An ideal partnership should be a win-win for both sides. In fact, you’d be best off thinking of your technology vendor as someone who is actually on the same side, or team, as you. Rather than working against each other, you are working towards a shared goal – the continued financial success of both of your companies.
There’s a reason you often hear the phrase “better together” when it comes to vendor partnerships. In the right engaged and trustful relationship, both parties should benefit:
- Your organization should see substantial, needle-moving results from using the technology – whether it is improving your efficiency, allowing you to better support your constituents, improving business systems and processes, or all of the above.
- Meanwhile, your technology partner will get valuable, honest feedback to drive innovation along with potential referrals, up-sells, and renewals. All this in addition to your monthly or yearly subscription fee.
But in many companies, there is no formal process for how to seek out or manage new technology vendors. The contract is signed, the product is implemented, and it is – or isn’t – used by the team. In this case, neither side has a chance to see the full benefits of the partnership, which is not exactly a recipe for success.
So what is the best way to ensure a prosperous, strategic tech vendor partnership? Keep reading to find out. (Hint: it involves a lot of planning, continuous open communication, and a team effort.)
Finding the right tech partner
Because your technology vendor will be playing an important role in the future of your business, you will want to put them through a substantial vetting process before ever signing a contract.
Why? Cost aside, you want to find someone whose values and goals align with yours. This is a big decision and starting over – if at first you don’t succeed – could affect your customer experience, employee satisfaction, and company growth. When it comes to finding your ideal tech partner, you should take the process seriously and not rush through it.
Determine your own answers to the following:
- What are our goals for using this technology?
- What will success look like?
- What kind of support would we like/need?What level of involvement do we want to have with Company X?
- Do we have a process in place for using this technology?
- Who will be the product/relationship “owner” from our team?
- What is our timeline for implementation?
Ask your potential partner these questions:
- How have you partnered with other nonprofits or associations like ours before?
- Who will we be working with from your end and what does your typical onboarding and ongoing success process look like?
- How do you handle initial set-up and implementation?
- Will you provide any training?
- What are the mechanisms in place in your software or technology that will allow us to measure success?
- What kind of analytics or reporting do you provide?
- How is the data stored?
- What will happen in case of service interruptions or outages?
- How will your technology work with our other IT systems and software?
- Do you currently offer integrations with any of our existing technologies?
- How will you handle requests for product fixes and improvements
- What’s on your roadmap?
How to keep the relationship strong
The vendor selection process is just one small piece of the puzzle. What follows is just as, if not more, important. Once the initial implementation is over, your work towards building a successful, lasting relationship really begins. In order for your partnership to thrive, you must make a conscious effort to communicate and stay connected – don’t make the mistake of only calling and talking to them when there are problems.
Here are more tips for ensuring your partnership stays strong over the long-term:
Continue to check in with your POC regularly, and make an effort to share news and other updates from your side. Even after you’ve met all of your implementation milestones and you think you know the product inside-and-out, continue meeting with your vendor point-of-contact. Besides just maintaining a friendly relationship, you will stay abreast of any major changes happening with the product and you can fill them in on where your own business is going.
Make sure all members of your team who are directly using the technology have a chance to provide input and feedback. In many, but not all, cases, the relationship owner is someone who is not using the technology on a regular basis – it could be a manager or team leader. If that is the case in your organization, it’s in your best interest to make sure that the folks who are doing the day-to-day work have an opportunity to give feedback (either to you, and then you pass it on to your tech partner, or you could even invite a few members of your team to sit in on your check-in meetings).
If you’re unhappy with the services or support that you’re receiving, let them know as soon as possible. Trust us, your tech partner does not want to hear you’re unhappy as you’re canceling your plan. By letting them know you’re having issues with their product in real-time, you are giving them an opportunity to fix the problems, whether that means literally fixing bugs, offering new/different services to replace the ones that aren’t working out for you, or potentially making pricing adjustments.
Should there be a major change in the technology company’s product, management, or organizational structure – for example, if they are acquired – don’t panic. Rather than jump to conclusions or base assumptions off of articles you’ve read in the press, go directly to your point-of-contact and set up a meeting to discuss the implications of the merger. Before your meeting, sit down with your team and draft a list of questions you’d like to have answered. Stay calm, continue communicating, and don’t make any rash decisions. Things may play out in your favor (if you will be getting access to a much broader range of technical capabilities, say), stay the same, or there may be changes that won’t actually benefit you in the long-term. Every case is different and you won’t know immediately what direction things will go, so take it all in stride.
The bottom-line: a successful tech partnership is well worth the effort you put into it. Think of your relationship as a two-way street; don’t feel shy about holding your vendors accountable and reassessing their value over time, but don’t only call them when the times get rough. Make sure to celebrate your mutual success as well.