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Making a product decision on behalf of an organization is especially difficult in the campaign and advocacy business. There are so many choices to consider, which are shaded by pre-existing relationships, budget and strategic limitations, not to mention the risk aversion of trying something new.
If you’re the primary decision maker, or even a contributor to the decision-making process of selecting a vendor, flying blind or and going in without a plan runs counter to your commitment to your organization’s mission and objectives.
When selecting a product or service consider a few factors before ultimately selecting a particular option no matter the cost/value of the decision. An investment in time and preparation by creating a structured process for vendor selection and management will pay dividends. In fact, it will save you time and money, and possibly prevent you from having to switch vendors year after year.
Here are some questions to consider:
- Does the product or service fill a void in your organization?
- Is the product service an absolute necessity or a convenience tool?
- How labor intensive will it be to brief the product or service staff on the interworking of your organization?
- Does the sales/service staff have the knowledge and experience in working on similar client accounts as yours?
- What is the customer service reputation of the product or service?
- Are you just one of many clients or a valued partner?
- Does the product or service staff have a level of expertise that can complement your own?
- What are the sales tactics of the product or service? Are they aggressive? Critical of your organization’s existing choices? Is the sales meeting a conversation or a critique?
- Will the product or service allow you to speak to existing clients or check out their references? (Always ask for references, but if you know of a current client reach out on your own and get an opinion that isn’t filtered, or a reference from their “best client.”)
- Will you have access after the sale to senior management in the event of a “code red” moment?
- How generous is the product or service with superlatives and self-praise?
- One must get past the marketing slickness and look at the actual performance of the product or service.
- Does the product or service provide training, networking opportunities, and peer-to-peer interactions?
- Will the product or service staff listen to client feedback and act upon it in a timely manner?
- How flexible are they to meeting your specifications and agile in responding to special needs?
- What is the frequency of product updates or company innovations?
- Is this properly communicated to clients?
- What is the rate/reputation of client retention? Would those updates and innovations be offered to “existing” clients and not have to be purchased separately as a new transaction?
Think of vendor vetting as hiring for a senior position: the process should be at least as rigorous. Exhibit formality and respect throughout the process and explain how important this decision is to the vendors from the beginning to end.
While you don’t want to position yourself as the makings of a difficult client, you have a duty to protect the interests of your organization, which most vendors will understand and view as a learning experience.
There’s a vast array of offerings in the advocacy and campaign world, and market competitiveness affords in-house practitioners the opportunity to vet them fully through a more structured process.
Following this line of questioning will add some extra steps in the due diligence process, but it will lead to a stronger partnership and make you, your boss and organization happier with the outcome.
Joshua Habursky is director of advocacy at the Independent Community Bankers of America, chairman of the Grassroots Professional Network, and adjunct professor at West Virginia University.