You looked into their eyes and knew they were the one. You knew you’d be together forever—through thick and thin, from this day forward. At least till the contract ran out.

Wait, we’re talking about picking a software vendor. Where did you think we were going with this?

Picking a software vendor is one of the most important decisions a company can make. It can literally make or break your company. Choose wisely, and your company will prosper. Choose poorly, as they say in Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade, and your company can crumble away.

So how do you choose wisely?

  1. Don’t fall in love at first sight. Sorry, all you romantics out there. This is not the time to just look into someone’s eyes and know in your heart that they’re the right one for your company. And just like dating, this isn’t the time for the CEO to come in and say he played a round of golf with this vendor and you should use them, or that she has a nephew who does software development and you should hire him. Meet with them? Sure, it can’t hurt. But don’t make a commitment right off the bat.
  2. Date around. Have any friends who married the first person they went out with? How did that work out? While it’s successful sometimes, chances are we had to meet a variety of people to know just what we were looking for and how they compared. So be sure to look at several options and get multiple opinions—not just for the same product, but for different options.
  3. Know what’s important to you. Some people liked the head cheerleader and some people liked the lead in the school play. Similarly, there’s not much point in picking a vendor with great chops in the manufacturing space if you happen to work for the government. And it should go without saying that the cheapest option can end up being the most expensive one in the end. Make sure you add up all the costs.
  4. “They’re just not that into you.” Even if you’re not the vendor’s only customer (and you hope you’re not, frankly), you want to feel like you are. Do you only get their attention when they’re not busy with some other client? Do they blow you off in favor of a client they like better or consider more important? Then they’re not the vendor for you.
  5. “What do we know about his family, dear?” Make sure the vendor offers references, and check them out. And don’t just check out the ones they give you. Ask around your user group, developers’ meetup, or certification class.
  6. Check out their viability. Ask about their past—and their goals for the future. In order to select the right vendor, you want to ensure that your objectives align and that they’re in it for the long-haul.
  7. Make sure they’re in it for the long haul. When we’re young, we’re looking for someone with a nice car or who looks cute to our friends. As we age, our needs change. (Usually.) So think about where your company will be in five years. How well will this vendor be able to support your company then? Hopefully you’re going to grow. Can the vendor handle a bigger client? One in multiple locations? Additional hardware platforms? Yes, you can always switch vendors, but even amicable divorces can be disruptive.
  8. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure they know what you want. Ensure you let them know when things change. Don’t expect them to read your mind. And if there’s a change they want to make, be open to it. It might end up helping out both of you in the long run—and, after all, isn’t the long run what this is all about?

We now pronounce you client and vendor. You may shake hands.

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