Before completing the system selection process, you must first do your due diligence. Due diligence is the gathering and analyzing of background information on a proposed business deal so you can make an informed decision about whether to go forward.
Part of this due diligence process involves checking the references provided by the vendor. This is your chance to talk with association staff—people who may have similar perspectives, challenges, and goals as you—about their experience with this vendor and their solution.
What to ask during an IT vendor reference check to elicit what you really need to know
In what capacity are you using the vendor/solution?
This question helps you find out how much of the vendor’s services and/or software you have in common with the reference. Is their usage on the same level as your expected interaction with the vendor/solution?
Why did you select this vendor/solution over others?
Learn what characteristics the vendor brought to the table over and above any others that the client reference evaluated during their selection process.
How well has the vendor/solution met your expectations and requirements?
Find out if the vendor/solution was capable of meeting the reference’s expectations. If they fell short, why? If they exceeded expectations, how so?
How well did the vendor stay within the original budget and timeline?
If the vendor didn’t stay within the budget or timeline, dig deeper to uncover the cause(s). Sometimes, it’s not the vendor’s fault. Instead, the problem could have been the client changing the project’s scope.
Describe your relationship with the vendor. Do you consider them a partner in your success? Why or why not?
You’re seeking a partnership, not a transaction. Both partners—vendor and client—must make an effort to foster a good relationship.
How well did they cooperate with other vendors, for example, with integrations?
Knowing your vendor has a history of collaborating well with other vendors will help ease the heavy lift of managing vendor relations.
Please share a story when the vendor/solution did not do so well. How was it rectified?
With this question, you want to find out how well the vendor owned any mishaps and how well or quickly they resolved the issue.
Please share a story where the vendor/solution was an excellent fit.
This question gives the reference an opportunity to help the vendor shine and talk about any positive interactions they’ve had.
What one piece of advice did you wish you knew before moving forward with this vendor/solution?
Probe to reveal any hidden challenges with your upcoming project. Ask for examples or more detailed feedback.
Would you select this vendor/solution again knowing what you know today? Why or why not?
This question gets at the heart of any concerns the client reference may have with the vendor/solution. Dig a little here, if necessary.
Is there anything you wish I had asked? If yes, what?
Sometimes, there’s that one question the client reference is just waiting for you to ask, but it might not be on your list. Give them an opportunity to share anything else they may want to tell you.
Don’t forget to consider the role of the reference.
When asking these questions, consider the role of the reference in implementing and using the technology. If you want to find out more about integrations, you may have to talk to someone in the IT department, not the vendor’s reference in the membership department. Or, even though the reference is the one who signed the contract with the vendor, they may not have the implementation or user experience to provide the information you need.
The vendor will provide good references to you—happy customers. Is that going to be a complete picture? Consider asking your network of association contacts and your other technology partners about their experience with the vendor. If you learn something troubling, ask the vendor about the issue, being careful to protect your source if they talk to you in confidence.
These questions will prompt both positive and negative feedback, which is what you need before investing your association’s time and money with any vendor or solution. It’s better to prepare for risks than to be surprised by them.
Once you’re hard at work with your selected vendor, you’ll spend some time digging deep into requirements. Don’t let it fray your nerves. Download our free white paper, Requirements Analysis: The Secret to Sanity, for a look into what lies ahead.