RFPs, Long-Term Partnerships, and YOU

In previous blogs I’ve written about why RFPs might not be the solution to your ‘software problem’ and that RFPs could learn a thing or two from the online dating process. While it’s easy to recommend that you ditch the RFP process altogether, I’m aware that’s not always possible. So, if you have to go through an RFP process, I want to give you some things to consider for improving this process as well as help you find “the one” – for a long-term, successful vendor partnership.

First ask yourself, “Why are we doing an RFP?”

Some typical responses include:

“To compare price.”

Making a vendor decision on price alone (or heavily influenced by price) is a risky choice. All service providers’ prices are going to range drastically. In the services world, no two companies are created equal, so comparing on price alone is like looking for a hotel and choosing the least expensive $70/night place (without reading about the accommodations, customer reviews, etc.). You might get lucky and find a gem, but you won’t know until you’re already committed.

Additionally, if you expect to have a top-of-the-line product/service delivered on time and at a bottom-of-the-barrel price, I’m sorry, it just won’t happen.

The Fast, Good, and Cheap pricing method should be remembered here:

You can have Good + Fast = but it will be EXPENSIVE
You can choose Good + Cheap = but it will be SLOW
You can have it Fast + Cheap = but you can bet on it being INFERIOR (low quality)

You can have 2 out of the 3, but not all 3.

“It’s what we’ve always done.”

There are other, more successful, options to find the right vendor for your project. (You can read our preferred method here.) Seek referrals from your network and do some serious research on them. Get to know the vendors intimately because you’re going to be spending some serious time and money with them. Make it worthwhile!

“It’s company policy.”

If you can’t change the policy, at least improve the process! Here are some suggestions to incorporate into your process:

  1. Complete pre-RFP conversations with each vendor to get a feel for who they are, how they operate, and how you all would potentially work together.
  2. Develop your RFP according to the project you’re looking to accomplish – focus on big picture/high level requirements and qualifications for the project.
  3. Throw out those cookie cutter, mostly irrelevant questions that, let’s be honest here, you don’t read the responses to, and vendors don’t know how or why they should answer.
  4. Leave out emotional requirements (just because the last vendor you worked with stopped communicating and was based in another state doesn’t mean every vendor you work with now needs to be in your city – you’ll limit yourself significantly!).
  5. Interview top vendors for a few hours or more. Discuss their vision, capabilities and potential ideas for your project. The vendor you choose is going to be around for a while, so make sure you like their ideas and their communication style (yes, just like dating!).

All in all, if you want a professional partnership that is long lasting and mutually beneficial, treat it as if you were looking for a long-term mate. Don’t make a decision by a profile or piece of paper. “Date” (get to know) your potential vendors. Be honest with them. Spend some quality time together to learn who they are and what they’re about. In the end, you’ll be much closer to finding “the one” and having a successful project as well as long-term partnership.