Managing Vendors – Articles by Jim Everett

Tips on managing vendors, skills and competencies required

Maintaining Vendor Competencies


When a project is outsourced to a vendor company, the client typically does not expect to be involved with staff development and training matters within the vendor organization. To an extent, this is true. However the client does need to pay close attention to the competencies of the vendor staff who will be performing the work, and how requirements may change.

This is a crucial and strategic part of outsourcing, where the nature of the subject matter is evolving, or there are likely to be changes in procedures and methodologies. Many outsourcing deals and contracts are drawn up solely on the basis of current competencies, and when these change, problems occur.

In many cases, when agreements are made, the default position assumed is the vendor will keep their own staff up to date. Projects that are effectively planned, and well-defined contracts negotiated, will factor in the training and learning requirements within the vendor organization for the foreseeable life of the project.

Where this has not been anticipated and agreed, maintaining the needed competencies on the vendor side can become a contentious issue as requirements change.

For various reasons, competencies within the provider can drop below what is required, including:

  1. If there is attrition or turnover within the vendor, or different staff are allocated to the client work.
  2. When project requirements grow, but the vendor has not kept their staff up to date with training and development.
  3. When the needed knowledge changes, such as updated client product specs and information, new support procedures, or changes with other vendors’ materials or products.

One example is keeping up the knowledge of a vendor’s customer support team or call center agents, around the changes in the client product line, technologies, or how problems and escalations are handled.

The supply chain can also present problems – if the vendor engages or buys another vendor company with competencies to meet the needs of the contract, what provision has the primary vendor made to keep the competency levels are up within the supply chain?

Looking at your own outsourced projects:

  1. Have you factored into the agreement how the provider/vendor will maintain the competency levels your project needs?
  2. What is their current competency level, and how will you ensure they keep it up-to-date for their staff allocated to your project?
  3. Who is responsible for ongoing state of-the-art of training when the subject matter is rapidly changing such as in consumer electronics or high-technology field.
  4. If part of the outsourcing deal centers around a methodology, who is responsible for training of vendor staff if that methodology evolves?
  5. If it is a client-generated methodology, then is your vendor required to shoulder the cost of of keeping their staff up to date, or is it incumbent on you as the client to provide that training?
  6. If the vendor is supplying a product, methodology, or system that requires training for the user, in this case employees of your company, then is that integrated into the negotiated product deal?

When the outsourced service involves a large team of agents in a call center, or multiple location call centers, then a critical training issue is to ensure consistent responses, product knowledge, escalation processes, troubleshooting, and understanding the subject matter across all agents. Just about everybody has had the experience of calling in several times on a health insurance question, and getting a different answer from the agents they speak to.

Suppose you are a Delivery Manager, working in the IT department of your company, managing a vendor who provides company-wide network support. Your company grows and moves up to the next suite of network applications. Your IT colleagues are trained on the new applications, but the vendor is not. How is this handled, who pays for the training, does the vendor get compensated for the downtime for training, and what was specified in the agreement?

The answer to these questions may depend on what is negotiated at the time of setting up the contract. If not, then it is time to sit down with the vendor and do some planning and negotiating.

And for information on preparing the vendors (“onboarding”) or what you can do to plan company-related training for vendors, visit the Think180 site page on this topic.



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About Think180

Think180 helps companies get best results with service providers (vendors). Our core product is an in-house customizable workshop for Vendor Managers, or entire teams who outsource. This has been run for many clients, including Palm, Philips, Harrah's, BP USA and Canada, Vantive, Alkermes, Avaya, Government of Canada, Fidelity Investments, Quantlab and others.

We now also can offer live and interactive videoconference services and webinars, Training Modules for team events, planning tools and consulting on Vendor Manager competencies, and 1:1 coaching for individuals with videochat (desktop and mobile) on managing vendors.

Call Jim Everett 310.346.8042 for more information to assess if these service are of value to you.

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