If you haven’t done it before, or don’t have much experience with it, talking to vendors to explore new technology solutions can be daunting. What do you ask? What is important? Where do you even begin? We set out some helpful tips below that can get you on your way, and that can help to kickstart the right conversations.
Be clear on your aim
When setting out to talk to vendors, it’s worthwhile to keep in mind what exactly you are trying to achieve. For example, are you trying to improve efficiencies, introduce new capabilities, or perhaps a combination of both? Is the relevant product/service intended to operate as part of a broader, established process, or does the product/service bring about something new or novel, around which processes need to be modified, or even created?
Vendors have plenty of experience in talking to interested organisations, so don’t be afraid to ask them what their experience has been like to date based on their existing customer base, or how they can best see their product/service benefitting your organisation. While you may not agree with what is proposed, vendors are naturally highly skilled in understanding what their products/services can and can’t do, as well as how to best make use of those products in order to benefit your organisation.
Maintain focus on the ‘problem’ you are trying to solve
Your discussions should focus on both the problem, as well as the solution. It is important to keep an eye on the actual problem or ‘pain point(s)’ you are dealing with. Whilst we always encourage our clients to maintain an open mind about what ‘might’ be achievable, it is not always possible to redesign entire processes from scratch, and you often have to work with certain existing constraints or hurdles. When focusing on the solution, ensure that the final result, all things considered, will bring value to your organisation.
Your four simple discussion points to get you started
When talking to vendors, there are several approaches you can take, and questions you can ask. It’s good to have a chat with your IT team ahead of time to find out if they have any tips for what to ask, or if there is anything important and specific to your organisation that they would recommend you cover off, in order to progress further. Engaging your own internal IT team will be critical to any transformation initiative.
1. What is important to your specific organisation
The most obvious topic is security, but there may be others. It depends on your organisation, but while you may be able to involve your IT team in discussions once you decide you would like to proceed, it can often help to speed things along if you can find out from them things to cover off with a vendor to see if there are any major upfront roadblocks. A great alternative approach is to see if your IT team could be part of discussions from the earliest stage. Sometimes, having the right person in the room to ask the right questions from the outset can save a lot of back and forth later on.
2. What integrations are available?
Aside from security, another potential technical question relates to integration with other services and/or platforms. For example, if you’re looking at an electronic signing capability, is there any way to link that to your existing contract management system? The value of any potential product/service can rise or fall depending on the potential to adopt it as part of your existing workflows or processes.
3. What does their existing client base look like?
Some non-technical questions relate to the vendor itself, and what it can offer you. A couple of great questions to ask are what the vendor’s existing client base looks like, and if you would be able to talk to any of their existing clients. Client testimonials can be a great way to evaluate not only the product offering and its reliability, but also the professionalism of the vendor itself. When evaluating a platform, it is important to keep in mind that there is great value in being about to count on support from the vendor when things go awry.
4. What pricing (and pricing models) do they offer?
Another non-technical issue is pricing: what can the vendor offer you? Can they offer a discount? What pricing model do they employ, and will that vary according to the number of users engaging with the product, and/or the extent to which you use the product and/or its features?
Don’t be afraid to get creative around pricing, in order to find something that works for your organisation based on your intended use of the product. Just as there is no one-size-fits-all product, neither is there a single pricing model that suits all organisations. Your IT team may be able to provide you with some guidance on acceptable pricing, or even examples of price ranges based on historically accepted existing pricing models for established products.
The discussion above can help to get you started and, on your way, when considering new ways to do things using technology. Once you get some experience with evaluating technology under your belt, it can become easier, but taking the first step can often be daunting.
You can obtain a lot of information by approaching vendors, and by asking the right questions. Don’t be afraid about not having all the relevant information to hand, prior to having a conversation – you’d be surprised at how willing vendors are to talk to you and to be able to advise you on the best way forward (using their product!). That being said, it can often help to work with someone who has experience with these sorts of conversations, and who can help you to navigate the various technologies on offer and the ‘pain point(s)' they are trying to solve. There is a lot of overlapping functionality and determining the ‘best fit’ can sometimes be challenging. There is a lot of value that comes from knowing the everchanging legal technology landscape, and in being able to share insights relating to the difference between the many different vendors and their products/services.
Again, we can’t emphasise enough the importance of continually engaging with your IT team as partners in this process, as their collective knowledge and experience is invaluable for navigating what can often be a tricky path. Their guidance can result in a lot of saved time, as well as understanding how things work within your organisation. By understanding each other’s priorities and perspectives, you can achieve a lot, and deliver great value and uncover new capabilities in the process.
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