The Care and Feeding of Your Vendor

The Care & Feeding of Your Vendor
Fran Zablocki, Project Manager, mStoner, and Colleen Brennan-Barry, Assistant Director, College & Community Relations, Monroe Community College

Colleen is an assistant director of community relations at a community college. Fran is a strategist for creative Web agency. Can they both just get along in the jungle of higher ed?

Turns out they can get a long quite famously. In this session, Colleen and Fran presented a step-by-step plan for caring for the vendor-client partnership, or as Colleen puts it, “it’s a Kumbaya moment with the vendor and client relationship.”

The first step in in the vendor-client relationship is to do your field research. How do you know if you need a vendor? Do you have a problem but not the resources or the capacity to solve it? Are you are too close to the situation? Do you need someone to say what you’ve been saying all along, but without being burdened by institutional politics?

Once you determine that you need a vendor partner, it’s time to search for one in the wild. First, know the project parameters and goals. Establish timelines, working structure, scope, goals, audience, available vs. needed resources. Identify the “must haves” because you can’t have it all. What are your deal breakers? Price? Experience? Writing? HTML? Skill with a particular CMS? Mapping this out helps you break down a huge potential list of vendors.

Next, the selection process. You should try to meet in person. Meet the tribe. Visit the habitat. Go to their offices. What tools do they use? How are you going to communicate?  Check out the pedigree. See their portfolio. Ask for live projects whenever you can, not screenshots. You want to be basing your relationship with a vendor on real information and real criteria, not “they seem like people and we had a good lunch.” Call the exes. Not just the ones on the list provided by the vendor.

Now that you’ve chosen your vendor, you need to create a care plan. Talk it out. Have a kick-off meeting, establish status meetings, timelines. Get down to the nitty gritty: pricing, procurement and billing, etiquette.

By this point, it no longer “vendor-client.”  You’ve formed a “super group.” You need to define all the roles on the team. Have project checkpoints: go back to your scope document and say “OK, here is where we said we would be by the point. Are we there yet?”

Some final words of advice: “As you come across vendors in the wild, remember that you are part of a larger team.”