Our relationships with enterprise software vendors are almost as important as the products themselves, and nowhere is this more true than with embedded BI vendors.

Yes, a CRM or ERP system may become fundamental to your daily operations, but an embedded BI solution becomes fundamental to your product. Your relationship with your embedded BI vendor will, therefore, not only directly impact your customers, but also your sales prospects, product roadmap, and brand identity.

The stakes are higher, so getting an early read on the vendor’s customer care practices is critical.

This isn’t news, of course. No customer willingly walks into a crummy experience, but plenty discover that they’ve mistakenly stumbled into one. It’s hard to spot problematic customer care without the benefit of hindsight. If you’ve never been an embedded BI customer before, you barely have a sense of what your needs will be, let alone how a vendor would best go about accommodating them. We don’t know what we don’t know!

But with a little insight into embedded BI partnerships, you can home in on the relationship details that will really matter down the line and evaluate the vendor relationship with more than a quick gut check. We’re going to explore the three qualities most essential to an embedded BI vendor’s customer care; but first, we’re going to dig a little deeper into why this relationship matters so much in the first place.

Why Customer Care Will Make or Break Your Embedded BI Project

A vendor’s ability to advise and support its customers matters most when the product or service being transacted is complex, costly, or long-term. Embedded BI, in most cases, is all three.

When a software provider purchases embedded BI for the first time, they typically rely on the BI vendor for guidance and expertise. This is particularly true of small-to-midsize companies who often have fewer specialists on staff.

The customer has never implemented or delivered BI before, and yet, in the few months it takes to deploy, they must become knowledgeable enough not only to administer the solution, but also skilled enough to train their end users, provide technical support, and effectively market the new features.

All that know-how needs to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is the vendor.

An embedded BI vendor essentially becomes an extension of the customer’s team, helping them overcome snags as they gain skill and experience.

This knowledge transference is critical to long-term success, as the Business Application Research Center (BARC) found in an ongoing survey. “There is a clear correlation between the quality of implementer support and the achievement of business benefits in BI projects,” writes BARC in their analysis. “A lack of expertise on the part of the implementer can be especially damaging to the success of a project.”

So not only is customer care important in addressing immediate challenges, but it’s also critical in building the customer’s self-sufficiency over time, equipping them with the knowledge and troubleshooting skills they need to captain their BI initiative ongoingly and evolve as they scale.

Assessing an embedded BI vendor’s customer care practices can be challenging, particularly during the sales process. How can you tell whether the white-glove treatment you receive as a prospect will persist after you sign? We put together a three-part plan to help you and your team answer that question.

Is Embedded BI Vendor Transparent?

Honesty and clear communication go a long way toward fostering trust between vendors and their customers. Use the following tactics to get a read on a prospective embedded BI vendor’s transparency.

  • Pricing. Find out all you can about what your implementation will cost, factoring in any alterations you might make one or two years down the road. Some embedded BI vendors offer straightforward answers while others gradually reveal a mine field of add-ons, usage caps, and hidden fees.

Also take note of when the vendor gives you pricing details. Some will only provide that information after you’ve had a discovery call and sat through a product demonstration. If their price turns out to be way outside your budget, you’ve wasted your time. If their price is feasible, you now have to weigh whether or not their lack of transparency is a deal-breaker.

  • Capabilities. According to Jorge García, senior analyst of BI and data management at Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC), “vendors tend to hide their product limitations.” Validate embedded BI vendors’ claims regarding their solution’s capabilities by having your technical staff listen in on sales calls and familiarize themselves with the documentation. Take note if the vendor shows signs of being less than forthcoming about what the product can do and how, as this evasiveness will carry significantly more weight when you’re in production.
  • Roadmap. In addition to finding out what’s on the vendor’s roadmap presently, find out what their process is for keeping clients apprised of future enhancements. Transparency around roadmap planning is important, as your team may one day be invested in a new feature and need forecasting in order to plan your rollout of the update accordingly.
  • Service-Level Agreement. Request a draft of the SLA you’d be signing in partnership with the embedded BI vendor, and take your time reviewing it. The more detailed the SLA, the more it will protect you against lapses in the level of service. Look for clear definitions and timeframes around things like issue priority levels, acknowledgement, and resolution. Don’t hesitate to ask for further clarification on anything that seems vague or confusing, and make sure to add any necessary modifications in writing.

