When it comes to choosing a vendor, enterprise tech buyer teams can easily become bogged down in the details and documentation provided by sales teams. To keep your focus on selecting the best vendor for the solution and use case you've established, you need a good way to compare vendors and their products directly.
To ensure everyone on the buying team is confident in the final decision, use these four steps to ensure your evaluations are comprehensive and unbiased — and based on requirements and criteria that really matter.
Step No. 1: Put the right technology buying team in place before evaluating any vendors
By including the right perspectives at each stage of the purchase process, your buyer team will reduce the chances that something essential is missed. For example, teams that leave IT out of initial requirements discussions may overlook the critical need for incorporating implementation prep into even the early stages of the purchase process.
Pay attention to the requirements details for all user groups and make sure those requirements align with key business drivers and objectives.
Step No. 2: Set the criteria (requirements) to evaluate your vendors
Teams frequently look at criteria organized against the following five categories:
Functional — that is, specific to the technology category your team will evaluate
Technical — such as technology setup, delivery and integration, how that will happen and how easy or difficult the inherent tasks may be
Support and services — such as training, implementation and ongoing support pre- and post purchase, as well as throughout the technology ownership life cycle
Vendor health — such as vendor stability, references and culture alignment to your team’s organization, as well as product or vendor roadmap
Pricing and commercial terms — such as one-time versus ongoing costs, and contract terms, licensing terms, renewals and more
Add specific requirements within each of those categories according to the specific needs and objectives of your organization. Once your final list is complete, prioritize each individual requirement as “high,” “medium” or “low.” Be sure to also assign weight to each requirement category according to its importance to your organization and objectives.
To ensure alignment on what matters most, review the prioritized requirements and their category weighting with all stakeholders before you begin vendor evaluations.
How to Assign Priorities to Requirements
If YES, set the priority as:
Is this requirement essential to my organization or objectives?
Is this requirement highly desirable, but not necessarily essential to my organization or objectives?
Is this requirement optional, and not a barrier to the success of my organization or objectives, if it is not met?
Step No. 3: Score how well each vendor solution meets your criteria
As your team begins to reach out to vendors whose products potentially fit your criteria and requirements, schedule product demonstrations and request all available supporting documentation, including training materials and implementation guides. Reference your detailed requirements throughout the vendor evaluation process and ask questions that will help your purchase team understand precisely how each vendor will perform against your needs.
Use a simple scoring scale — say, from 1 (low) to 5 (high) — so you can easily identify the best and worst outliers. If you’re unsure, don’t score a vendor without adequate information to do so accurately. Score all vendors against all criteria and requirements or the comparisons won’t be equal.
Look to third parties for reviews
Use third-party reviews and independent research to validate a vendor's product claims or understand whether their product will work well for your use case. Vendors and their solutions vary widely in terms of size, complexity and strategy, so comparison can be tough.
As an example of one type of independent research, Gartner Magic Quadrant™ solves for those kinds of issues by defining a market and its critical requirements and then offering visual snapshots of a market’s direction, maturity and ranking participants’ capabilities. Different reviewers use different criteria (Magic Quadrants use “completeness of vision” and “ability to execute”) so understand their methodology and make sure their priorities align with yours.
Whatever source you choose for reviews, make sure they enable you to compare criteria, such as the vendor’s financial viability, market responsiveness and customer base, as well as their level of innovation (does their view align with yours). If reviewers surface requirements you didn’t, consider incorporating them into your selection criteria.
Step No. 4: Finalize your shortlist of vendors and re-score them before making your final selection
As your team works through the evaluation and scoring process, you may find that you want to add, edit or delete requirements, or even add entirely new vendors or products to your list. That’s fine. Remember that the goal at this stage is to eventually end up with your team’s final shortlist of one or two strong vendor products that you will continue to test and evaluate more stringently through additional conversations and product demonstrations before making your final decision or purchase recommendation.
Only after you have compared all of your vendors and determined who can best meet your organization's needs are you ready to select a vendor and product from that shortlist and negotiate final terms.
To save time and energy in evaluating technology vendors, take an organized, systematic approach to narrow your choice around key criteria.
Use established models and processes to help organize requirements and criteria and prioritize what’s most critical to your organization.
Score all vendors against all criteria and requirements or their comparisons won’t be equal.
Colin Reid, VP of Product Management, leads Gartner teams in scoping, building, shipping and managing global SaaS applications, including BuySmart. Previously, as a Gartner analyst, he helped clients design, build, integrate, operate and optimize all aspects of marketing and content technology and their operations. Mr. Reid also has experience as a CMO, COO and team leader at client marketing organizations, marketing agencies and global technology providers.
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