It’s all too easy to make mistakes compiling and issuing a request for proposal when choosing data-driven marketing technology. Here are some of the less advisable approaches, presented in the spirit of assisting organisations to learn from the mistakes of others. How many do you recognise from RFPs in which you’ve been involved?
Worst Practice No. 1: Impose very tight timelines
Once the decision has been made to undertake a request for proposal, everyone is keen to proceed as quickly as possible, resulting in compressed and unrealistic timescales. A reasonable schedule should be adopted for all the steps of the request for proposal process, with sensible contingencies to deal with any issues that arise. Solution providers too should be allowed time to review the RFP documentation, prepare queries for clarification and compile their response.
- Allow sufficient time, including internal activities as well as solution provider response preparation.
- Build-in time for re-scheduling postponed discovery sessions and for handling additional queries that arise.
- Remember that the quality of the responses and ultimate selection of the best solution are reliant on allowing sufficient time.
Worst Practice No. 2: Create requirements with no indication of priority
Ideally, the scoping and discovery that determine core requirements will encompass everyone with an interest in the resulting solution. The danger though is that an elongated “wish list” of perceived needs is compiled, leading to an unrealistic solution. So, once a robust set of requirements has been determined, a priority should be applied to help solution providers understand their relative importance. This way providers can indicate their ability to meet, partially meet or not meet requirements, creating a more nuanced view than a simple yes/no. Overly prescriptive requirements risk the submission of responses that lack innovation or lateral thinking.
- Avoid creating requirements that encompasses every conceivable eventuality. Focus on the core business issue must be maintained.
- Prioritise requirements with a suitable mechanism so that solution providers can indicate full or partial compliance.
- Allow and encourage providers to include narrative with their proposals so that alternative approaches can be outlined in more detail.
Worst Practice No. 3: Define requirements solely on current practices
Requirements discovery starts with gaining a thorough understanding of current business processes and activities. As well as the “as-is” situation though, future “to-be” needs must also be kept in mind – once selected, any solution must support the needs of the organization as they develop over time. In addition, review business objectives and solution specifications carefully to ensure on-going support for your business model and ultimately the greatest value from the chosen solution.
- Capture existing, “as-is” requirements that reflect current business processes so that potential solutions can be matched to them.
- Identify future, “to-be” requirements, ensuring the chosen solution will have an acceptable lifespan.
- Thoroughly determine the capabilities of potential solutions and consider them against all requirements.
Worst Practice No. 4: Expect unrealistically detailed business case input
All too often, a request for proposal is issued with the expectation of a response incorporating business case and return on investment models. However, providers are unlikely, especially in an initial response, to have attained sufficient insight to be able to provide any meaningful assessment. Also, where justification is provided, it may be necessary to unravel it from the sales pitch aspect of the response. It is common to ask shortlisted providers for more detailed information that will help to illustrate a business case, but by this stage in the relationship the process should be much more collaborative.
- Avoid setting unreasonable expectations on the detail in RFP responses relating to business case and return on investment justification.
- Keep in mind that any contribution around return on investment may be coloured by specific strengths of the solution provider itself.
- Work with the solution provider ultimately selected to obtain any further detail for the business case, drawing on specifics of their solution.
Worst Practice No. 5: Send the RFP to a long list of solution providers “just to see what they come back with”
Inevitably, there will be many different providers of systems and services that could be invited to respond to a request for proposal. There will be compelling reasons to include each one in the final list, combined with companies favoured by stakeholders involved in the decision or that are currently in vogue with relevant industry analysts. Avoid succumbing to temptation though, and ensure that the RFP is issued to as tight a selection of solution providers possible so that the process remains manageable and thorough. Certainly, it’s important to ensure that a cross-section of available providers is invited to submit proposals, leading to the possibility of unanticipated approaches as well as representative pricing options to be obtained that might also turn up unexpected options.
- Restrict the number of solution providers invited to submit proposals and avoid adding providers that don’t have realistic prospects of success.
- Ensure though that providers selected do represent a cross-section of possible deployment models and cost levels.
- When choosing the final list, consider that every proposal will need to be reviewed and how long it will take to assess a large number of responses.
The worst practices discussed here are just a selection of the possible traps in the process of undertaking a request for proposal – look out for future posts with more tips. Regardless of the size and nature of your organization, the type of solution being sought and the characteristics of the solution provider, a little investment upfront in planning and commitment could be the difference between success and failure. Good luck!
This post is an abridged version of our white paper Worst practices in RFP management, available for download now.