Provides the reader with insight and strategies to find the right provider or vendor for their needs.
Running a successful business requires you to have a network of people who share the same goals, purpose, and commitment across the board. When the expertise in that network of people falls short, your business needs to seek external help to provide services that accomplish your business goals. But where do you start? Today, the value of engaging with a vendor can often be clouded by sales pitches and jargon, which over promise and under deliver.
Let us take a step back with a bit of a disclaimer; this topic is close to our hearts and comes from decades of personal experiences.
For over two decades, StrataNorth has developed an extensive network of technical staffing providers that span a broad spectrum of capabilities—everyone from IT executive search and consultancies to technology-stack certified engineers, platform architects, and data scientists. Much of the need has been derived from an ever-evolving world where new standards, technologies, and services come into the market mixed with legacy platforms. There is a balance to be had between what is “new” and “the next best thing” while managing technical debt and preserving past investments. No matter the challenges our customers face, the answer revolves around staying ahead and having options ready for partners with the right skill set to step in.
Based on the experiences of hundreds of engagements and countless interactions with vendors, partners, and customers, several patterns have emerged. The first is that it can often seem like you’re in a fog of war. When a business is in reactionary mode, alarm bells should start to sound. Searching for someone when something breaks, who doesn’t have prior awareness of the business or technological landscape, can lead to rushed decisions. And those decisions can lead to long-term challenges that proper due diligence could have anticipated beforehand. However, you can’t anticipate every contingency, so how do you get ahead of it?
Here are some strategies that have been successful for our customers:
1. Understand the types of trees in your forest.
As a company grows over time, it accumulates complexity tied to the tools, applications, processes, and people they invest in. Depending on variety of circumstances, a company may either have its technology assets fully documented or be in a situation where documentation is lacking and resides within the minds of employees (i.e. tribal knowledge). Sadly the latter is far more common. We recommend getting a good understanding of the lay of the land by conducting an IT assessment. This will take into consideration all of the elements of your business technology landscape. This understanding will help you gain clarity in your search for the particular skillsets you may need from a business partner.
2. Expertise exists at the human level.
You may have several vendors in mind to serve as your business partner to help you find the right technical resources to address your needs. Remember that true expertise lies with the individual. Yes, a business will advertise its value and skills as a collective; this is a given. However, you will need to go deeper to make sure you and the partner are clear on expectations of what is required. Make sure the vendor understands precisely what you’re looking for; make it crystal clear. This expectation setting is very nuanced but is a critical step in the process.
3. Trust takes time – stellar performance speeds it up.
It takes time to earn trust; we get it. The only way to speed it up is by consistently performing and delivering stellar results. While references are good, a reference will be hand-picked and naturally inclined to give praise. Go further in the conversation and ask for peer reviews, look for examples from the candidates themselves of what success looks like, work through role-play scenarios and gauge their level of comfort and judgment within their responses.
4. Cut through the noise and zero in on the “3P’s”: passion, purpose, and pride.
Remember, above all else, it is the individual who will make or break the promise sold by that business partner. When interviewing them – and once you understand their technical expertise – see what their responses are for the 3P’s.
What drives them? – Where’s the passion coming from?
What personal goals do they have? – What is their purpose?
What matters most? – How proud are they of the quality of their work?
One thing to remember is that these are hard questions. But vendors with a clear and concise purpose and mission will be quick to answer with intention and promise. These are some of the qualities to look for when choosing your next vendor.
Reading these four strategies may seem like common sense, but we cannot stress enough how many times we have seen companies fail to consider these, let alone inact all four with intention. We have also seen countless scenarios where companies engage with a staffing company or service provider because of their “branding recognition” or because they got an “awesome deal.” Neither of these should be the sole factor in vendor assessments.
Think through the long-term prospect with a business partner and for what it truly means. It is, after all, a company that is going to partner with you, therefore it should be someone who shares your goals, purpose, and commitment. Ask yourself how many vendors you have engaged with thus far that have failed to live up to expectations? Let’s go a step further and provide an example of this.
Examples of exceptional vendors – LABUR
Let’s take IT staffing service providers, for example. In our network, we have well over a hundred companies that fall into this category. Some are good, many are just ok, but only one stands out as truly exceptional.
LABUR (www.labur.com) is a Boston-based holistic workforce solutions provider specializing in digital transformation through advisory services, project consulting and executive search. Our experience with them, in particular, is in project consulting, or the staffing of IT professionals within organizations that need experienced candidates who can deliver immediate value. But, here’s the kicker, LABUR’s success rate is impressively high. Their customers love them and their consultants love working for them. LABUR’s ability to grow exponentially over the last several years is impressive – from all dimensions (e.g., account expansion, renewal rate, referrals, peer awards, and industry awards), but why?
When many IT staffing agencies have fallen on hard times due to market capitalization, mergers, and traditional non-competitors edging ever further into their industry, it seems that LABUR is continuing to compete and excel where others fall short, and we understand why. We know them well from various lenses, such as customer and vendor relationships, direct consulting engagements, and peer partnerships. We believe the reasoning comes down to the four strategies outlined above.
There is a deep level of commitment; LABUR invests in understanding each of their customers’ needs – if a customer doesn’t have a grip on all of their “forest,” they recommend that they invest in an assessment to get them there. If they don’t have the expertise, they find the right partner who does. They take as much time as is needed when scouting experts to understand their individual skills, needs, wants, and drivers and then align them with what the customer is searching for. This isn’t the traditional approach of buzzword searches on resumes to match a job description.
With so many successful projects and placements all curated slowly over time, the trust is there. It exudes in every interaction and is felt throughout the entire experience. This sentiment holds true with their customers, consultants, and partner companies alike. It is easy to see that everything they do is done with passion, purpose, and pride.
While there are countless strategies to use when considering technology vendors or service partners, these are the ones that have served our customers and us well.
Of course, there are risks in any engagement or partnership, but particularly within the IT staffing world; it can be highly detrimental if the “expert” was all smoke and mirrors during their initial assessment. When companies don’t understand the real drivers behind a businesses’ IT needs and treat the entire process as a commodity, especially in a hot market where so many IT professionals are available and looking for work, it is easy to throw leads over to folks that have keywords that match a LinkedIn profile or resume.
The strategies above take time, an investment of resources, and care, but isn’t that what you need in the fog of war? Don’t you want to cut through a sea of experts, endless technology options, and noise to find that right service partner? Of course, it is.
Selecting the right business partners and/or technology vendors can be a challenge. If you are having a hard time getting started, let us help you. We have over twenty years of experience helping businesses, both large and small, with vendor evaluations and managing sourcing processes. Our tools and IT sourcing expertise can meticulously vet future endeavors with vendors for our customers. In addition, StrataNorth is an IT Advisory Consultancy. We help businesses of all sizes adopt the right technology to help them grow, work smarter, and deliver the best customer experience. We are cost-competitive and fiercely independent in our analysis, which means you get the best advice for your business.