The other day I read something about how having a lot of technical staff or developers on the bench was a strength for a vendor (this predates the current economy).

I suppose they are thinking, "Hey we can respond to your needs more quickly".

I guess you can put a positive marketing spin on anything.

Having been on both sides of the equation (vendor and customer), I don't see it as a positive thing at all.

Why are all those people on the bench?

Personally, I want the vendor and people that everyone else wants. If they are busy it should mean that somebody finds them good.

Being on the bench sucks!

I've never met a technician or developer that likes being on the bench. There is a perception that mold is growing on your skills and value. There is also a lot of stress, people on the bench are first to be let go during a downturn. The first people to leave are the good ones. Often, the ones on the bench are the less marketable people.

The Customer Pays… Always

If a company is always running with a large bench component, the customer pays… someone has to if the vendor wants to not lose money. No vendor can lose money forever without getting bought out or going bankrupt. They will also tend to pad projects with extra resources to get billing up.

Busy is Better

A good vendor has enough people to meet normal commitments and has the ability to hire or subcontract for peak demand. They should also have the ability to grow at a reasonable rate without straining their management structure, quality or processes.

Can the vendor meet your requirements in a reasonable timeframe (ramp up)? Once they start work do they meet their commitments? Is the team they are proposing good at what you are looking for?

If so and all things being equal, pick the in-demand and busier vendor, even if you have to wait a bit. 

There is something contagious about organizations that can get things done efficiently with a lean and agile team.