Insight into the different ways you can select a digital partner, and practical tips to ensure you end up with the supplier - and solution - that’s best for you
No matter what its nature, the ultimate success of your digital project will be significantly affected by the choices you make early on - such as those decisions taken during the supplier selection process. Fail to take the time to thoroughly assess bidding teams and the solutions they’re proposing and you could miss valuable opportunities, discover your teams have incompatible working practices or - in the worst-case scenario - be forced to run the selection process all over again.
However, tailoring your process to deliver the greatest possible value is not always as easy as it sounds. Although the price might be at the forefront of your mind, in reality, there are a whole host of other critical factors to consider in order to ensure that you choose a supplier who will not only deliver what you need the first time around but who you can work with too.
In this article I’ve covered some of the key considerations you’ll need to address at each stage of your selection process in order to deliver the results you need - so, whether you’re looking to refresh your existing activities or need guidance on your first procurement project, read on for top tips and recommendations about what you should be doing…
1. Tailoring your approach to your specific requirements and objectives
It’s important to remember that there isn’t one single way to select a supplier, and the approach you end up choosing will depend heavily on the solution you wish to source, as well as the outcomes you’re looking to achieve.
There are many situations, of course, where it can be beneficial to be quite prescriptive, particularly if you’re looking for a commoditized product or service. Here, providing high levels of detail can help eliminate unnecessary questions, and reduce the risk of you receiving proposals that simply don’t fit your established requirements.
However, if you’re looking instead for consultative services or entering a domain where you have limited knowledge this detail may instead prevent you from exploring more creatively-led solutions, and so actually hinder your procurement efforts.
In these cases, you may want to consider swapping your lengthy specification for a concise briefing document that, while clearly communicating your vision and goals, still leaves scope for innovation, experimentation and - perhaps most importantly - a collaboration between your team and your chosen supplier/s.
2. Identifying where the greatest value lies
Whatever approach you employ to selecting your supplier, it’s understandable that budget will be at the forefront of your considerations (as I mentioned in the introduction to this post). However, while budget is undeniably crucial, what’s more important is that you shape your budgets in the right way - which means first understanding where the value might lie.
Naturally, the definition of this value will differ for each organization and indeed each project, and in some cases, it may legitimately be in finding a supplier who will do exactly what you’ve asked, for the lowest possible cost.
If innovation and disruption are your goals though, this is unlikely to be the case. Instead, in these situations, you’re better off budgeting for outcomes rather than features, and so should look for the solution that will deliver the greatest return on investment against these, rather than looking at initial outlay alone.
3. Fostering a shared understanding among all stakeholders
Once you have a clear idea of the value you intend to deliver through your project, you then need to communicate this to the rest of your team. Not only will this help safeguard overall success (avoiding the lack of clearly defined objectives and milestones to measure progress that over a third of organizations cite as a reason for project failure), but will facilitate a single, agreed vision that can be carried through the procurement process and beyond.
If this vision isn’t sufficiently developed and understood you risk falling foul of several potential points of disconnect - from the project owner communicating their vision to the procurement team or individual, to the creation and delivery of your specification or brief, and the presentation of a relevant proposal (or cost) back to your organisation - when any misunderstanding is likely to undermine the desired outcome.
It’s also important to keep all relevant individuals involved and engaged throughout the supplier selection process, to ensure any shared understanding you’ve established isn’t lost along the way and allow for advice and feedback to be easily gained as needed.
4. Providing potential suppliers with the right information
Whether you’re issuing a detailed specification or shorter project brief, the key thing to remember is to make sure every piece of information you include serves a purpose.
While what this looks like for you will again depend on your chosen approach and desired outcomes, there are certain details you’ll always want to include. For example, it’s vital that prospective suppliers understand your overarching vision and objectives, as these are the driving force behind your project and, ultimately, the primary way you’ll measure its success.
Valuable context can also be added by providing:
- A brief explanation of the problem
- Information on what your customers look like
- A summary of the value that is expected to be delivered
- An overview of your existing workflows, processes and technology stacks (where relevant)
- Examples of similar solutions you think are particularly good (and bad!)
- Your scoring matrix
5. Dealing directly with potential suppliers (where possible)
Firstly, I understand that if you’re working within a formal tendering framework you may not have the opportunity to engage with suppliers. In these cases, you will, of course, need to ensure that your written documentation contains all the information needed to effectively manage the entirety of the selection process.
However, if you do have the flexibility to work more collaboratively with your supplier it can be extremely valuable to do so - as no matter how detailed your documentation is, it will still be based solely on your vision and your understanding of requirements. As a result, you may well be missing out both on emerging opportunities and trends within your industry, and examples of good practice or innovation from the wider digital landscape.
By engaging with prospective suppliers, however, you’ll be able to take advantage of the specialist knowledge they possess around their discipline. Not only this, but you’ll also be able to communicate your goals, requirements, and constraints more clearly than through documentation alone - making for more relevant and targeted solutions.
6. Understanding what it will be like to work with your supplier - and vice versa
Another key benefit of collaborating with potential suppliers during the selection process is that you’ll (hopefully) get a feel for what it will be like to work with these teams on the project itself. While often overlooked, this is a vital ingredient in any successful project, and especially if you’re seeking to form a long-term, strategic partnership.
Be aware though that the suppliers you’re dealing with will likely also be using this process to vet you. It may sound scary, but this is actually a good thing; it will help these suppliers determine whether they can do their best possible work for you, and so give your project the greatest possible opportunity to succeed. And importantly, these crucial checks are happening in a relatively low-risk environment rather than once contracts have been signed, when cultural or personal clashes will be much more difficult to manage!
Remember too that if you don’t provide suppliers with this opportunity to assess the chemistry between your two organizations, it will naturally increase risk on their part - potentially causing them to factor in greater levels of contingency into their costs or stipulate stricter terms.
7. Making sure the resources are available to run your selection process properly
As you can see, when it comes to selecting a supplier for your digital project, there is often much more to the process than meets the eye - and so my final recommendation is to make sure you have in place the resources you need to manage it effectively.
This includes people’s time too, especially if you’re going down the collaboration route where you’ll need to be available to make sure your potential suppliers understand the brief, as well as to validate any early concepts or prototypes delivered.
And while it may sound like your procurement process is becoming a significant upfront investment, remember that cutting corners here can have a significant negative impact further down the line, as you run the risk of overlooking a crucial issue and so making the wrong decision.
Not only does this increase the likelihood of your project failing, but in the worst-case scenario, you may have to go back to the beginning and start all over again - weakening your position in the market not to mention wasting your valuable time and money. So, perhaps it’s not such a trivial cost after all…