Try out vendors before you buy


Catharine Fennell


Try out vendors before you buy

Would you buy a car without a test drive today? Well.... maybe not the best example. Would you overhaul your sales automation system without test driving it with your sales team first? Probably not. As the CEO of a Video interviewing technology company that services HR, I recently attended the HR Tech show in Las Vegas and the conversation thread that dominated was around navigating new technology and how to engage with tech vendors, particularly in the first evaluation stages and testing of their applications. Whether it is talent sourcing, acquisition, screening or interviewing that you are trying to address in the pre-hire process, there are a wide range of great systems out there that can help you streamline and improve on your current process. But, the technology needs to work for you, and with your system. This brings me to RFP's and pilots.

What is the role of an RFP? A request for proposal is a traditional step used by businesses who are looking to evaluate a range of vendors on a common set of requirements and parameters like pricing, support, technology features, scalability, ability to integrate etc.. It is also important for demonstration of due process and fair evaluation across multiple vendors on a level playing field. It is designed to minimize risk in the evaluation process. However, the challenge is that most people responsible for executing the RFP's are having difficulty in determining the right questions to ask, or even understanding their exact requirements. This is understandable given the fact that this technology is new and introduces an entirely new way of thinking about partnerships, outsourcing, cloud, integration, product development pipelines, vision and innovation.

For this reason, decision makers are moving away from the traditional RFP and coming up with a hybrid approach which is more applied. The basis of this approach is the pilot. Trying before you buy is not a new concept. The new part is building a 'rapid test driving' pilot or trial into an evaluation process. It may sound like a lot of work but it is really essential to understanding how a system works, the user experience and its ability to deliver on your requirements. For this reason you should embrace the pilot and pilot with a short list of vendors (probably no more than three) that you have selected. Here are a few guidelines for defining the pilot stage that might help:

1. As a champion and the one responsible for the pilot, be sure to have executive sponsorship and involvement of your IT department right from the beginning.

2. Have someone on your evaluation team who understands the technology requirements and use cases that can help you to work through the evaluation process and effectively evaluate from a technology and a business vantage point.

3. Understand your requirements before undertaking a pilot. Be clear on what you features you will be testing, how this will be tested within your workflow, what projects or programs you will be testing it with, your test timeframe and the internal testers on your team. Make sure you involve a wide team in capturing these requirements.

4. Set a clear timeframe for the trial (usually 1-3 months) and work with your internal team and vendors to identify what success looks like for you. And, be transparent with this definition. What are the measurements of success?. This is important so that you can know whether the pilot was successful once completed. Use the same set of metrics across all vendor pilots.

5. Communicate to your end users what you are doing and why. Let them know you are testing new technology and are looking for their feedback. Make sure you have a system to capture that important input.

6. Be prepared to invest in a pilot. If you are serious about the process you will want to assign a budget to it. The vendors will be putting a lot of time and effort into the pilot to ensure it is successful and there are significant costs associated with a pilot on the vendor side.

7. Be open and prepared to course correct. Every vendor will be slightly different and things may not always go as planned. Be prepared to make adjustments. Dating before marriage is usually a good idea. This is also a great way to assess how a vendor would work with you in a longer term committed engagement.

8. Be transparent with the vendors. Let them know what to expect in the process and share the fact that they are being evaluated against competitors. Remember that vendors are your partners and you want to start all relationships off on the right foot. Be as open and honest as you can throughout the process.

9. Start the pilot process early and give yourself enough time to work through the pilot, decision-making and onboarding process.

Embrace the new technology and all that this innovation can bring to amplify and improve on your process! Reach out to vendors, ask for a demo and get the process started. It's never too early to try before you buy.

Feel free to reach out to me anytime with questions about this process


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