Interview Is Critical to Vendor Selection

Last month, we discussed the increasing use of the RFQ, or “Request for Qualifications,” process by end users to whittle down the number of consultants, integrators and even manufacturers they’re willing to consider on their project. Often, the RFQ leads to a request that a proposal for services is submitted, but there’s often one more step: the interview.

In fact, the interview is a critical part of almost every vendor selection process. Sometimes it takes the form of a sales call, a meeting at a trade show, or a telephone conversation, but there’s no escaping the need for a personal exchange.

Courtesy Counts
It’s important both sides reach some understanding before jumping from RFQ (or introduction) directly to an interview. While responding to an RFQ often incurs some expense on the part of the vendor, it can usually be justified because much of the material prepared will be used again when responding to other RFQs.

Not so with an interview. Unless it’s a local trip, right around the corner, an interview usually means travel expenses, time out of the office and further preparation, rehearsal, and aggravation. It’s important to determine that if all goes well at the interview, there is a basis for the next step: an agreement or contract.

To do this, there needs to be some sort of frank discussion regarding the scope of work, scheduling and estimated cost for the services being discussed. While this is not the time for price negotiations, it’s important to know if both parties are in the same ballpark.

It’s often good to keep an open mind during these discussions; if one vendor’s price is out of line in either direction, look carefully at the scope of work. A higher priced vendor may be providing additional services that will allow you to realize savings in other areas, offsetting the price difference.

For example, my firm recently made it past the RFQ stage on a project and was preparing for the interview. We were asked to provide a proposal for services prior to the interview, to ensure that we didn’t waste the trip.

When we looked at the range of services the prospective client was asking for, we felt the limited scope of work they were requesting would limit our ability to affect cost savings. We responded with specific examples of how, if brought into the project earlier, a consultant could save both time and money, case studies of where we had done this in the past and a proposal for the full range of services, which was more than had been requested. After careful consideration, the end user agreed to some budgetary flexibility, allowing us to move on to the next step and schedule an interview.

This courtesy should extend from the vendor to the prospective client. You would think that, after going through all of the trouble of responding to an RFQ and going to an interview, if everything goes well there should be nothing left but the scheduling and price negotiations. Sadly, this is not always the case. Preparation Is Key
An interview needs to be more than a sales pitch — your RFQ response already got you in the door and it should be a given that your company is being taken seriously. The company conducting the interview should be focusing on whether the vendor is credible. Can they listen, perform the work as required and function as a supplement to the in-house team?

The vendor, on the other hand, should be learning whether or not it can meet the prospective client’s expectations, make them happy and, hopefully, earn a reasonable profit during the process.

In order to do this, it is best to take a few key areas of the project and focus on addressing them.

Most companies that have been in business for any length of time can point to a project that went wrong and the warning signs that were ignored. If the end user gets the impression the vendor cannot handle the work or is not being completely forthcoming, they should dig in and explore what is giving that impression.

If the vendor believes there are issues surrounding the project that will not be possible to resolve — indecisiveness, unreasonable expectations, stories of how other projects have gone wrong and it was always the integrators fault — address these as well. The easiest way for both parties to come to this kind of understanding is to be genuine and sincere. Remember, every business relationship is a joint venture between people, not companies.

For the complete version of this story, see the July issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.

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