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A thorough vendor selection process involves a trip to the vendor's offshore delivery facilities to understand nuances of the proposed solution and to meet the proposed team before final selection. This visit provides an insight into the vendor's capabilities, maturity of service delivery processes and sets a frame of reference for the engagement relationship.
A firsthand interaction in actual delivery settings provides an opportunity for a quick assessment of issues that may not be discovered in a document or boardroom vendor presentations.
In this whitepaper, we share some of our experiences while visiting vendor facilities with the clients after the initial RFP process. The events will expose both vendor strengths and weaknesses, and highlight key learning.
About the Author
About Systems Plus
Systems Plus Solutions is an ISO 9001:2000 Certified Business Solution provider specializing in business consulting, sourcing advisory and software development with clients in more than 20 countries across Europe, Asia and North America.
Headquartered in Mumbai, India, SPS has offices in Reading, UK and New Jersey, USA. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the first impressions made by the vendor is the way in which they plan and execute activities on the day of the client's visit.
We had scheduled a meeting with a vendor at 8:00 am at their office. As a conventional courtesy, the vendor had arranged for a car to pick the team up from the hotel. They had estimated that it would take an hour to get to their offices.
In the morning, there was no one from the vendor staff to accompany us to their facilities. The vendor had arranged for a taxi to take us to their office without giving the driver any directions or instructions whatsoever. Surprised, we gave him the company name, address and the area to visit.
Fortunately, we had our visit coordinator's cell phone number, so we called him to give the driver instructions on how to get to the vendor's office.
We reached our destination earlier than expected. It was 7:40 am. No one was available to meet us on arrival. The receptionist asked us to wait till someone came into work, and 15 minutes later, someone from the vendor staff came to fetch us. The full vendor team only came into the boardroom over the course of the next 20 minutes and we finally started the day's events by 8:30 am.
Even by the end of day at 4:00 pm, the vendor continued to surprise us. While we were waiting for our drop-off in a small conference room, the whole vendor team disappeared. Left alone, we made our way to the reception, signed out and left the premises. No goodbyes, thank you's or common courtesies of the sort were extended
A completely different experience was visiting another vendor whose staff came personally to fetch us from the hotel. They arranged to have entrance badges ready when we reached the office, welcomed us with a garland and lamp lighting ceremony and all the staff was ready to go in the boardroom well on time.
The basic commitment to the client can be seen from the care taken for the client's visit. It is rare for a vendor to fail at the bare essentials.
Keep a full address and contact details of where you want to go handy
Have cell phone numbers of all contacts / officials available
Be aware that India has multiple languages in use depending on where you travel
Keep a margin of safety for time schedules as IST can sometimes mean Indian Stretchable Time
Vendors may try to enhance their appeal in written documents without actually having the required capabilities to get through the initial phase
We were going to visit a vendor shortlisted after a particularly long RFI and RFP process. The client requirements needed specific non-standard skills which were not easily available with all vendors. A shortlisted Tier-2 vendor had submitted a bid along with a partner / joint venture associate.
When we visited the vendor along with our clients, the trip quickly turned in to an unpleasant experience. The vendor was not able to demonstrate how their proposed solution worked with the partner/associate company. It became apparent that the vendor did not have any functioning relationship with its joint bid partner. In fact, it was their first attempt at a joint bid process. The vendor was not able to demonstrate how their proposed solution worked with the partner/associate company.
We also realized that the vendor had tried to show us a valuable set of skills as if they were available in-house, whereas actually these were only with the partner at a considerable additional cost. They had misled us in their written RFI/RFP response.
We were forced to abandon the visit after three hours instead of the planned two days. The client had wasted an opportunity to consider another qualified vendor and we were left embarrassed and annoyed with the vendor team.
The visit to another vendor provided a stark contrast to this experience. The vendor was able to show similar work being done for their existing clients. They scheduled interactive sessions with SMEs and key account executives from the same domain that displayed actual work experience in required skill sets in real-time.
Some of the vendors showcased specialized technical "centers of excellence" and incubator centers in the area of interest. Their tools and process demonstrated the abilities listed in the written RFP. It was easy for the client to rate the abilities and gain confidence in the vendor.
Recent events have demonstrated that it is nearly impossible to detect a company intent on deceit. Vendor visits, however, do provide us an additional mechanism to verify and validate the solution and organization.s capabilities
Review key proposal components
Review deliverables and processes on similar sized accounts at vendor
Evaluate the skill and experience of the staff of the vendor
Evaluate tools that come as a part the engagement
What to expect in India:
Hotels in India are usually very luxurious. Service levels are very high (at a cost).
Hotels and flights are easy to manage if done properly.
Western food such as pizzas, burgers and pasta are usually available.
Eat Indian food in small helpings till you get accustomed to the spices.
You will meet many people during each vendor visit, so make sure you carry adequate visiting cards.
Vendor presentations can be a revealing encounter with organization culture and structure. The team interactions and preparation cannot be disguised.
Each company visit for the client means meeting a team from the vendor (10+ people). This team is charged with the task of explaining the proposal to the client and demonstrating key solution components.
The vendor team made an unstructured presentation. It was not aligned to the client agenda and talked only about the vendor company without detailing the solution. There was no effort to customize the material for the client's visit.
We also had team members attempting to show their expertise to the client by trying to take over the conversation. The team leader would cut off junior staff while speaking and answer all questions, at times contradicting previous statements. He would continue talking without answering direct questions or ramble on irrelevant material. This further added to lack of clarity and confusion to the client over the proposed solution.
A different experience involved a vendor team that was perfectly coordinated. Each person would take over the conversation in perfect sync from the other. They were able to seamlessly continue the conversation from one person to the other. It was remarkable to see the understanding and effort put into making a coherent presentation. The team leader was confident enough to leave junior staff alone with the client to talk while they left the room.
As you are likely to visit more than one vendor, you may have to refine your agenda at each one to focus on a key area of concern.
Ensure you set an agenda before your visit
Allocate sufficient time for key agenda items
Incorporate learning from revious vendor visit
We recommend that all clients visit shortlisted vendors before making a final decision. The vendor's strengths and weaknesses are quickly exposed when subjected to close examination. The client also gets a chance to get comfortable with good vendors who could be great long term strategic partners for their business.