new vendor to work with. After that, it’s basically like maintaining any business relationship—you’ll need to check in periodically, review goals and progress, and perhaps renegotiate terms from time to time.

If your small business has limited experience finding and working with third-party IT vendors, you might understandably have no idea how to jump in. Certainly, there are some pitfalls that you’ll want to avoid along the way. For instance, just think for a moment about all the sensitive material stored on the computers within your business. You’ve got passwords, financial data, customer information, proprietary business details, great-grandma’s secret meatloaf recipe… And you’ll be handing all of that over to an IT expert you’ve probably never met before.

To avoid disaster, properly vetting your future IT vendor — and building a strong working relationship once you’ve found that vendor — is key. Instead of closing your eyes and pointing to a random line in the Yellow Pages (do those still exist, anyway?), take a look at the following tips to make your IT vendor management process go more smoothly.

IT Vendor Management: Where to begin?

Since the procurement and relationship maintenance phases require different approaches, let’s concentrate on one at a time.

What should you do when procuring a new IT vendor?

1. Compare your goals and values.

If you only remember one thing from this article, make it this: To have a successful long-term working relationship, your IT vendor’s goals and values must line up with those of your company.

Would you marry a serial cheater just because they are super cute? (We’d hope not, but we’re also not judging.) Similarly, you wouldn’t want to hand your precious company over to an IT vendor that cares only about profits, prefers to work with huge enterprises rather than smaller businesses, and doesn’t respect or value your time in meetings, even if that vendor looks amazing on paper.

As you conduct interviews, always keep the vendor’s core values at the forefront of your mind.

2. Make time to chat with potential vendors’ teams.

At the end of the day, you’re not really doing business with the company you select. You’re doing business with its people. That’s why it’s a good idea to spend plenty of time talking to everyone who will be working with you and make sure their team gets along well with yours.

A potential vendor could have all sorts of desirable qualifications, but if talking to their team incites with the same level of excitement as getting a cavity filled, don’t try to force a relationship that isn’t meant to be.

3. Identify your desired criteria.

It can help to make a list of your five “must-haves” and five more “nice-to-haves.” When you get lost in the weeds of decision-making, you can return to this list and easily eliminate the candidates that don’t check all your boxes.

These lists are wholly up to you. Most people look for things like “must provide top-notch cybersecurity” or “ideally they would offer 24/7 support,” but your needs are as unique as your business.

4. Narrow down your vendor choices to the top three.

Based on the list of criteria you came up with, ask the same questions of all three vendors. If you phrase things in the exact same manner, the differences in how each candidate answers those questions can help to highlight their different attitudes and approaches to certain situations.

5. Make your decision.

Remember, even if a potential vendor has all the right answers to your questions, if they aren’t easy to talk to and they don’t share the same values and goals, your long-term partnership will more than likely be difficult. Always try to keep these considerations in mind, even if one company stands out the most on paper.

It’s a shame we have to mention this at all, but it’s wise to be on the alert for vendors that don’t sound completely genuine. Trust your instincts, and if you start thinking a situation smells a little suspicious, you’re probably right that there’s something unsavory hiding under the shiny, attractive surface.

Now that you’ve selected an IT vendor, how do you manage that relationship?

6. Enter negotiations.

Your end goal is to find a win/win scenario that’s satisfactory to both parties. You want a vendor who will provide the IT services you need, and your vendor wants to make money. If your contract ends up weighted more heavily toward their side than yours, that’s a red flag that they may care about profits more than the outcomes they can provide to you.

7. Set KPIs.

How do you plan to measure if your IT vendor is performing as you’d hoped? Outlining clear KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) such as “reduce cybersecurity breaches to zero” or “eliminate system downtime due to crashes” gives you a clear way to judge whether your third-party IT team is achieving your goals or not.

8. Schedule regular check-ins.

It’s not enough to simply set KPIs; you must revisit them periodically to measure improvement. Perhaps your new IT vendor set up a firewall that successfully reduced malicious activity within the first month, but since then that firewall hasn’t been maintained, and you’ve started seeing threats picking up again. You’d only notice this discrepancy if you measured threats from month to month.

9. Prioritize open conversations.

If something isn’t working for you, point it out. You don’t want to keep paying for a service that isn’t meeting your needs. And any IT vendor with integrity wouldn’t want to take your money and leave you dissatisfied!

If they’ve fallen short in certain areas, or if you want to include a service you’d passed on before, you should always feel free to reopen discussions. If you can’t — for example, your contract prevents you from adjusting course before the contract term is complete — that could be another red flag.

10. Make changes if needed.

It’s almost always less expensive (not to mention less of a hassle) to renegotiate and set new goals and KPIs than to cancel a contract and find an entirely new vendor. With that said, if a vendor just isn’t working out, don’t be afraid to cut ties. Just like you wouldn’t advise a friend to stay in an unhealthy relationship, you wouldn’t want to stay with an IT vendor that isn’t meeting your needs.

Need a new IT vendor? Try BEMO risk-free.

Whether you’re shopping for your first IT vendor or you’ve tried a hundred with no success, BEMO would be happy to help. We work exclusively with small to medium sized businesses, because those are the clients whose values and goals line up with ours. That value match is what matters most to us, and we firmly believe you’ll agree once you’ve experienced it for yourself.

You can outsource your IT services to us for as long or short as you wish, with no mandatory long-term contract. Either BEMO winds up being the IT vendor of your dreams, or you can move on to the next prospect — no hard feelings.

Remember how important it is to make time to chat with your potential IT vendor? Book a meeting with our team here, and we can determine together if BEMO would be a great fit for your company.

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