NewYork2008: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.

Session Notes

Vendor and Consultant Relationship Management Breakout - Jeremy & Michelle facilitating

What do organizations look for in vendors?

  • A good product
  • Match between vendor core competencies and organization needs
  • Some personality match between vendor/consultant and organization
  • Find a consultant that approaches problem solving in the way your organization is comfortable with - compatible philosophies
  • Non-profit pricing from vendors and consultants - discounted products and services - mini/pseudo grants
  • Keep a professional relationship with a clear, well-stated contract
  • Vendors need to show the same accountability to non-profits as they do with their other clients
  • Service level agreements well-defined - on paper
  • Web-content ownership defined
  • Business arrangement - its nice if they support the mission, but bottom line is the vendor service quality
  • Don't sacrifice a competent consultant for a good personality/warm-fuzzy relationship fit
  • Emotional connection between vendor/consultant and organization can cause problems in projects
  • Need to have a comfortable working relationship for successful project completion
  • Websites very emotional for organizations - branding, sometimes it is first glimpse of the organization the world sees
  • It is more efficient to work with fewer consultants/vendors for problem resolution and project success
  • Make sure you know who is doing the work - the vendor/consultant could outsource your work again - specify who is doing the work in the contract
  • Avoid vendor lock-in when possible
  • Organizational empowerment
  • Vendors like to maintain dependence
  • Demand that vendors educate you on the technical set-up in your environment so you can change vendors if necessary
  • Make sure you have an exit strategy if the vendor/consultant relationship does not work out
  • If you pay someone to write code make sure you have the source and rights to modify the code if the relationship fails
  • Vendor responsiveness expectations set up front - ensure it is clear when someone is not meeting up to their end of the agreement
  • It is best for the organization to know what problem they are trying to solve when they engage a vendor or consultant to help
  • Organizations should shop around and talk to multiple vendors before deciding to proceed with a new relationship - validate why a vendor/consultant is selected for a contract
  • Authentic communication between organization & vendor/consultant - communication channels defined up front
  • Single point of contact (SPOC) - vendors/consultants need a clearly defined lead contact to maintain project momentum

Where do organizations look for vendors?

  • Vendor selection - research vendors online, word of mouth with similar organizations
  • RFP needs to be as specific as possible with requirements and schedule
  • Sometimes for specific or complicated technology requests RFPs can be sent out more broadly to let the appropriate vendors find you
  • TechFinder website - vendors/consultants advertise services
  • - good site with example RFPs and vendors that would be good
  • Consultant Comments website - not a lot of information now, but may have good information in the future

What happens when a vendor relationship goes bad?

  • Communication - tell the vendor early in the process that you are not happy with their services
  • Face to face meeting to discuss the issues - give the vendor an opportunity to resolve the issue/develop a plan to work with you to remedy the situation
  • If the vendor is defensive and not willing to work with you ---> good idea to look for a new vendor
  • Understand what issues the vendor/consultant is facing (not receiving data on time) before bringing up an issue
  • Create a schedule of expectations for the vendor to meet and withhold payment if legally possible
  • Batch small customizations into one large request with a higher dollar amount to get a vendor's attention
  • Face to face meetings help a lot when there are large issues to address
  • Build in project evaluations with the vendor/consultant (unbilled) to get candid information on how things are working

The decision to go with a small vendor or large vendor?

  • Understand your needs now and how they will grow to ensure you vendor can handle them
  • Smaller agencies will provide more personal service but not always the best response


  • Communication with the vendor - single point of contact, well defined channels
  • Find a vendor whose core competency aligns with your core needs
  • Write a good contract to enforce requirements with a good exit strategy