Your business is growing quickly and you see new needs popping up every day. Last week you visited a furniture store to look for more desks, yesterday you were researching computer monitors at Best Buy and today you are searching online for web-based providers. Maybe you are in desperate need of a new customer relationship management (CRM) solution, web hosting provider or a vendor that can help you with credit card processing.
The act of choosing the best vendor for your business can quickly become overwhelming due to the seemingly endless number of options out there, so I've put together a handy guide to simplify the process.
Step #1: Outline your goals
Maybe you are increasingly unhappy with your CRM system or your website is going down on a regular basis, causing frustration with your web hosting company. Write down what you don't like about your current vendor and what you are looking for in a new one.
Get specific. Dive deep by setting up a meeting with your management team and department heads to hash out what you love, hate and want. What is on your wish list? Don't count anything out; you may just find a company that can do everything you desire and more.
Step #2: Establish a timeline
It can be super easy to jump ship with one vendor and quickly sign on with a new one after hearing a raving review from a friend or colleague. Try not to do this (you may get yourself in the same unsatisfactory situation you're in right now) by being systematic about the process of finding a new company to serve you.
When, exactly, would you like to start talking to new vendors? When would you like to start seeing demos of new offerings? When would you like the new service to be installed?
Get specific, down to the week and day. Once you have this timeline, share it with your employees so they know what to expect and aren't confused at the entrance of a new system popping up out of nowhere or strangers randomly walking around the office.
Step #3: Assemble your dream team
Now that you have your goals and timeline mapped out, it's time to delegate the process of vendor selection and implementation. As the business owner, you should stay in this process but only at the highest (read: ability to veto) level. Before even researching vendors, single out your top employees and create a committee to bring on the new company.
Who will select the new vendor? Who will be standing by while implementation happens? Who will manage the ongoing relationship with the vendor? All of these are important questions to answer before moving forward.
Step #4: Evaluate vendors
Start searching for vendors by looking at online reviews and talking with trusted colleagues. From there, do some "secret shopping." Pick up the phone (or have a member of your committee do this) and call the vendor's customer service line. Does an employee at the company pick up quickly?
Once you are on the phone with a customer service representative, ask a few technical and non-technical questions about the company's service. How does the employee respond? Are they pleasant over the phone? Are they helpful? Are you getting transferred multiple times before your questions are answered?
Review the company's website. Are there easy-to-access guides to help potential customers or even videos to walk clients through problems?
Step #5: Phone references
After evaluating a number of vendors, narrow your list down to two or three companies and then ask for a list of references. Task the vendor with handing over references of companies in your industry and of a similar size to your business. Go as far as to ask for companies in your geographic region.
When you get a business owner on the phone, ask them pointed questions about the service they are receiving. How long was the set-up process? How is the vendor's customer service? Does the service always work? If/when you run into problems, how it is handled? What do you wish the vendor would do better? What is your favorite aspect of working with this vendor?
Step #6: Make the choice
By now, your gut (or the guts of your vendor committee members) will be telling you which company to go with. Consider the company's price, its service record, recommendations from other customers and your feelings toward the vendor. Then act confidently, knowing that you are making the right decision for your business.