Will you marry me? Part II: The Commitment

The relationship between a customer and a system vendor can be complex, fulfilling, and occasionally disappointing ? not unlike, as I pointed out in Part 1 of this series, a marriage. In Part 1, we examined the stages of “identity” and “dating” in the selection process of an appropriate Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or Hiring Management System (HMS). The goal: a long-term, mutually satisfying relationship. Now let’s take this relationship to the next level and look at the steps leading to commitment. Courting After narrowing the list to one or two vendors comes the courting stage. During this stage each party discovers more of what the vendor and customer is about and what they are made of. Hopefully, you wouldn’t marry someone after just a few dates, when people are on their best behavior and everything looks and sounds great. Yet many companies end up in high-tech matrimony after just a few sales visits and some Q&A sessions. A true courtship period allows individuals to observe one another’s behavior when faced with different situations and challenges. Likewise, companies and vendors should spend the time to get to know one another beneath the surface to truly find the right “fit.” This is a painful time for vendors, as they may “invest” a lot of heart and soul into engaging with a new customer, only to be turned down at the altar. I’ve seen more than one company head down the vendor commitment aisle bearing a legal contract only to change their mind at the last minute (some very thankful they didn’t take the plunge and say “I do”). This goes both ways. Some vendors simply don’t want to take on certain clients that don’t align with their value proposition, product offering, or vision. Prenuptial Research But if you’re a potential customer and you’re not actually utilizing the system in your own environment, how do you know what it’s really going to be like to “live” with this vendor on a day-to-day basis? While it’s almost impossible to predict how any relationship will eventually turn out, here are some strategies that will help you get a better feel for a vendor before you take the plunge:

  1. Visit a client or two: Use the vendor to identify a willing reference client that will host at least one if not a few visits from your team. Have the reference client show you the system in action. Shadow some recruiters as they use the system, and sit down with the technical people to get the technical angle on everything.
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  3. Visit the vendor facilities: Often vendors have a main operational site. Paying a visit to one of these sites is often helpful for several reasons. You can get more of a feel for the culture and size of the vendor and the interaction of certain departments, and you’ll have an opportunity to meet other managers and key players in the organization and obtain more viewpoints about the product, vision, etc. Hearing different contributors express and describe their own company value proposition can help you better assess the vendor’s compatibility with your organization. Sort of like meeting the rest of the family.
  4. Ask for drill-down demos: Ask the vendor for additional demos (can be done remotely or in person) on just certain areas of the system that you still have questions about and discuss these in more detail. These demos may also be for other audiences not involved in the original sales calls, such as hiring managers, HR personnel, and other global employees.
  5. Get an it review: Dig deeper with your IT team on specifications not covered in initial meetings. Get the vendor’s key engineering or technology staff to talk with you. Find out how support escalations are handled, what data and hardware security measures are in place (for ASPs), and how the technical staff members talk with implementation managers. What are the hottest issues coming into the help desk, what are the technical incompatibilities between the two environments?
  6. Hold client interviews: Talk with several clients and several roles within the organization from recruiters to recruiting managers to support people. Ask each one some of the same questions to get different perspectives.
  7. Investigate implementation methodology: One of the secret land mines of many software implementations isn’t the software or application itself, but how the product is implemented into the organization. Not having a well-tested implementation methodology with staff that understands all the dynamics involved can damage the effectiveness of the project for life. Ask the vendor, “If you were to implement my company tomorrow, how would you approach the project?” If you don’t feel comfortable with the answer, then you may have a problem on your hands. I recently spoke with a company that thought they had done everything to make a great assessment in their vendor selection process. Unfortunately, after they signed a contract, they immediately got into trouble when the implementation started, and are now in a legal process to back out of the deal.

During this period of time, both players are likely to find out a lot of things about each other. Companies will learn more about the product and vendor that will either reinforce an original choice or start to raise red flags. If you know your organization well and have done the proper due diligence, then you will most likely have a clear choice, which leads us to the next stage. The Wedding You’ve made your decision, and are moving toward “setting a date” on your commitment. As in planning a wedding, this is a demanding time with a flurry of activity. You’re working with the vendor to close off outstanding questions and issues, dealing with senior management to convince them further that this is the right way to go, holding conference calls with IT people, bringing in lawyers to go back and forth on contract reviews, and gearing up with a project team for a major implementation. This is yet another period to discover more about your vendor and how they respond to your requests and interact with different constituents in your organization. Don’t forget, it’s not too late to bail out at this point. Keep the discovery process going. If this time reveals some bad seeds you never saw before, ask more questions and press the vendor. If you’re not totally convinced this is the one, then those seeds of doubt may grow up as weeds later on in the process. Finally, if all the arrangements are in place, and all the stakeholders have given the thumbs up, then the contract is finalized and your recruiting groom (or bride) signs on the dotted line. Congratulations, you are now pronounced client and vendor (cake and kiss are optional)! Ready for the honeymoon? We’ll cover that next time. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Gretchen Sturm (gsturm@recruitsoft.com) is Knowledge Manager of Services with Recruitsoft, the leading provider of Internet-based recruiting solutions for major corporations. She manages the implementation, eLearning and product knowledge transfer for Recruitsoft's consulting services and global client base. Her career has focused on integrating technology into the full hiring cycle and establishing effective Internet recruiting strategies. Previously, Sturm managed the recruitment technology and online recruiting areas of the Unisys worldwide recruiting team and oversaw recruiting technology and sourcing for CIGNA Corporation's US-based operations.

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1 Comment on “Will you marry me? Part II: The Commitment

  1. I have a bit of counterpoint to Grethcen?s article.

    As a vendor, we are constantly dealing with RFP?s and other vetting procedures that attempt to foresee our health and stability. The questions usually revolve around our size, or financials, or name brand customers, time in business, etc.

    Certainly some of these items can be relevant to a decision, but in and of themselves, they may not correlate to true vendor risk.

    Many fully funded, large and profitable software firms make decisions about products that may not be in the best interest of users, just as one would expect.

    Top firms can decide to discontinue a product at any time. Firms often decline to support certain systems over time, and they may also substantially change pricing and ongoing costs at their will.

    Some systems and services, of course, are so strategic, long term, and unique that indeed, the vendor must be tested and known before proceeding. This kind of situation is thankfully rare- our market system usually provides multiple choices even on the most complex and strategic deals.

    On the other hand, ATS systems, in most cases, can be replaced fairly easily and have a limited life cycle. With fewer than 20 users, its almost a certainty that several vendors would be ready to pick up the business with short notice.

    In my opinion, I would not proceed with any system until I could do a demonstration test of just what would happen if the vendor went away.

    I would like to see the databases restored from backups and connected to the applications. In Web based systems, I would like to see my raw data (downloaded, emailed, etc) brought up on my own systems or at least be verified and ready to import to another system.

    I would like to see new users added and other normal tasks accomplished with no vendor support; with just the documentation and people with reasonable computer skills.

    I want to see a vendor who tells me about their weaknesses, who is realistic about the business, and who builds technology that is easy in and easy out.

    You can ask all the questions you want and you can go over the vendor?s financial statements with a microscope, but if you don?t plan and test for zero vendor support, you are going on faith alone. And faith is great to have, but not in business when you can help it.

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