Where not to start.
Many companies will start their technology or service provider selection process by sending out a blind RFI (request for information) or RFP (request for proposal) without so much as picking up the phone to introduce themselves and the opportunity, or even calling/emailing to let the targeted recipients of their information-seeking document know that it is on the way. Think about the instant dread you feel when your phone rings just as you sit down to dinner because you KNOW on the other end of the line is a cold-calling “Company X” representative reading from a script that may or may not offer you any value. Same goes of the perception for blind RFI/RFPs by its receivers. So as a result, in return for the diligence, time, and effort that went into developing the RFI/RFP, you likely get vague responses – the cold-caller’s equivalent of “yup, uh-huh, OK”, that include inaccurate estimations of the project’s timeline and costs. Or in many cases, no response at all.
Start here instead
Researching, identifying, narrowing, and confirming the list of potential service providers and/or technology vendors to those that can meet your well vetted and organizational-wide agreed upon Focal Needs and requirements is a critical pre-step to sending out an RFP. It removes the need for an RFI altogether. Then equally as important is spending time with the top candidates prior to issuing the RFP. Hosting the potential partner(s) for an on-site information exchange where both parties have the opportunity to validate the potential “fit” of the partnership significantly increases the potential partners’ interest in responding to the RFP, as well as the quality of their responses.
Sending out an RFP too early can be a big mistake and a waste of time for everyone involved. By running the RFP process first, before the on-site information exchange sessions, the potential partners don’t have enough information about the opportunity and the requirements or budget. This leads to their blindly answering the checklist of questions, and even providing you with a cost estimate when they don’t have enough meaningful information in order to provide you with an accurate proposal.
Being prepared and informed will net meaningful and informed responses, as well as create a collaborative environment for both you and the potential partners. Putting the RFP process near the end will eliminate the need for 60- page RFP responses, as you will be familiar with the potential vendor and integration team partners by now; and they know enough about your organization and its needs to provide you with the best possible proposal.
As a potential technology buyer, what has your experience been with sending out an RFI or RFP before meeting with the potential vendors? As a vendor how do you choose which RFIs/RFPs to respond to? Have other thoughts on selection processes? Please share them below via the Comments section.