Updated from original February 2017 publication.
Before completing the system selection process, you must first do your due diligence on any prospective association technology vendor. 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/nonprofit staff—people who may have similar perspectives, challenges, and goals as you—about their experience with this vendor and their technology.
11 questions to ask during an association technology vendor reference check
#1: How are you using the vendor/technology?
This question helps you find out how much the reference’s experience is applicable to your situation. Do they use the vendor’s services/technology in a similar way or to a similar extent as you expect to?
#2: Why did you select this vendor/technology over others?
Learn what advantages the vendor brought to the table and why they were chosen over the other vendors the reference evaluated during their selection process.
#3: How well has the vendor/technology met your expectations and requirements?
Find out if the vendor/technology met the reference’s expectations. If they fell short, why? If they exceeded expectations, how so?
#4: How well did the vendor stay within the original budget and timeline?
If the project didn’t stay within the budget or timeline, dig deeper to uncover the cause(s). Sometimes, it’s the client, not the vendor, who’s at fault. The client may have changed the project’s scope or missed task deadlines.
#5: 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—the vendor and client—must make an effort to foster a good relationship.
#6: How well did they cooperate with other vendors, for example, integration partners?
Knowing your vendor has a history of collaborating well with other vendors will help ease the heavy lift of managing vendor relations
#7: Please share a story when the vendor/technology did not do so well. How did they rectify the situation?
With this question, you want to find out how well the vendor owned any mishaps and how effectively or quickly they resolved the issue.
#8: Please share a story where the vendor/technology was an excellent fit.
Give the reference an opportunity to talk about the high points of their experience with the vendor.
#9: What is one piece of advice you wish you knew before moving forward with this vendor/technology?
Probe to reveal any hidden challenges that could affect your upcoming project. Ask for details and examples.
#10: Would you select this vendor/technology again knowing what you know today? Why or why not?
This question gets to the heart of any concerns the reference may have with the vendor/technology. Dig a little here, if necessary.
#11: Is there anything you wish I had asked? If yes, what?
Sometimes, there’s that one question the 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.
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, 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 a complete picture? Consider asking your network of association contacts and 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 technology. It’s better to prepare for risks than 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.