Outsourcing aspects of your business has become a necessary way of life. To that end, selecting and building a relationship with your vendors is a lot like building a relationship in your personal life. When looking for a romantic partner, you hope to find someone who shares your vision of the future, will be there when you need them most, will never let you down, is enjoyable to be around, and hopefully over the long-term you can build a trusting relationship together and achieve your goals. More or less, you want the same things from your business vendors.
Unfortunately, selecting a suitable vendor is a lot like using Tinder. There’s traditionally never been a successful method to find them other than “eye candy.” Your only recourse is to flip through vendors until you find one attractive enough. They may have good-looking demos, nice “bling” in their award cabinet, a really colorful web site, and even some interesting stories to tell, but until you get to know them you’re really not sure if they are a good fit. In your personal life, choosing the wrong companion could waste your valuable time, but may not have long-term effects. Failure in that situation is frustrating. However, choosing the wrong vendor could waste your valuable resources and threaten your business. Failure there can be very detrimental.
What’s the solution?
I’ve had a chance to research this topic. I leveraged a combination of crowdsourcing with my industry colleagues and CLOs, as well as formal surveys with the help of a leading learning industry research organization. The results were staggering (and not altogether different than today’s divorce rate). Sixty-three percent (63%) of all outsourcing relationships fail to last more than three years. That’s a bit horrifying.
Knowing there’s a problem isn’t as good as fixing it, so I pushed further to craft the key questions to ask during the selection process. Let’s say I tried to elevate the solution from Tinder to something more like eHarmony.
1 – Do they have the experience I need?
Specifically, does the potential vendor have experience with your industry and business, with your subject matter, and with the modality you’re requesting (classroom, online, mobile, social, etc.)?
2 – What’s their methodology?
You might start by asking if they even have one. Have they adopted a formal approach, philosophy, pedagogy to solving your problem—one that works in a multitude of situations?
3 – Do they have the infrastructure to handle your needs?
Whether you have a short list of slow moving projects or a long list critical needs, can they staff-up consistently to provide a strong, highly competent team under any circumstances?
4 – What process will they follow?
You need a different process for different situations. Are they following a waterfall approach or Agile approach? Is it online or on paper; how do they facilitate user testing?
5 – What supporting technology do they use?
The effectiveness of the vendor relationship often is influenced by the effectiveness of their supporting technology. What tools do they use to communicate with you and the SMEs, manage the revision process, manage the budget, and support their ability to maintain a healthy business?
6 – Where do they get their talent, what are their hiring standards, and how do they continuously train them?
This seems like an obvious question. The key here is to avoid vendors who use just-in-time hiring practices, rely too much on pre-existing knowledge, and can’t generate consistent performance.
7 – How do they continue to innovate?
Finally, it’d be nice to produce solutions that are modern and not dated. So, your last question should be to find out if they are researching, writing, and presenting at industry conferences. Are they trying new ideas in-house and able to introduce proven methods to you?
We’ve all had our share of frustrating and failed relationship in our personal life, and the industry is wrought with failures in the outsourcing business. I wrote a book about it called “Rockstar Vendors: Seven Attributes of Trusted Partners.” I was lucky enough to gain some very strong critical reviews and the second edition with the research I mentioned has recently been released. It contains many stories from my colleagues of outsourcing successes and (more entertaining) remarkable failures. No doubt other people’s failures make for better stories than our own.
If you’re looking for a long-term eLearning vendor relationship, swipe right on eLearning Brothers. Contact us to learn our answers to these seven questions!