Over the past 36 years, Kesler Corporation has become one of Connecticut's leading IT firms by helping businesses implement software, purchase hardware, and develop cybersecurity plans. But, as much as the company has grown from a one-man operation in 1982 to 38 employees today--every time they meet with a potential customer, they have to answer a barrage of questions.
They don't mind. They just answer the questions patiently and thoroughly, says Brian Mulligan, the company's Director of Commercial Sales. Choosing an IT vendor should involve a thorough vetting, especially since the team you pick will be responsible for ensuring your company runs smoothly. "Our mission is to understand a company's risk and to help them grow," he says.
But, there are numerous questions businesses should be asking their potential vendors, and, Mulligan says, executives interviewing an IT provider should leave no stone unturned. "There has to be comfort with the company you choose," he says. So, what should you ask? Here are some questions to start the conversation.
1. How long have you been in the managed service business?
This may seem like a simple question, but it's an important one, says Mulligan. Most people want experienced teams who have evolved with the industry. "You don't want someone who just popped up a week ago," he says. "Find out how they've changed with the market."
2. Who have you worked with in the past?
Get a sense of the potential vendor's experience and how they've dealt with challenges, says Dave Zimmel, a Calgary-based business consultant. Do they have experience working in your sector? Do they know the software you're running? "Ask for references so you can see the work they've done," he says.
3. Who is on your team?
You'll also want to get a sense of whom the vendor has on staff, says Zimmel. Are these people trained in the areas you need help with? What type of experience do they have? Will you be working with the same people next year as you are today? "It's back to basics," he says. "You have to have the right people."
4. How often are you going to communicate?
A client once asked Mulligan if they would hear from him again once the contract was signed. It was a joke, but it speaks to a big issue: Vendors can disappear once the checks start coming in. Find out if potential vendors are available when needed, how often they typically talk to their clients, if there are any newsletters or educational materials they send out, and more, he says.
5. Do you take a proactive approach to IT?
This is key, says Mulligan. Companies need to know if their vendor will make recommendations on how to fix things before they break down or if they wait until a problem occurs. The former is better, he says. Companies should be constantly reviewing their clients' IT needs and pointing out any gaps.
6. What's your process?
Find out what a vendor will do after you sign on the dotted line, says Zimmel. They may take six months to do an assessment or meet with different departments to evaluate their IT needs, but whatever they do, it's important to have a clear understanding of the process, so you know what you're paying for.
7. What happens in an emergency?
It's one thing for a vendor to show up to work to do their day-to-day tasks, but it's when things go awry that you're going to need them most, says Zimmel. Ask them how they deal with emergencies, who you should be calling, and how they charge for unexpected events. "If the system shuts down, you need to know how fast they can get in and solve the problem," he says.
8. Can you help us plan for the future?
The technology industry is always evolving, and companies need help keeping up. Find out if a vendor is aware of changing industry trends, if they're keeping their staff educated, and if they'll tell you when something needs to change. "What are they doing internally when it comes to dealing with tech changes and new cybersecurity threats?" says Mulligan.
9. How do you charge?
As helpful as a vendor might be, you're eventually going to receive an invoice. It's important to understand what they're billing you for--i.e., do they just charge an overall fee or can they break it down into specific services? Ask to see a sample invoice so you know what to expect. "You want to see that they're providing the services you contracted them for," says Mulligan.
10. What if a problem arises?
As great as your vendor may be, at some point a problem will arise, says Zimmel. Ask the vendor how issues get addressed. Who would you speak to if something came up? How would you handle that issue internally? How would you remedy a negative situation?
After asking these questions--and more will pop up during discussions--think about whether you're getting satisfactory answers. If you're not convinced that this vendor is the right one, then move on. Because, in the end, "it comes down to trust," says Mulligan.
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