It’ll be a rare situation when you come across a reference that has anything really enlightening to tell you. As a procurement pro, it’s your job to cut through the glowing endorsements offered up by the reference and accomplish your objectives of the reference check, which are to determine if the vendor can do the work and will do the work.
I came up with the following questions to get past the façade of glowing endorsements, to drill down into helpful information, and to read between the lines. For example, the question about contract changes—if the reference acknowledges some number of change controls, that could be a sign the vendor didn’t do a good job of initially scoping the project and / or managing scope creep during the project. Another example is the question that asks whether the reference would single source future work to the vendor; if not, it could be that the reference’s procurement rules don’t permit single source–or it could be that the vendor wasn’t all that great.
It’s not the intent of this list that you ask ALL of the questions, pick and choose a few that make the most sense and modify them to fit your procurement (services, software, whatever) and the customer reference. Happy reference checking!
- How did you come across [vendor]?
- What type of selection process did you employ—RFP, single source?
- What other vendors did you consider?
- Is [vendor] still providing services or has the engagement been completed?
- Did [vendor] fully meet your expectations on the engagement? Did [vendor] miss anything?
- Did [vendor] fully understand your business needs in the design of the engagement? Did [vendor] miss anything?
- Did [vendor] maintain clear communications during all phases of the engagement? What could [vendor] have done to better communicate?
- On a scale of 1 – 5, with 5 being the highest, how satisfied are you with the skills of the people from [vendor] who worked on this engagement? [Probe if less than 5]
- Is the value you received consistent with the investment you made with [vendor] on the engagement? If not, did [vendor] attempt some sort of resolution?
- Was the engagement managed effectively? What could [vendor] have done better?
- Did you have to make any changes to the contract after [vendor] began performing, such as change controls?
- Were there any schedule slippages?
- One a scale of 1 – 5, with 5 being the highest, how satisfied are you with how [vendor] delivered on the project? [Probe if less than 5]
- Was there a point on the project where [vendor] let you down, underperformed, or disappointed you? If so, how did [vendor] respond?
- Did [vendor] miss any service level agreements / objectives, key performance measures, key project dates, or critical milestones?
- What one thing could [vendor] have done to improve your overall experience with them?
- If there was one thing you could have changed about [vendor] in the performance of the engagement, what would it be?
- If you needed additional services in the future similar to what [vendor] provides, what is the likelihood that you would choose [vendor] again?
- What you choose [vendor] as part of a single source procurement (without going through some sort of comparative, competitive bidding process) or would you still bid the procurement out? If you would competitively bid the work, is that because of your procurement rules?
- Are there any important questions that I should have asked but didn’t?
- Now, after working with [vendor], are there any things that you wish you had known in advance, before contracting with [vendor]?
- What advice do you have for me in working with [vendor]?