The vendor selection process can be fraught with complications if you're not prepared. The following process can be used in most any selection process -- package, vendor, hardware, etc. It's fairly high-level and will require some drill-down on the details to make sure that you perform it with appropriate diligence for your particular project.
- Gather your requirements. It's hard to select a vendor if you're not sure what your requirements are. You need to begin with as many vendor requirements as possible. It may be too late to uncover missing requirements after a vendor has been selected.
- Determine your selection criteria. You should have a model for comparing and ranking the vendor proposals. This will include the categories that are important and the weighting factor for each category.
- Create vendor long list. After the requirements are gathered, look for any and all vendors that might meet your needs. You can do this by searching the web, looking at trade magazines, talking to other companies, and so on. The purpose of this step is to gather a comprehensive (but not exhaustive) list of vendors that you want to consider further, and it helps ensure that there is not an obvious candidate of whom you were not aware.
- Create vendor short list. Perform an initial, high-level evaluation of the long list, looking for obvious reasons to eliminate some of the alternatives. The purpose of this step is to create a short list of potential vendors that look like they will have a reasonable chance of meeting your needs. You should send your Request for Proposal (RFP) to the short list.
- Evaluate vendor proposals. This can be the hardest part of vendor selection. You must map the vendor capabilities against your requirements and weighting factors to determine which vendor most closely meets your needs. You can also interview the vendors and make vendor site visits. Usually you will make some type of numerical calculation based on how well the vendor meets each requirement, multiplied by a weighting factor. The vendor with the highest score across all requirements should be the one that best meets your needs. When you have completed this step, you should have a prioritized list.
- Make Final Selection and Negotiate Contract. In many organizations, the project team makes the final recommendation and then turns the process over to a formal Purchasing or Procurement organization. However, at this point you should have all the required information to make the choice. If you're only selecting the top vendor, you should have the numbers available to make your recommendation. If you're selecting a number of potential vendors, you can pick as many of the top-ranked vendors as necessary to meet your needs.
When the final selection is made, you may still have to negotiate a contract or license. If that process does not proceed in a satisfactory manner, be prepared to move down to your second choice, and your third, as long as those vendors still meet your minimum requirements.
Here are some free sample versions of vendor checklists from TechRepublic. Click the title to download the sample: