by Andre Bourque

7 effective strategies executives use to pick a technology partner

May 24, 2017
Technology Industry

Need your project delivered on time and under budget? Use these strategies to get those types of vendor results.

two executives holding oversized puzzle pieces
Credit: Thinkstock

Developing custom software is hard, but it doesn’t need to be.

Gone are the days where your company is forced to settle for high priced consultants who delay your project by months, only to be left with a lackluster final product. We interviewed leading global executives to uncover the methods they are using to find their partners.

You may be thinking: “Executives that found a good partner have probably read 100’s of RFP’s”. While RFP’s still play a critical role, the landscape has evolved to much more. New strategies are changing the game for the way vendors are selected. Companies that adopt these seven tactics are finding that they can now consistently produce world class software, on-time and under budget.

Let’s start with a simple common scenario

You’re at the point where you need custom software built, but after assessing your options, it doesn’t make sense to develop it in house. You’re likely looking at a technology partner who can help with custom solutions.

People say the middle overlap is impossible. We’ve discovered otherwise.

However, finding the right one can be challenging. For better or worse, choosing the right technology partner typically involves building a relationship — when you choose your partners with care and communicate early, things tend to work out more often. But choose the wrong one, and you can potentially lose faith in the vendor process. Fortunately, the odds of “heartbreak” will be substantially reduced by understanding a few key factors that can make or break the partner relationship.

Like any other business, a technology partner is only as good as its people and the minds within its organization. The best technology partners are able to attract and maintain competent software developers while knowing how to weed out mediocre ones. However understanding, locating, and leveraging those external partners are not easy tasks – especially if this is the first time you are exploring these options for your business.

Seven strategies for determining the best vendors

To better understand how to best work with vendors, I spoke with dozens of providers and brands. In particular, I interviewed established custom software development companies like Surge and Workstate that have worked on 3rd party solutions for the world’s largest brands.

I also reviewed major technology consulting groups, PWC, Bain and BCG for best practices when working with a vendor. To include a number of experts in 3rd-party custom software development and client management to find out more about how decision makers can overcome these challenges to find productive partners for their businesses.

These are seven critical tips for finding, vetting and working with the right technology partner for your business.

1. The RFP should be a two-way street

If you don’t have any inroads with a development company or technology partner, then the best place to start is by creating a Request for Proposal (RFP) and sending it to several companies for responses.

A good RFP must be detailed enough so that the respondent understands exactly what the requirements are for the project.

We found that the most successful RFP’s share 5 key components:

  • Organizational overview: Without knowing about your company, it is hard for a vendor to write a good proposal.
  • Project deliverables and specifications: A broad spec can cause needless delays. Ensure that your spec is clear and deliverables are outlined upfront.
  • Project goals: Understanding the spec is only half the battle. What do you want the project to achieve? Sometimes the technology partner can advise on alternative implementation tactics.
  • Request for references and case studies: Good vendors are not afraid to talk about their past successes. This is an easy way to filter the winners from the noise.
  • Clear budgets and expectations: While you do not need to provide an exact budget, providing a range helps your partner understand the resources they should plan on allocating to your project.

According to technology partner Workstate, “A good RFP allows for vendors to properly plan the scope of the project upfront. This means that we can best align expectations to deliver top quality solutions.” This also allows for accurate estimates and timelines.

A fair warning: some companies respond to RFPs with boilerplate proposals that may have little to do with your solution you are seeking. Writing detailed responses to RFPs can consume considerable resources and can often turn into traps for both parties. As a result, many vendors often don’t have the time or resources to respond.

One of the key factors to consider when hiring a technology partner is how deeply they care about your project, whether they really show true interest. It sounds simple, but sometimes the best logic is.

2. Do your research early

Do you know exactly what needs to get built? When picking the right technology partner or external development team; it should never be their job to innovate on your behalf, or essentially “read your mind” in terms of what you are looking for.

Start by creating a document containing specifications which will provide granular-level clarity to the technology partner on as much as you can about the project. Break down and detail every feature and functionality, the workflow, the user journey, and the integrations in the product. This will be included in your RFP.

If you decide to go the RFP route; this will “weed out” boilerplate responses, and ensure the respondents actually understand what it is they are going to be required to build. While there’s no way to examine the competencies of every employee within a company, there are ways to determine which company likely has what it takes to bring the company visions to reality.

3. Price is usually a bad measure of quality

The highest priced technology partners often spent longer amounts of time on the project, with too many unnecessary staff members and account managers. On the other hand, the lower end of the market often lacked the skill and technical ability to produce consistent quality.

Picking a technology partner is a completely different experience than shopping on Amazon. You cannot go to a vendor and simply pick the lowest price for the exact service you need. It can be a nuance-filled and complex process.

4. Testimonials and references are critical

In virtually every example I found, top partners shared numerous case studies, testimonials, and client references.

Of course, while testimonials can be useful, you must be diligent enough to look behind the curtain. Simply stated – ask to speak to some happy customers. Do they have any? It’s critical to inquire with a future technology partner about a list of clients you can contact. Ensure they can confirm that potential partner did indeed complete a product to spec and satisfaction. Ask to sift through their portfolio, this will assist you in fully understanding company expertise and whether or not they are capable of meeting your needs.

5. Consider speed and deadlines

You’re looking for a company that can rapidly integrate into your team and get things done. When interviewing a company’s past and current clients, inquire if the company was quick to develop the project and solve problems, and whether they promptly responded to change requests. Ask what the original timeline was and if the company stuck to it. If there were delays, what was the cause? While speed on a project isn’t essential, it can generally demonstrate their ability to read and respond to changes.

6. Transparency is a must

It’s important to have an open line of conversation with your vendor. This includes honesty about goals, resources and time management. It’s mission critical for a technology partner to keep their customers updated at all times using regular status reports. One way to manage this is: technology vendors should have a simple, straightforward roadmap of project accomplishments so that non-technical client can easily decipher the step-by-step implementation and milestones of each stage coupled with the respective time period.

Having worked closely with clients like Dell, DSW and McGraw-Hill Education, Workstate finds it paramount to build strong relationships based on honesty, integrity and mutual respect. As Brian Walsh, Partner of Development Services explains, what you should be looking for are “high-functioning teams of veteran software developers who are experienced at rapidly embedding themselves in organizations to help you achieve your business goals.” This requires trust and open communication from both teams. Be on the lookout for this kind of relationship.

7. Consider a guarantee or warranty

A partner’s confidence in its products doesn’t automatically translate into a go-ahead on a contract, but it will definitely bias the selection process. If you find yourself undecided between two potential partners, then default to whichever one offers a better warranty. Ask the company if they offer warranty clauses that guarantee your product will be delivered on time and on budget, or at the very minimum, assurance that will provide any fixes to defects or glitches discovered down the road.

Last, but not least

Regardless of who you select, you must discuss everything of importance up front and in detail and, of course, at key points along the journey. Remember to check for happy references, transparency, and warranty. Perhaps the most important (and overlooked) factor when selecting a technology partner is the most simple – do you like them?

You are going to be spending substantive time with this partner, so ensuring they fit on a personal level is perhaps just as important as the fine print.