So, during a Selection Project do you take the Vendor to dinner?

This is a strange question to ask in a systems blog, isn’t it?

Actually it seems to be a question that’s been asked in most of the 70+ System Selection projects that I’ve participated in over the years. I think the real question is do you expect to have the Vendor pay for dinner? If so, aren’t you “beholden” to them?

Let’s back up a bit. Why do you invite the vendors in to provide demonstrations of their systems?

  1. You want to see their system (and you’ve provided them with demo scenarios to have them present functionality that you are particularly interested in.)
  2. You want to meet vendor personnel – yes these are Sales & Marketing personnel, not system development or support staff. Still you’ll learn about the Vendor company from them.
  3. You want to get a sense of the chemistry between your staff and the vendor’s staff. You want to get a sense of their history, their systems architecture, their user groups, etc.
  4. You want to take some time during the demo learning about the implementation approach, staffing and timetable.
  5. And so on…

In many of vendor demos that I’ve participated in, the process takes multiple days to view the full functionality of an Advancement system. So, both your staff and the vendor’s staff need to eat dinner between the days. (You have provided lunch to all during the demos, haven’t you?) So why not eat dinner together and learn more in depth about the answers to the questions above?

The vendor will likely let their guard down more during dinner than any other time. This is an excellent time to ask vendor staff, “what are working conditions/system protocols like in your company?”, or “how long have you all been with Vendor X?”, or  “tell me about your annual user group meeting.” You can start building friendships/partnerships over dinner, OR you may determine, “they are slobs at dinner, aren’t they likely to be slobs during install?”

Back to the question above of “who pays for the dinner?” You know the restaurants in your area; pick one for all vendors, or pick several in the same price range. That way no vendor can “WOW” your staff with an exotic pick. So if all vendors pick up the equivalent tab, that issue is a wash in your selection. (I trust you do have a policy about alcohol at institution meals? Follow it consistently.)

I’ve worked with a number of public institutions where their policies do not allow institution staff to have meals paid for by vendors. I think it is so important to see this side of the vendor that I would encourage you to pay for the dinner. (Maybe you don’t invite that many of your own staff to attend, but still have it.)  You may be paying half a million dollars or even multiple million dollars for the whole project. Don’t be “Penny wise and Pound foolish” and not learn as much as you can about these prospective vendors because you are not willing to pay several hundred dollars. Go for it!

And separately, do you go out to dinner with your consultants? My most sophisticated clients will take me to dinner (knowing that I only charge an 8-hour day) and pick my brain for 2-3 hours and learn much more than they would get just from my written project report.

I’d welcome any comments/questions via e-mail at CharliesBlog@riarlington.com  And please sign up for my periodic blog posts in the space in the column on the right!

SDG, Charlie Hunsaker
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