The RFP process can be stressful. In great part because you know it’s the start of a big change for your association. You’re likely ready to embark on a system implementation or upgrade and the RFP is the necessary step in that process. But…is it?
Some associations need to do an RFP because it’s built into their procurement or is a general counsel-directed policy. Some associations use it to get competitive bids. But some associations use it as an opportunity to do a feature assessment. By having a list of features to send to prospective vendors, you want to make sure your selection meets your needs. But that also means you’re doing part of your discovery before you even know what system you’ll be using.
An important consideration is understanding what solution you’re trying to solve. Are you updating your infrastructure or systems that have reached their end of life? Do you have specific needs that are no longer being met? Do you believe your association is being left behind as technology continues to evolve? All of those are valid reasons to change, but risk not telling you – or the prospective vendors – what you’re looking for. Being able to articulate the why as much as anything else should help drive your process.
Articulating specific requirements – and a broad vision – is important. Be careful that the RFP doesn’t turn into your detailed requirements gathering. If your RFP is limited to a checklist of features, you may miss out on opportunities you don’t even know to look for. Be open to adjusting your scope when a tool presents itself to meet new needs. And be ready to have a conversation with the prospective vendor about what your future vision could be.
Another consideration when preparing your RFP is whether you’ll use a consultant in the process. If vendor selection is a regular part of your job and managing the process is something you or your team have the bandwidth to do, maybe a consultant isn’t something that fits your budget or needs. But a consultant adds value beyond managing the process. They can help target your RFP to vendors or software that are a good fit based on understanding the marketplace and learning your needs. Having a partner there to manage your selection process and understand industry leaders can be a valuable extension to your team.
Regardless of whether you have a consultant or not, crafting a good RFP question is important. One key is to remember not to limit to yes/no questions. Some questions may be straightforward and only need a yes/no answer, but be sure to include plenty of opportunities to expand on that. For instance, asking if the vendor has security will give everyone the opportunity to say yes. But you want to know how they do it. Or more specific needs such as field-level security, security at the user level or department level, etc. Open-ended questions like “How do you..” or “Explain your process for…” better prepares you for your selection and demo steps.
Asking engaging questions can also give you the opportunity to read between the lines. A recent study by Third Coast Consulting shows the type of software implemented has less of an impact on the success of implementation than the people you’re working with. While you’ll get a feel for the vendor during the demo and subsequent conversations prior to signing a contract – and plenty after! – you want to make sure the vendor is someone you want to work with and can deliver what you need. That starts with how the RFP is answered.
The three things you want to look at – Software, People, and Process – help make for successful implementation and ongoing relationship with your vendor. Make sure your RFP gives you a feel for all three and you’ll start that relationship out on your best foot forward.