How to select the right vendor partner to make your CX investment a success

Colin Shaw

After our piece on key steps to building a business case for investment, CX expert and blogger Colin Shaw discusses how to make the most of those investments by finding the right partners for the job

The best relationship with a vendor is one that is win-win. This means that people in the company should not look down on the vendor and treat them as second-class citizens. Instead, they should embrace them as being a temporary member of their team.

This belief works both ways. When I was in corporate life, I engaged vendors who were specialists and experts in their area. Sometimes I would ask a question that was naïve. They would look at me with disbelief as if to say ‘are you really that stupid?’. If a vendor does this to you, you have the wrong one.

It’s simple ‘do as you would be done by’. In other words, treat other people how you would like to be treated yourself, and then you won’t go far wrong.

SEE ALSO: The Customer Experience Buyer’s Guide

It’s okay to hire an expert

One area where I think there is a lot of learning to be gained is that there is a distinct difference between the UK and US markets. We work in both markets all the time. In the US people employ consultants/vendors much more than they do in the UK. Why? In my experience, in the US, business people recognise they don’t know everything and they need experts to help them improve.

During my time in corporate life, I would become frustrated when I would articulate what I thought we needed to do and this was ignored by my bosses. However, when we then engaged an expert, who said the same things, it was greeted with unanimous agreement! I learnt quickly that sometimes it is difficult being a prophet in your own land.

You need to recognise, whether you like it or not, that people from outside the organisation can have more credibility than you. It is not fair, but it is reality. In the UK, employing an expert vendor is seen as some form of failure on their behalf, the individual or company.

This isn’t the case for all companies, but there is very much a different attitude to vendors. Let me explain through an analogy. I used to undertake DIY at home. I am not great but OK. It takes me forever to do a job. I tend to bungle with my first attempt at the job, then I learn from my mistakes and then one of three things happens:

  1. Live with my substandard work
  2. Spend more time fixing it
  3. Hire an expert to fix it

Over the years I have learnt to hire an expert at the start. It saves time and decreases the risk of blowing the house up. If I am really sensible, I learn from the expert as they complete the job so I can do it next time. The same applies in business.

To me, the danger is people think they should be a ‘Jack of all trades’, but this makes them ‘master of none’. It is far better to employ an expert who can be with your team for a limited period and can ‘teach them how to fish’ rather than let their pride get in the way.

Selecting the right vendor

I now spend a lot of time with senior executives. What I have learnt over the years is that true leaders want you to challenge them. They want you to say ‘no’. They do not see these challenges as a threat, but instead they want to use your expertise to enable them to learn and make the best decision possible. Therefore it is important that when selecting a vendor you select someone who is not a ‘yes-man’ and will just do what you say. It is important that they challenge you in a constructive manner.

You also have to realise that a good vendor has the responsibility to tell you that ‘your baby is ugly’. This means, they need to inform you of the things that are going wrong, and more critically tell you things that others won’t. No matter how hard they are to say.

But ultimately, in my experience, selecting a vendor comes down to two simple tests.

Let me give you an example. Back in the day, I was in charge of purchasing a multi-million £ CRM system. We had done all of our due diligence, created our decision criteria, assembled a cross-functional team including people from finance and we had asked the various vendors to present their capabilities.

The first vendor, Team 1, came in with the entire project team that would work on our account. Each person took part in the presentation and they clearly knew what they were talking about.

Team 2 then presented. They were one of the big companies in CRM with a good brand-name. They explained what they would do. They did not have the project team present. They didn’t even know who would be working on the project. Their presentation was functional but did not excite us. They were actually cheaper by some 15 per cent than Team 1.

After the end of the presentations we all sat round and individually scored these presentations based on the decision criteria. Team 2 received the highest scores based on our criteria and was 15 per cent cheaper. It was a no-brainer.

I remember being very uncomfortable with this decision, so I decided to challenge our thinking. I asked our team two simple questions that we had not put on our decision criteria. The questions were: ‘Who did we believe the most about what they would do?’ and ‘Which team did we trust the most to deliver on what they said?’

Everyone, bar the financial controller, thought that Team 1 was by far the better team when considering these questions. Therefore, despite the scores we decided to go with Team 1 and went onto achieve a highly successful project. Following this we always had those two questions in all of our decision criteria.

The key learning here is you have to get on with the vendor; you have to believe in them and critically you have to trust them.


Remember, on the face of it you are selecting a vendor for their knowledge or services. But in reality it is far more than that. You should be selecting a vendor that is someone who will be part of your team, and you should treat them as such. They should challenge you, they should tell you the home truths that other people won’t, and they should be your teacher and your guide.

Most importantly, you need to believe them and trust them because without these two factors you will not succeed.

This is an extract from The Customer Experience Buyer’s Guide 2017. Download your complimentary copy of the full report by clicking on the banner below.