Buying Services From Systems Integrators (SIs)

As we were planning the Sales/Buying phase of the Lead to Order Process for Episode 2 and Episode 3 we realized that while much is written about how to sell to customers, not as much as been written about how a customer should think about buying services.  Collectively the four of us have been a part of several systems integrators, multiple product companies with implementation and development services, and we have been buyers of services, so we thought we’d put that experience to work to help customers as they go through their buying cycles with SI’s.
Together the Customer and the Systems Integrator are crafting a custom solution, one that will either transform a part of your business or go sideways with poor communication and false expectations.  Following are some things a customer can do to make sure they are picking the SI most likely to make them successful and set up the joint team for success.
  1. Share Business Objectives – As early as possible in the buying process, share a thorough view of your business goals. This will provide the SI with important context to frame their response, prioritization and even the team they bring to the table.
  2. Partner With The SI – You need to get the best deal commercially, and while it may seem counter intuitive, the more an SI feels you are truly partnering, not just negotiating price, the more willing they will be to think outside of the box and more motivated the team will be to support you.
  3. Build A Joint Team – During the life of the project the SI will be an extension of your company. Work early to build a joint team dynamic, trust and shared goals. Get to know key leadership and hold them accountable for bringing the right team to you.
  4. Culture and Values Matter – The more synergistic the company cultures and values are, the more likely you will have a smoother team dynamic and synergistic expectations on how you will deliver together.
  5. Value honesty – A vendor that is honest about things you may not want to hear in the sales cycle will be honest with you during delivery. If they tell you something can’t be done exactly they way you want, but offer alternatives or tell you they haven’t done a project exactly the same or as big as yours but have the qualifications, they are likely to go the extra mile to be successful.
Once contracts have been signed you should:
  1. Expect a Sales to Delivery hand-off – The delivery team is often not fully involved in the sales cycle and the SI should do a thorough internal hand-off and a joint hand-off with you to make sure that everyone is one the same page. You should also expect to have the sales person involved occasionally along the way to help with continuity.
  2. Do Preparation Necessary – Customers often push to staff projects immediately after contract close, but aren’t always ready to hit the ground running themselves. Today’s Cloud software demands customers be ready immediately and not doing so can cause both lost productivity and budget. It also establishes a project cadence that isn’t optimal. Ask them BEFORE kick off what you should be doing in preparation.
  3. Staff Project Teams, Not Individuals – Sometimes it is tempting to ask to review resumes and only staff a team that are rock stars on paper. In reality, project success is driven as much by the team dynamic, which is based on personalities. A good SI should understand that and be able to pull together a group that will work as a team – not just a collection of individuals. Ask them about team dynamic, not just credentials.
  4. Remember that Context Matters – If the project has an internal history, share with the SI what has worked well before, as well as the previous challenges and internal perception. That will help them avoid the landmines that might have been experienced before. Don’t worry about being honest with them – they’ve seen it all.
  5. Help with Expectations and Assumptions– Be upfront with the SI, and ask them to be upfront with you, about challenges with meeting schedules, team availability, office hours, on site/remote, etc. Fully understand the assumptions in the contract as they are a key part of establishing the baseline expectations.
  6. Consider Pricing Models – There are four primary pricing models: Time & Materials, Fixed Price, Capacity and any of the three plus pre-developed IP/Assets. Understand that there are pros and cons to all and that the teams behaviors will be impacted differently depending on which you chose.

Working with System Integrators is a great way to leverage skill sets, experience and reach you don’t have internally. It can help you move faster to meet your business objectives and can de-risk  the solution by having access to a team who has been through it before.  However, you can’t just turn everything over to them; your team will be a key part of the success as well.