DC2009:Managing Consultants and Dealing with Vendors

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This peer sharing workshop will invite participants to compare their processes and tactics for managing critical project relationships that fall outside of organizational boundaries.

How to deal with vendors – led by Adam


  • Worked with a vendor to normalize a database and felt that he really listened. There was transparency and a willing to share his knowledge.
  • A good vendor helps to be self-sufficient.
  • A vendor likes to site down and have a stake in the project for himself.
  • Even vendors have vendors. Vendor was pro actively on top of the issues, were hounding him for more info because they wanted to get on top of it. Problems were already tasked before I notice it. Paying attention and not waiting for a project to pick up the phone.
  • Being personable is something vendors lack sometimes but a vendor did a needs-analysis and sat down with every single person in the organization.
  • Able to lay things out in layman’s terms.
  • Enjoy working together. Instead of playing games where no one wants to say a number, having a real high-trust relationship.
  • Vendors who knows the right questions to ask. That comes with experience.
  • Proactive with issues about time. IF something is going to be behind schedule it’s fine if they say they’re going to be late ahead of time. Being up front.
  • A key quality is responsiveness. Time differences across borders the vendors can offer to stay late, go above and beyond.
  • Being responsive in a timely manner. Being self-sufficient so they teach you and give you the tools to solve things on your own.
  • We have a vendor who takes the client out to lunch and fosters a strong relationship.
  • Patience.

What you can do:

  • Relationships go sour because expectations are not clear.
  • An RFP can have a list of what their ideal vendor is, and you can state that you expect them to not leave you with the product but rather with the knowledge to do it on your own.
  • When you interview a vendor don’t be passive, ask the questions you want so you learn the same thing from everyone rather than just seeing if they are good with PowerPoint.
  • Discuss the big picture so they can be bought in.
  • Make them understand the culture so if it’s a difficult organizational culture they can have a heads up.
  • A sense of honesty – we’re both professionals sitting at a table trying to solve a problem.
  • You’re going to give me the payment but also the opportunity. If it’s not win-win for both sides then something didn’t go right.
  • Expectations can’t be stressed enough. In statements of work/contracts lay out what the client is responsible for and the vendor.
  • Ask the vendor what is expected of you as a client in this process.
  • A product vendor is different from a consulting vendor.
  • Be up front with the vendor about what happens if this relationship goes sour? That’s the point where things get the toughest.

Advice on bad vendor relationships:


  • What happens when the vendor relationship is so long-term and you don’t even know where a contract is? A first step is not to mix personal and professional.


  • A vendor-client relationship can be love-hate. It can get past formalized stuff when you know each other so well. There’s enough trust between two people that you can have a less formal contract.
  • Ask to get some new bids and show a value from other places
  • Get a consultant to do a vendor review
  • Look at the better business bureau charity accountability standards
  • Find allies in your organization


  • How can clients be better from a vendor perspective?


  • Pay on time – so important.
  • Be able to tell vendors how long it takes.
  • Point person assigned to work with the vendor who is empowered to make decisions. Making decisions by committee is awful.
  • Who’s the shot caller on this project?
  • It really matters a lot to have clients who have a sense of proportion. Don’t send something in huge caps that is always urgent. Respect a vendor’s time that they have other obligations.
  • Give an honest, reasonable time-frame.
  • When a client realizes that they have a role in the process too, that they are expected to do some work because they own the technology and will have to deal with it every day. Clients need to take ownership.
  • Vendors don’t want to feel like their client is completely dependant on the vendor.
  • Good clients commit to their decisions.


A vendor misses a deadline.


  • Well before the deadline pulling the red flag if you are missing it.
  • Put the onus on them to figure out how they’re going to streamline something. They need to figure out how to get it back on track.
  • The clients don’t want to hear that you have other clients.
  • It’s a red flag if someone says yes all the time. You need to hear some nos. It’s transparency too.
  • A separate statement of work has to do with ongoing support is helpful. It can say how quickly there will be a response.


A vendor is upset that they didn’t win an RFP competition because they were too expensive.


  • The cost of gaining a new client is much more for a vendor than the cost of keeping an old client.
  • Tell the vendor up front that cost is the most important thing.
  • You can give the vendors who lost the RFP info about how much the one you went for came in.


  • What do you do when other staff members don’t like the vendor as much as you? When you have to ask the vendor to help the staff?


  • There should be clarity about who talks to the vendor and when.
  • Professional development lunch and learns.
  • Collect people’s problems and have a session where the IT person addresses everyone’s problems.