Can Your Vendor Guide You?

There’s a good chance this is your first time implementing embedded BI — and if it’s not, there’s a high probability your last implementation didn’t go as planned. While the success of a BI initiative ultimately depends on you, the customer, the vendor plays a major role in guiding and supporting you through the process, particularly if you’re new to the BI space. Here’s how to find out if an embedded BI vendor will have what it takes to help you meet your goals.

  • Structured evaluation. A structured evaluation centered on a custom proof-of-concept is absolutely critical to determining product fit. An embedded BI vendor should be able to provide you with an outline of the evaluation process, complete with a rough timeline and guidance on how to test the right areas of the application without overinvesting in the process. If a vendor leaves you to your own devices during this pivotal stage, take it as a sign that they will be unlikely to advise you in your future endeavors.
  • Structured implementation. Before you enter into contract negotiations with an embedded BI vendor, learn all you can about their implementation process. A vendor adept at caring for its customers will have a plan for facilitating the implementation — not just from a tactical standpoint, but a strategic standpoint. Find out how much guidance you can expect to receive on things like data management, user management, security, performance, and scaling. Check also to see whether these services are included or at an additional cost.
  • Training materials. Third-party software providers should not only be able to train your staff but also equip them with the videos, manuals, and documentation they’ll need to craft a training program specific to your end users. Confirm that you will have permission to reproduce modified versions of their training materials.

Will Your Vendor Grow With You?

The only constant in life is change — it’s cliché because it’s true. Your business needs will change, and your embedded BI product will change. The question is, will they change together? Find out if your embedded BI vendor’s customer relationship practices will allow you to weigh in on the platform’s future.

  • User testing and betas. Find out if customers can volunteer to participate in user testing and beta testing. This is a way to directly influence the product’s direction and make your preferences known. Every vendor’s testing practices differ, however, so it’s worth asking specifically about opportunities to take new features and designs for a trial spin.
  • Regular status updates. An embedded BI vendor who routinely checks in with customers will simply be more aware of their wants and needs than a vendor who doesn’t. Message boards and ticketing systems are important, certainly, but they’re no substitute for status calls. For one, status updates give the BI vendor insight into what’s going right — not just what’s going wrong. It also sometimes leads customers to new discoveries about how they could be utilizing the solution to a better effect. This focused, individualized attention forms the bedrock of a sustainable vendor partnership.
  • Frequent product releases. Be sure to ask about embedded BI vendors’ release cycles before you buy. There will generally be two different types of releases: new versions and version updates or “patches.” Both will impact your product roadmap. The new version schedule will give you a sense of how often to expect new features while the update schedule will speak to issue fixes. Also find out how long versions are supported (and how) before they are sunsetted. In general, the more frequently vendors update their product, the likelier they are to introduce changes significant to you and your customers in a timely fashion.
  • Client advisory board. Does the embedded BI vendor in question actively solicit customer feedback? Those with a client advisory board or similar are usually eager to share their plans and learn how they might improve. Surveys might fill this function to some extent, but a sit-down conversation with the vendor and other customers makes for a better dialog while also fostering a sense of community. Ask about such opportunities to make your voice heard.

With this checklist in hand, you’ll have the tools to assess a vendor relationship before locking it in for the long haul. The success of an embedded solution rests on the preparedness of its implementation team, and implementation teams need to know they can trust their embedded BI vendors to communicate transparently, give good guidance, and develop the product in their interest.

Originally published here.