How Do You Distinguish a Vendor from a Partner?

Finding a Partner, Not Just a Vendor


Aligning a vendor with your organization is critical for forming a successful partnership that will ensure your business objectives are met. Depending on your organizational needs, qualifying questions can help you get your list down to better vendor partners earlier, before heading into the full “requirements gathering” phase of your project. This will dramatically reduce the amount of time communicating, evaluating, and showcasing vendors – making your whole process more efficient.

Aim to get your vendor list down to three to five vendors that show organizational alignment ahead of a formal RFI or RFP. Think of this surveying as a pre-qualifying round, where only your most critical decision factors apply. In love: this is the coffee date before wasting time on dinner, or worse…a holiday. The following areas and sample questions should serve as your guide.

Data Integrations

Many organizations have strong requirements around their data. It’s crucial to socialize these requirements with your IT team early on in the buying cycle to avoid potential stall outs. Some examples include, but are not limited to: EMR integrations, organizational security requirements, and compliance considerations. Ask your potential vendors up front about your data needs to narrow down your short list to those that are really capable of working with your systems that are already in place. Is your organization open to paying more for integrations that the vendor doesn’t already provide? What kind of development could be needed to have the level of interoperability you’re seeking? Do they meet your security requirements?

Pricing Terms

Many vendors want to steer you away from this conversation in the beginning, however, it is a critical piece of the puzzle. You should understand how the vendor would price a contract out before fully engaging with them to know if they are within your budget. Some vendors also will give discounts for larger implementations – so consider price points to expand services with your current vendor, as well. An example of a great pre-qualifying question is as simple as asking a vendor to describe their pricing model for a service contract of your size. Ask them how their business reduces your risk of a bad purchase. What are typical contract stipulations for renewal or termination?

Support Model

A support model is equally as important as price when choosing a vendor partner. There will inevitably be issues before, during, and after implementation of any new service or technology. Think about your past experience. What support models worked best for your organization? Think about pain points you had and then ask your vendors questions around their support model, their process, level of triage, and how they measure success. The larger the implementation and the larger the organization, the more necessary it is to define these early. If your organization is large, complex, and requires a lot of customization, your support model may have to be more responsive to those needs. 


Think back on implementations you’ve had experience with. Which ones went well? Which ones didn’t? Try to identify what pain points were critical in your experience when asking your potential vendors about their past implementations. Ask them where clients typically go wrong implementing their services. Ask them what their ideal implementation looks like. Ask them to discuss an implementation that matched your size and scope of your current project (and follow up with a reference call). Ask about typical timelines and resource needs for a project of your size and scope. Ask them how they define your success with their product.

Referenced Clients

Good vendors will have plenty of referenceable clients that will speak on their behalf. Usually, vendors will want to sit in on these calls – but feel free to say no. Their reference clients are much more likely to be candid in their responses without a vendor representative present. Also, ask for a call with a client whose implementation didn’t go well and use it as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Mention to vendors that you’d like to talk with a client that is similar in size and complexity. These calls are crucial to your understanding of what this vendor is really like to work with, so schedule these calls quickly so they don’t delay your process. Ask this reference client how they measured success and what challenges they faced. Ask what they’d do differently next time. Ask them about timeline, scope, and budget adherence. Ask them about how they perceived the efficacy of the vendor’s support and implementation model. Don’t be that client who doesn’t do a reference check and then is sorry for it a month into implementation.

Before you (and the vendor) waste time on a long RFP, make sure these deal breaker questions are answered. It’s better to cut more vendors upfront (or lose early as a vendor) to save time on the RFP process. Use the Valify Marketplace to search vendors, do market research, and start asking these key questions as you prepare for the RFP process.