How to Evaluate Technology (IT) Vendor Proposals

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The IT industry is unpredictable (to the point where we’ve written an article entitled—and I quote—Why the IT industry sucks).
 
With no equivalent to the bar exam for entrance, and given how easy it is for just anyone to create their own start-up tech company (experienced or not), it can be hard to tell whether an IT firm is truly up to snuff, or whether it’s a loose grouping of low-level kinda-sorta-tech-savvy folks who are fluent in Google.
 
Fortunately, after spending 24 years in the Washington DC technology scene, we’ve come to recognize the signs of a quality provider, and the red flags that should have you running full-speed in the opposite direction. Many of these indicators will be apparent in the first document you ever receive from your could-be vendor: their proposal for support.
 
Below we’ll work through the most important characteristics of an IT vendor proposal, along with the specific features you should be on the lookout for when evaluating your options.
 

What are the most important characteristics of a technology vendor proposal?

There are a few abstract principles that will help differentiate a solid proposal from the average sales pitch: 

  • Clarity. Jargon is a bad sign. If you cannot easily understand what the vendor is actually proposing for your organization, there’s a good chance you’re going to have issues down the road; your vendor must be aware of its audience, and know how to effectively communicate technical concepts with non-technical people.
  • Personalization. We’re not talking a few mentions of your company name amidst a sea of boilerplate text. We mean a document that is completely catered to your organization and the conversations that you’ve had with your salesperson. Cookie-cutter proposals often translate into cookie-cutter service plans, and flexibility is critical when it comes to technology support.
  • Appearance. The look and feel of your proposal is important because there’s generally a direct correlation between appearance and effort. This is not to say that the flashiest proposal is the best, but it is to say that a few pieces of tattered paper shoved into a folder are probably indicative of a lower level of commitment when compared to a cleanly-formatted, meticulously organized, colorful, bound document. 

 

What to look for in your technology vendor proposal

On a more tactical level, there are some specific elements that you should see as you flip through your vendor’s proposal:

  • Your own goals. Do you see your own words and ideas reflected in the text of the document? Can you identify with the picture the vendor has painted of where you currently stand, and where you’d like to be? Do they chart a path from A to B in a way that makes sense for your organization and how it operates?
  • Concrete recommendations. It’s one thing for your vendor to describe an abstract ideal scenario for your IT systems; it’s quite another to identify your current problems and priorities, and to directly match them with appropriate solutions. If, for example, your primary complaint with your provider is slow response time, you better be sure that your proposal details how your new provider has the policies and procedures in place to ensure the opposite.
  • Testimonials/References. How do the vendor’s current clients feel about them? What was the onboarding process like? How communicative are they? How deeply do they understand both the client’s network and their overall business objectives? How responsive are they with emergencies? What hiccups have their clients experienced? How did the firm recover from those mistakes? Try to speak with clients in your industry, and close to your size—that will give you a clear sense of how this vendor will be able to serve your needs.

 
There you have some guidelines as far as evaluating IT vendor proposals.
 
If you come across a proposal that hits all of these marks, you could be on the right path to finding a technology partner that places very high value on service delivery, and that will take good care of your systems and your business.
 
Beyond what you can find in a proposal document, we recommend that you also take some time to investigate how your potential vendor treats its own people internally; generally speaking, a company that places little stock in its own staff will place even less stock in yours.
 
Best of luck on your hunt!

Are you evaluating technology vendor proposals, but still aren't sure which  direction to turn? Need help vetting the options out there? Let us know--we can  help.