Apples and Oranges

Have you ever requested a quote from different service providers and received back wildly different prices? This happens often across practically every service industry, but it’s especially true for I.T. services. Not only is technology extraordinarily complex these days, but every managed I.T. services provider (“MSP”) approaches things a little bit differently. There is also the odd occasion where what you’re seeking seems to go in one ear and out the other with the MSP, and the quote you receive doesn’t address your needs. How do you avoid these issues and obtain an accurate quote so you can truly compare apples to apples?  

First, understand the problem

When speaking with an MSP, you are often trying to translate your limited understanding of technology while also conveying your needs. To no surprise, some things may get lost in translation. When you receive the quote from the MSP, you assume that it addresses all your needs as you understand them, and the quoted price is your total cost to deliver on those needs. This can be a costly assumption, though. 

Recently, we met with a school that experienced this exact “lost in translation” scenario. The school told the MSP it needed 100 laptops for its students, and that it intended to use the Google Classroom environment. The school also asked the MSP to provide it with phones to be used in all the classrooms and faculty offices. This MSP had the lowest bid for the products and services, and so they were selected. What unfolded afterward was a disaster for the school. 

Only a few short weeks before the start of the school year, the school received its 100 laptops. Except, when the computers were powered on, nothing happened. The school called the MSP only to find that the MSP did not include any operating system on the laptops in their bid, essentially leaving the school with 100 useless bricks. The MSP assumed that the school would set up the Google operating system itself, even though it didn’t have the capacity or technical expertise to do so. 

To add fuel to the fire, the MSP came out to the school to install the phones, but only set up 4 phones. “Where are all the phones for the classrooms?” the school asked. Going back through its notes, the school saw that they requested phones in all the classrooms and 4 lines. The school didn’t know that the concept of “lines” no longer applies to modern phone systems, and the MSP saw “4 lines” and assumed they meant 4 phones. 

Sadly, the school realized that, had it known all this ahead of time, it would have actually saved money by going with the competitive bid. Not only was the bid quoted accurately, but the per-unit price was less than that of the provider the school chose. 

Second, focus on your outcome objectives

Many businesses jump to a list of products or services they want but skip over the outcome objectives. In the above story with the school, for example, the school ultimately wanted the ability for teachers in the classrooms to make and receive phone calls, it wanted to have a PA system to communicate with classrooms from the admin office, and it wanted to make sure that people calling into the school didn’t receive a busy signal. Had the school expressed its needs in this way, the MSP would have been forced to focus on delivering those outcomes rather than a list of requested services. Coincidentally, by focusing on outcome objectives, you eliminate most of the technical jargon from the conversation and eliminate the need for translation. 

Third, write a formal “Request for Quote”

Finally, and crucially, put your Request for Quote (“RFQ”) into a formal document that you provide to all the bidders. While this may seem overly complicated for a small business, it is a very effective method of communicating the same exact message and desired outcomes to all the providers bidding for your services. While it doesn’t guarantee that every quote you receive will truly be apples to apples, it definitely helps. 

Another benefit of a formal RFQ is it gives you a point of reference when evaluating the quote. You can go line-by-line through your requirements in the RFQ and make sure the provider’s quote addresses those needs. If you want to be even more thorough, you can ask the service provider to specifically call out each of your requirements from the RFQ in their quote and confirm how the services meet your objectives. 

Conclusion

When requesting a quote for products or services, no matter the industry, it is best to focus on your desired outcomes rather than the specifications or technical capabilities. Not only does this eliminate the risk of things being lost in translation, but it also allows the service provider to recommend solutions you might not know exist. Also, by writing your objectives into a formal document, you can share a consistent message to multiple providers and receive back accurate quotes. With this little bit of additional time investment up front, your business can avoid unnecessary friction and heartache from both parties making too many assumptions.