4 Key Questions to Ask Before Switching IT Providers

When switching IT providers, ask these key questions to ensure that your new IT firm doesn’t repeat the old vendor’s mistakes.

By David Leonhardt, Managing Partner

The phone rings and it’s a potential new client calling – they’re switching IT providers. Even before we start speaking with them, there’s one thing we already know for sure: their IT environment is not healthy.

I often joke with my friends, we are like the emergency room doctor. Patients never walk in and say, “I feel fantastic, just wanted to let you know!”  Nobody ever comes to us when their IT systems are running great—customers are calling us because however they have met their technology needs in the past, it’s just not working anymore.

Perhaps the last straw was a big event like one too many system crashes. Or maybe it’s been a slow-burning complaint of lost productivity due to IT problems. Sometimes the IT folks have been showing up late or not showing up at all – or my personal favorite, “the IT folks aren’t returning phone calls!”

Figuring out where things went wrong

As we start the conversation, many folks are surprised at the questions we ask like, “Have you spoken with your current provider about this, perhaps this situation could be improved?” And depending on how the conversation flows, we often will back up a step and say, “Switching IT providers is something of an endeavor, do you really think this is best for your firm?”

Whoa, now you may be thinking that’s not necessarily the best recipe for sales success! Perhaps not, but let me be completely candid, here. After many years of providing IT services for our clients we recognize that we make mistakes – everyone makes mistakes – and when that happens we are fanatical about looking for ways to make things right. We believe that vendor-client relationships are worth saving whenever possible, even if it’s not to our benefit.

In many cases, low satisfaction with the IT department is due to poor communication

Maybe the necessary vendor-client communication channels weren’t open. Or maybe the two parties were talking, but simply out of sync with each other because they didn’t have the same priorities. Companies and priorities can change over time, which is why we think it’s so important to talk regularly with our clients to ensure they’re getting the service they need from us. We find that resetting those expectations can fix the client-vendor relationship 99% of the time.

That said, the sad truth is that sometimes client-vendor communication is just so broken that you can’t really move forward. Vendors don’t like losing clients, and clients don’t like leaving vendors, either. But the reality is that switching IT providers is significantly harder for a business than changing many other service providers like copier repair or cellular providers. If you can avoid the headache, then we encourage you to do so!

We’ve decided that we’re switching IT providers, what happens next?

Fair enough, sometimes a change is warranted and now you’re trying to figure out how to accomplish this without spending weeks talking with firms that remind you of Mr. Magoo, The Mumbler or The Mad Scientist! Or worse yet, being trapped in a conversation with a Herb Tarlek plaid-sportscoat lookalike sales person who promises you the moon and winds up delivering far less.

Herb Tarlek
“It’s bad luck to take advice from a crazy person.” – Herb Tarlek (WKRP in Cincinnati)

image via ProProfs

When switching IT providers, it helps to have a good idea of where things went wrong with the old vendor, so that you can clarify your needs with potential new vendors. With eyes wide open, you can ensure you’re selecting an IT firm that’s really in a position to be able to help you, plus the new IT firm can avoid repeating the old vendor’s mistakes.

Four questions to ask yourself as you start your search for a new IT provider:

1)  What things are important to you: Technical skills, cultural match, communications skills, all of the above?  Looking at your current service providers in other areas, is there a common thread among your favorites?

2)  How do you plan to conduct your search: Google, trade association, friends & family, yellow pages, neighboring firms?  I would counsel all of the above, but your most trusted sources should be referrals from people you already know and trust.

3)  When would you like to make a change? And are you ready for the learning curve as your new provider gets to know you and your team?  Beware the honeymoon period, both you and the new provider have a lot of history to make up for (and they won’t know where all the “bodies were buried” in your system). Be ready to invest the time needed to build the partnership.

4)  Are you prepared to make some investment into your IT infrastructure to get it up to speed? Given that you are seeking to make a change, it’s likely that all is not well under your hood and you might have to catch up with some deferred maintenance. Be ready for increased costs for a while with the new vendor, as they are going to have to make investments to bring things back up to speed.  “Patience, Iago, patience!”

Now don’t get me wrong, we here at Seitel Systems would love to be your IT firm. But before you leave the dark side and switch IT providers, perhaps see if you can’t turn on a light bulb or two to make things better.

If that doesn’t work out, think of us as your emergency room doctor and give us a call.


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