3 Tips for Communicating with Your Technical Vendors

As the role of technical teams and vendors continues to expand in most businesses, communication issues continue to rise.

Whether you maintain an internal project team and technical staff, or you rely on outsourced technical vendors, it is important to protect yourself from communication issues with your technical team.


State your needs clearly

ThinkstockPhotos-164569217Recently, Jay, an IT professional asked: “Why do my clients get so frustrated with me when I explain my recommendations to them?”

It turned out Jay had fallen into a common trap between technical vendors and the business people they serve: He was answering the questions he thought he heard from his own perspective.

When you discuss requirements (your needs) with either an internal project team or an external technical vendor, there are some guidelines that will help:

  • Make sure your technical vendor understands the business problem or issue you are trying to resolve. For example, you are not upgrading equipment just for the sake of upgrading; you have a business need that is driving your actions.
  • Be as specific as possible when discussing your needs. Your technical vendor is responsible for determining the best way to satisfy your needs, but is not qualified to determine your needs.
  • Make it clear to the technical team that you are most interested in the solution to your business need. In most cases, all of the technical details are of little importance compared to whether the requirements can be met on schedule and on budget. By providing this insight to your technical team, they are more likely to communicate in terms of your needs instead of their technical jargon.

Remember that technical professionals take a default position of explaining information in a technical manner. Your job is to keep them focused on what the technology means to the business.


Ask for options in business terms

The best technical vendors are great at what they do because they are 100 percent committed to their technology, and they understand it as well or better than anyone else in your market. The problem is, when it times come to discuss their technology, they are ready, willing, and able to share every aspect and nuance of the technology and how it works.

In order to avoid falling into a deep discussion full of technical jargon, focus your technical teams on the business impact of the technology.

For example:

  • When discussing storage space ask for:
    • space in terms of transactions;
    • years of information held;
    • how often is it backed up;
    • and what happens if it fails.
  • When discussing speed ask about:
    • number of seconds between screen displays;
    • number of seconds before files load;
    • and number of seconds to access specific information via mobile.
  • When discussing screen and report designs:
    • ask about flow of information;
    • and discuss ease of use.

Remember, your technical vendors will try to give vague answers because in some cases (like with Internet or wireless speeds) there are variables that are outside of their control.

In these situations, they can still provide average access times, and access times in comparison to a standard speed test. For example is a free service that shows your upload and download speed on the Internet at a specific point in time.

If you are not 100 percent sure of what they are promising or committing, ask more questions.


Require clarity at every step

It is too easy to assume that everyone on a team, including your technical vendors, has the same understanding. The larger your project, the more likely there are multiple interpretations of at least some of the requirements.

As the business owner or manager it is your responsibility to ensure clarity with all team members at all steps in the process. While you may engage the services of a project manager to handle much of this, you should still take an active role.

Do not hesitate to take any or all of the following steps as required to ensure clarity:

  • In meetings, ask key members to repeat back requirements. If it sounds like they are parroting your words, ask them to rephrase in their own words. Teach your team that this reinforces the requirements.
  • During the technical design phase of your project, verify that written requirements, examples, prototypes, and verbal descriptions match. Get clarification at any sign of discrepancy.
  • When discussing deliverables and due dates, maintain vigilance on specifics. Make sure everybody on the team is clear on exactly what is to be delivered, and how, when, and where it will be delivered.

As you begin to take control of how communication occurs with your technical team, you will notice a shift in how information is shared between team members. As you continue to develop clarity in communications, you will notice the changes spreading beyond the technical team.

MarkVickers-011Mark A. Vickers

Speaker, Coach, Author of “Speaking Is Selling – 51 Tips Your Mother Taught You”

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