Ten Steps to Successfully Working with Vendors

1Determine if this is the right time to make this purchase.The NPower guide mentioned previously offers five criteria for deciding if you’re ready for a particular technology project. See the “Assessing Feasibility” section.
2If the project involves considerable time and labor, decide if you should outsource it. In other words, do you need a vendor…or should you keep the project in-house?Summit Collaborative offers guidance for answering this question in its article Determining Whether to Outsource.
3Figure out your organization’s needs. What are you trying to change in your organization by buying this product or service? What are the outcomes you’re trying to achieve?The article What Do You Need from a Provider? can help you define your needs up- front. If you create a formal requirements document (aka a needs assessment) that defines your required and desired outcomes, you can use this as the basis of your RFP and your vendor evaluation matrix.
4Determine if you should write an RFP. Call your city attorney, IT department or purchasing agency and ask for the policy on RFPs. Frequently, RFPs are required above a certain dollar amount (e.g., $5,000 or $10,000).The article The RFP Process: An Overview explains the difference between an RFP (request for proposal), an RFI (request for information) and an RFQ (request for quotation), and provides guidelines to help you decide between a formal and an informal RFP process. Remember, by buying off a state contract, you can often satisfy local requirements and avoid the tedious process of writing your own RFP. See the following “State Contracts” section for more information.
5Become an RFP pro. There are a number of excellent resources that can help you get started.
The articles Writing an RFP and The RFP: Writing One and Responding to One provide helpful RFP checklists to get you started. Beyond the Template: Writing an RFP That Works offers additional advice on making your RFP stand out from the crowd.
6Research possible vendors.TechSoup's Nine Tips for Navigating the RFP Research Phase recommends places to turn to when you’re researching a vendor’s track record, while TechRepublic's Follow These Guides on the Road to a Valuable Vendor Relationship emphasizes the importance of checking a vendor’s references.
7Develop vendor selection criteria (see the following “Vendor Selection Criteria Specific to Libraries” section).
8Negotiate and write the contract. Work with an individual or department in your organization that is the expert in contract rules and regulations. Turn to them first so that you abide by the relevant laws and policies. However, for large, complex, important projects, make sure you and your colleagues are involved in drawing up the contract.
9Manage your vendor relationships. You can’t just sign a contract and then ignore your vendor.For tips on how to keep that relationship running smoothly, read Marc and Beth’s article on Techsoup.
10Evaluate your vendor relationships. Examine the market and your library’s needs on a regular basis. The best vendor last year won’t necessarily be the best vendor this year. On the flip side, a long-term vendor relationship can pay off in service and perks. Also, a well-written contract often includes benchmarks that you can use later to evaluate the vendor’s performance.