When a commercial building in Chappaqua burned down earlier this year, IT pro Kevin Frost at Tarrytech Computer Consultants sprang into action. One of his clients runs a cleaning service that was located in the building and needed to access his files. Fortunately, Tarrytech had set up off-site backup. Frost and his team were able to help the client regain access to the files immediately. “We were able to get him up and running in 45 minutes,” says Frost, operations manager at Tarrytech, in Elmsford.
Frost is one of the many professionals in Westchester County who provide critical behind-the-scenes support to other local companies. Working in fields such as IT, human resources, public relations, payroll and benefits services, and financial services, these B2B providers can be a very efficient way for small and midsize businesses to expand the expertise at their fingertips. Working with high-quality, outsourced services can often be easier than finding talent to bring in-house.
To help you source the best local B2B providers for your needs, we went straight to the experts — local vendors themselves — for insight on best practices for finding and maintaining excellent relationships with great B2B service providers.
Get the “IT Guys” You Need
There’s a reason the Saturday Night Live skit on “Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy” was so funny. Most non-techies have encountered their share of similarly impatient computer techs and feel a little intimidated about selecting an IT provider. When it comes to tech services, “most people do not fully comprehend exactly what they are purchasing,” says Robert Cioffi, COO and cofounder of Progressive Computing in Yonkers.
Fortunately, the county is home to a range of tech vendors who go out of their way to make their services friendly to people in other fields. Local IT pros advise companies to look for providers who have been in business for a while — a sign that they know how to keep customers happy on an ongoing basis — and pay attention to what initial contacts with them are like.
The best professionals will take the time to understand the needs of your business, even if it’s a very small one, and respond to those needs in their service recommendations, says Mario DeRiggi, executive vice president of Rye Brook-based communications provider Broadview Networks. Avoid providers who “go very superficial on trying to understand a customer’s needs and put together a solution that doesn’t meet the long-term goals of the company,” he adds.
During your initial conversations, tech pros advise asking yourself some key questions: How easy is it to work with the vendor? How easy is it to get a response from them? How easy is it to use and implement their technology? Does it really work with what you are trying to accomplish as a business owner? If you find that dealing with a tech firm requires steely endurance, then you probably have not found the right one, even if its prices are the lowest. “Instead of focusing on price, focus on value,” advises Cioffi.
Visiting the offices of potential IT vendors is a good way to find out if there will be a proper cultural fit between your team and theirs, he adds. “Engage with the people who will be delivering the service — not just the sales guy or owner,” he says. “Maybe bring some of your people to meet their people. It really exposes whether you are going to get along.”
Once you find a team you like, make sure they are willing to explain what they are doing in terms you understand. “This is where the trust comes in,” says Cioffi.
Determining whether your tech vendor is doing a good job can be difficult if you are not a techie yourself. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to do so, says DeRiggi. “Ask yourself: Do they help me drive growth, productivity, and efficiency in the way I do business? If not, keep shopping around,” he says.
Hire Benefits Providers
Who Provide Value
Tasks like setting up payroll and benefits can be as much fun as reading the phone book. But given how important your employees and contractors are to your business, it’s important to get the details right. “Payroll is the single largest expense most businesses have,” says Norman Michaels, president of TriState Pay LLC, a payroll and compliance services provider based in White Plains.
To find a good payroll provider, look for one who can offer you deep experience in compliance, he says, as there are many laws employers must comply with or risk fines.
If you offer healthcare or other benefits to your employees, finding a good benefits consultant is also essential, given the complexity of the healthcare industry. “There is not a lot of transparency in the healthcare field,” says James Schutzer, vice president of benefits consultancy JDM & Associates in White Plains.
A good benefits consultant can help you do things like select a healthcare plan that delivers the most bang for the buck. But that’s only part of the picture, says Schutzer. Your benefits firms should also be willing to sit down with your team, answer their questions and help them get the most out of their plan. “If you are not communicating with employees and educating them about [the benefits package] you are offering, a lot gets lost in translation,” he says. “You want someone who is going to get in front of your employees and explain all the nuts and bolts of all the different plans.”
Good consultants are
willing to turn off their PowerPoints and go off-script to address specific employee concerns, he adds. At one recent meeting, for example, a client’s employees wanted to find out why certain services were not considered preventive care by their insurance company. “I scrapped my agenda,” he says, to make sure the employees had the knowledge they were requesting.
Given that employers view benefits as an important tool for employee retention, it is essential that employees feel good about the plans offered to them. “An employer can go through a lot of time trying to bring value to the benefits they offer to employees,” he says. “If employees feel that they’re not getting that value, then the employer doesn’t get the mileage.”
Find People Who Find
the Right People
When a prospect recently asked Don Zinn for help finding a CEO for her firm, she mentioned that her five-person search team was already talking to three candidates. “If we are wowed by one of these three, we’ll make the hire,” she said.
“How do you define wow?” Zinn recalls asking her. “Do you agree on what wow means?” he went on. “What if each of you has a different interpretation of what wow means, and you hire the wrong person for CEO?”
Asking tough questions like these is a big part of Zinn’s role as a partner at the executive search and recruitment firm Jobplex Inc., which has an office in Tarrytown. While many companies see hiring as just another item on their to-do list, he views recruitment as a strategic process. “Whenever you are making a new hire, there is a new opportunity to define the business,” he says. “A good client will allow me to work with them and become part of their team.”
So how do you find outsourced human-resources professionals who can help you take your team and your company culture to the highest level?
“You want to partner with a company that is ideally local to your market and has a good finger on the pulse, in terms of what hiring profiles are in demand, what the appropriate salary levels are, and what skill sets are hard to find,” recommends Jason Witty, vice president at Robert Half, which has offices in White Plains and Stamford.
To get a sense of how a recruiter thinks and whether there is synergy between you, ask some key questions, Witty advises: What hiring trends do you see in the marketplace? What compensation trends are you seeing? Who are the last two or three people you placed?
Also, ask how many candidates a recruiter typically vets to fill a position. Finding the best talent is ultimately a numbers game. Zinn often aims to speak to 150 people, succeeds in reaching 75, winnows that group down to 15 to interview and then will present four or five to the client.
Once you find an HR pro you trust, being open about your culture and strategic goals is key. “In order for us to deliver the best service to our clients, we need to know who they are,” says Witty. “I ask them, ‘Why would a candidate who is looking at two, three, or four different opportunities choose to work for your company? Is it the culture? The growth? The compensation or benefits that are being offered? What is really attractive about your company versus others?’”
The best way to determine if your recruiter is doing a good job is to look around your office. If you’re thrilled with the candidates you have hired as a result of the work you’ve done together, that’s a powerful indicator that you have a great partnership. “It boils down to having a deep and trusting relationship,” says Witty.