Deciding to switch service providers or find a new one can turn into a big headache, especially if the service or product you’re are shopping for is “mission critical” to your practice. (Think banking, insurance or even facilities management.) While there is no magic way to find the perfect service provider, there are some tried and true “don’ts” to help cover your bases.
Tips (Not Tricks!) to Ease the Pain of Vendor Selection
- Don’t underestimate the power of peer networking and referrals. One of the first things to remember is that you are not alone in your quest for the “perfect” answer. The beauty of a tight-knit legal community is the peer networking and referrals available through legal associations and discussion lists. In the market for new firm technologies? Check out the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) regional peer groups and networking events. Want advice, vendor related or not, specific to solos and small firms? Check out Solosez, an email discussion list sponsored by the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division.
- Don’t always select the lowest bidder. The adage you get what you pay for is often true. Cost is definitely a key factor, but it should not be your only criteria when choosing a vendor. While product purchases like computer hardware and office supplies can be easily compared on price, it proves more difficult with service providers.
- Don’t cut corners when it comes to due diligence. Cutting corners will never pay off in the long run, nor will opting for the easy choice or safe bet. It might take more time up front to lock in the right vendor, but once you have covered your bases, from checking references to reviewing corporate financials to testing actual customer support, you’ll have the peace of mind and satisfaction you really desire.
- Don’t squeeze now because you will pay later. A vendor that has been “low-balled” will constantly be on the lookout for ways to make back their money. Look at what Zappos has done in building a powerful brand founded on unparalleled service. You might end up paying more for their shoes, but how can you put a price tag on the VIP service?
- Finally, don’t confuse getting the most out of your vendors with getting the best from your vendors. Research shows that crafting an airtight contract that balances toughness with fairness is the best way to protect your interests and those of your vendor. The importance of negotiating fair, commonsense contracts cannot be understated if you hope to cultivate a long-term business relationship.
Jobst Elster is Head of Content for InsideLegal.com, an online community and advisory resource for legal technology vendors, law firms, legal technologists and thought leaders. He has spent the past 13 years in the legal industry, working with vendors, consultants, the media and law firms on various marketing, public relations and market survey initiatives. He is a frequent contributor to various publications including Peer to Peer, Legal Management and BtoB magazine.