I have written a lot lately about understanding your organization’s core competencies with respect to producing eLearning, and knowing when to “contract in” needed help as necessary. Sometimes it will be necessary to bring in learning design expertise, or programming expertise, or you may have to buy or lease some learning technologies to help you meet your goals. I call this process “dancing with vendors” (with apologies to Kevin Costner).

Sometimes the dance is a beautifully choreographed piece wherein each partner (client and vendor) knows their steps and move effortlessly as one. More often, however, the dance partners are clumsily trying to figure out the dance and make many missteps along the way, at the cost of a few broken toes and many embarrassed apologies. We clearly get the impression from the many clients and vendors we speak to that the latter kind of dance is more prevalent than the former. When looking at this dance, both clients and vendors can be blamed, at different points, for missteps and bruised feet.

Charlene Douglas has a unique perspective on client-vendor relationships. She has been on both sides of the dance – as a client with the University of Wisconsin, and now as a vendor with Desire2Learn, a learning technology provider. Charlene was also a learner in our online Certificate in eLearning Management. I had the opportunity to ask Charlene for her pithy perspectives on dancing with vendors. Here are my questions, and her to-do lists.

RN: What does a vendor need in a Request for Proposal (RFP) to really understand and be able to respond to a client’s needs?

CD: In preparing an RFP, the client should be:

  • Succinct (many ramble on about things of no interest to the vendor)
  • Clear (in wording, and about requirements, size of project, timing, key contact(s), and terms and conditions)
  • Transparent about how proposals will be evaluated
  • Thorough about submission requirements

RN: What kinds of things make the vendor-client relationship often go off the rails?

CD: The most common culprits are:

  • Lack of Communication!!!
  • Unreasonable expectations (from both sides of the equation)!!!
  • A confusion in terms of the vendor-client relationship (i.e., a client attempting to set the roadmap for a vendor in order to fulfill their future needs)
  • Lack of cooperation
  • Wishy-washy contract
  • No flexibility

RN: What are the key components of an excellent vendor-client relationship?

CD: Here’s what is needed:

  • Honesty
  • Cooperation and openness (partnership type of attitude)
  • Solid and continuous communication
  • Reasonable expectations
  • Trust
  • Commitment
  • Flexibility
  • Solid contract with well thought out Statement of Work and a workable Change Management procedure

RN: Thanks Charlene. It looks like the elements of good vendor-client management are the same as those for a solid marriage (some dances do lead eventually in that direction!).

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