What to do if you don’t want to use an RFP
As we discussed in part one of this blog using an RFP (Request for Proposal) is most often a flawed process. Unfortunately, organizations frequently feel backed into a corner because they don’t know any alternative. This blog will provide you with a step-by-step action plan for speeding up your system acquisition, reducing the cost of the process, and guaranteeing better results.
Using an RFP can often look like this…
When really, what you need is…
People feel comfortable with RFP’s because they believe they will get some or all of the following benefits:
- The best possible solution because they are casting a wide net
- Free consulting by asking potential vendors to recommend solutions
- Lower pricing
- More transparency
- Less effort on the part of the organization’s staff
As we discussed in the last blog, often times the best vendors will not respond to RFP’s because they are too busy, and because they are good. Free consulting is worth what you pay for it. How can the vendors possibly have a complete picture of your needs at this point and you are asking salespeople to do this? Lower pricing? RFP’s can end up with a wide range of prices, sometimes up to ten times or more compared to the cheapest quote. Does the cheapest quote include everything? Have they considered all of the ramifications of what you need and what they are proposing? Increased transparency promises much but you can gain the same or additional benefits here by a more effective approach. And those looking for less effort, are they just being lazy by not putting in the diligence they should to find the best solution for their organization? RFP’s remind me a bit of speed dating but without the “speed” part.
Steps to a better solution
1. Identify someone in your organization who thoroughly understands your business
This person will become the backbone of the search for a new system as all requirements and possibly solutions will need to be vetted by your expert. Then add some key stakeholders who will contribute to the process. Make sure the key person, if they are to head the search internally, has enough time to work on the project.
2. Pick the lucky internal recipient who will get to head up the project search
This may or may not be the person identified in step 1. This person needs to have the appropriate time and access to the necessary people to ensure the project stays on track.
3. Find someone who knows what software searches are all about, probably external
Generally, people who need a new computer system are not computer experts who make a living doing software searches. You wouldn’t expect these business analysts to do your job and you shouldn’t expect yourself to be good at what they do. Do not rely on someone internal, even if they are part of the owner’s family, unless they really are experts at this process.
There are a couple of key points here. The first, is that finding an external person to help you, does not mean you have to go through an RFP process. What you need is a guiding hand and maybe some direction, not an author. The second, is the person may not necessarily be a paid resource. If you know a capable person who knows how this process works and has some time for you, even on a personal basis, he or she can help guide the resources identified under step 1.
4. Clearly identify the reasons and goals for acquiring a new system
Don’t skip over this step. Sometimes, organizations have a gut feeling that they should be getting a new system or someone they know has done this, perhaps a key competitor and they feel the need to make some kind of move to keep up. This is all about your organization, although the reasons may well involve remaining competitive. Everything you do here will become the foundation for evaluating the success of the project.
5. Confirm the budget, timing, and executive sponsorship
One of the biggest failures of the RFP process happens because of these three factors. It is difficult to know the exact numbers but in my experience more than 50% of RFP’s do not result in an actionable decision. The budget turns out to be fluid or non-existent. People don’t have time for the project. They have real jobs already! And executive sponsorship turns out to be indifferent as other priorities arise.
6. Now go get the detailed requirements to measure the expectations of key stakeholders
This is going to be a lot of information. People will want to throw lots of detail at you but make sure you get the processes as well. RFP’s tend to rely on the answers to hundreds of questions, but in reality a system offering you better business processes is more important than whether you have two or three choices of invoice formats.
7. Summarize and prioritize the key requirements
Don’t get bogged down by the detail. Years ago as a senior manager in KPMG’s Information Systems Group, we utilized an Excel spreadsheet that accumulated the answers to hundreds of questions and tried to match the answers to a number of systems to see which would be the best fit, based solely on the highest percentage of matches. It didn’t take me long to figure there would only be five to ten elements that would become the key decision points. For our local market, foreign currency and serialized inventory were differentiators.
8. Talk to everyone you can
Even competitors. Most will actually be frenemies or participate in the same community or recreational activities. Find out what people are doing and thinking. This will be invaluable in sourcing solutions and implementation consultants. An outstanding experience vouched for by someone you trust is an excellent starting point but consider the level of complexity of their organization compared to yours. Are they in the same business? A system that works for inventory sales does not remotely qualify a new system for equipment rentals but it is worth a quick look.
9. Wear out your internet connection and do some research
There is generally so much information on the internet now, both on software and implementation partners. A thorough search here is really where the paid external RFP consultant will likely start anyway.
10. Sit down as a group and summarize your findings
Your expert, the project lead, and the search expert should now sit down and summarize the findings. A direction should become clear from discussion.
11. Decide on a search approach
By this time, you should have a good idea of what products you want to evaluate and implementation partners you would like to talk to. If it is a short list, which could be as few as one vendor or product, you might want to consider going directly to the vendors. You want to work through a few meetings, in increasing levels of detail and process discussion, to get a feel for the match of the organization to the implementation partners and products they support. Once you have gone through these meetings and are satisfied the group thoroughly understands your business, now you can ask for a proposal, which will be miles ahead of anything an RFP will generate.
If you have more than one possible product or vendor, consider crafting an RFI, a Request for Information. Take the key summary points, including your goals, industry description, time table, business overview, and ask potential product vendors and implementation partners for feedback on their experience, qualifications, etc. Price at this stage is meaningless although you could certainly ask for charge-out rates. This is the first step in trying to figure out the suitability of the partner. It is very important at this stage not to engage in any depth with the salespeople you will get thrown at you. Although they may be genuine, it is important to get to the key people as quickly as possible. Salespeople are gatekeepers and generally add little to your process. At this point, you want to work through the same process as when you identified a single, preferred vendor. Only, you have more than one and you want to shorten the list as soon as reasonably possible to get to an informed quote.
Note that price comes last in this process. If you have to get numbers sooner, ask for quotes that are plus or minus some percentage along with all assumptions. Park this number after making sure it is generally within your acceptable range. You will want to keep refining this number as the vendor gets more information about your organization and goals for a new system.
12. Now you should have an informed quote – confirm your internal assumptions
Go back and re-affirm the budget commitment, timing, and executive sponsorship. Make sure nothing has changed internally. A key stakeholder may have left the organization. If so, you need to evaluate the impact of this.
13. Negotiate a contract with the preferred vendor
Move to the second, if you can’t come up with something satisfactory from the first one. If you only had one, don’t panic and cave in during your negotiations. Re-evaluate where the process went wrong. More products or vendors should come out of this process. As much as you hate re-doing any of this work, having the right system is more important.
14. After the project is complete, be sure to follow up on your original goals
See how well you accomplished your objectives. If something went wrong, you need to figure it out before it gets buried by time, inattention or lack of interest.
Thanks for reading. After nearly thirty years or working with mid-market computer systems, I can assure you this process will work much better than an RFP process, which often misses on finding the best product and results in much higher costs, mostly in the form of change orders.
If you are considering a new business management or rental system, please contact us for a demo to see how our Dynamics NAV solution will streamline your rental operations. Call 1.877.777.7764 ext 105 to speak to Malcolm.