Ray Moukaddem, Senior Director of Success Cloud APAC, Salesforce (NYSE: CRM)
Over the course of my career, I have been part of many RFP processes. A trend I have noticed is that results of the selection process do not always meet expectations in delivery. Even though the results are inconsistent, many organisations continue to run the same process over and over again.
Following a usual process, a long list of functional and non-functional requirements are created. These are used to establish baseline criteria to select the best vendor to fulfil the requirements. This ends up being a grocery list of everything new they have been exposed to, and everything old from their legacy systems. It also forms the basis of shielding from blame if things go wrong. It is thought that a more comprehensive process will result in a reduced chance of mistakes being made.
However, does it have to be run with the same framework as the last 20 years? In the quick-moving world of I.T. services, things have evolved. Companies have less to spend, more to buy and have a desire to move faster and transform how they are leveraging technology to meet their goals. With that in mind, the RFP process needs to change.
When evaluating a platform and skill level of a consulting firm, the aim should be to operate efficiently and cost-effectively to find the best fit vendor to complete requirements. To better understand what I am proposing to change, I want to review a few of the obstacles to the process when it comes to selecting an I.T. services vendor.
One. Not every vendor will reply to the RFP. When a company is reviewing the RFP and qualifying whether they should bid, they will consider a few things. How deeply intertwined is the incumbent? Is the selection process a formality to a foregone conclusion? What are our winning themes across this full stack of requirements? Whom do we need to run the RFP process and what is the effort required? The answers to these and other similar questions will create a barrier of entry and a no-bid decision. Companies that could be a good fit will not bid, meaning you limit your pool before you have even started.
Two. Lack of context. In any consulting engagement, the first question is 'What are you trying to achieve with this feature?'. The response will often reshape the requirements. The RFP requirements list is no different, as the vendor addresses each requirement without understanding the broader context or having the ability to challenge and provide an alternative solution. Vendors don't have the opportunity to think more broadly about what you are trying to achieve. This narrows your evaluation process and hides the vendor's potential to transform your program of work.
Three. Evaluating similarities. A significant portion of the RFP is spent on functional and non-functional requirements. When each vendor has completed the same lists, this gives you a basis to compare apples with apples, looking for who answered the majority of questions in alignment with your organisation.
When you are looking for a partner to consult and deliver engagements for you, you don't want to select a 'meets expectation' vendor. With this process, you get to choose the vendor who can fulfil your requirements without knowing who can drive your engagement to the next level. The focus should be on the value proposition and potential of the vendor and how they can exceed your expectations. When taking into account the above points, combined with the time and effort invested in the RFP process, selecting a vendor that meets expectation seems like a low bar to be meeting. Considering how fast you want to move forward as an organisation to reap the rewards of your initiatives, your mindset needs to change.
The following three items can reduce the time and effort in your RFP process while focusing on who can deliver your requirement, enhance them and pivot throughout the project as changes arise.
One. Narrowing your options. The first step is to attract a pool of vendors that meet your procurement standards and demonstrate their experience and differentiators. You want to keep this phase lean, focusing on three main areas to maximise applicants and minimise overhead.
First, describe the context of the engagement, high-level details of the initiatives and the end goal. Limit responses to three pages, so the vendor is concise when describing how their background and experience demonstrate their capability to execute the scope of work.
Second, a single page on why they think they are the best vendor to execute this piece of work. This provides vendors with the opportunity to showcase their value proposition and how this will propel your engagement to the next level.
Finally, ask the vendor to articulate their company culture. Finding a company with a similar or complimenting culture will help streamline the engagement and the ongoing partnership.
Following these steps will allow you to narrow your selection to 6 vendors in significantly less time, while still providing high-level insights on their capability, ability to challenge your strategy while fitting into your company culture.
Two. Replace talking with doing. Your RFP is segmented into what they can do, what have they done, and how they are going to do it. The people completing the RFP are seldom the people that are working on your engagement. Rather than having the vendor complete the requirements, have them develop a POC with similar requirements to your proposal.
At this stage, creating the next level of big-block requirements is necessary. For example, if you need to integrate with a data platform, use that data to create a segment, and personalise the content on a page, then set it up as a POC. Once you strip away security, cosmetics, governance, end to end testing, documentation, real APIs and scalable code, what remains are requirements with low effort to implement. Your POC should include half a dozen smaller features so you can assess attention to detail in the process.
Although this doesn't sound complex, you will be surprised at how few of the six vendors will be able to develop and present a solution within a short timeframe and to the brief. Reviewing what was built, how it was built, and assessing their process and communication during the POC will reveal important information about the vendor. Information that couldn't be observed in an RFP form. These insights are your viewing window into how the vendor operates and delivers.
You should now be able to narrow your options down to two vendors using pre-determined scoring criteria.
Three. Deep diving. Narrowing the field to two vendors. It is now time to get deeper into what they have been able to achieve with other engagements. The vendor will present two or three previous engagements and the journey they have taken that customer on. During this process, you can ask questions mapped back to the program of work you want to execute. Essentially, you give yourself the ability to interview them on their experiences.
At this stage, all of the main stakeholders will be involved including I.T., business, and other relevant groups, to be able to provide deeper input into their respective areas. Understanding the details here, allows you to run a risk mitigation exercises and understand the pitfalls and gaps of your engagement before it kicks off.
Overall, when an RFP is designed to be all-encompassing, it is trying to avoid any obstacles or deviation to the plan. In reality, the need to pivot and adapt during an engagement is essential. Having the right vendor you can work with to do this is vital. The RFP process is about selecting the right fit vendor, who can deliver your engagement, to yield richer benefits for your organisation in the long term. Good luck.