Worst practices in RFP management


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Highlighting some of the less advisable approaches we've come across when selecting data-driven marketing technology and running a request for proposal, our white paper, Worst practices in RFP management, discusses some key issues and resolutions.

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Worst practices in RFP management

  1. 1. Worst practices in Request for Proposal managementHow to ensure trouble-‐free business solution procurement Simon Daniels Geoff Downer
  2. 2. Percassity Marketing Data Solutions is a marketing data strategy and marketing operations consultancy. Adopting advisory and implementation roles, Percassity works with clients to identify, assess and implement data-‐driven marketing technology solutions that meet their specific needs. As an independent consultancy, Percassity is in a position to make completely objective recommendations regarding the best and most appropriate solution to clients’ requirements. Find more request for proposal information and resources at percassity.com/rfp Percassity Marketing Data Solutions Suite 27 61 Praed Street London W2 1NS United Kingdom percassity.com solutions@percassity.com +44 (0) 20 7193 7682 +1 917 720 3582© 2012 Percassity Marketing Data Solutions Ltd.This document may be distributed, in this format and with this message only.
  3. 3. Worst practices in Request for Proposal management Simon Daniels and Geoff Downer | Percassity Marketing Data Solutions Organisations have been issuing and responding to Requests for Proposals for as long as they have been buying from each other, and the need for astute RFP management has certainly not diminished. Establishing clear objectives, controlling costs, choosing the right solution first time and ensuring a well prepared solution provider are all crucial to the procurement process in the current economic and business environment. At the same time, involvement in substantial purchasing decisions, with price tags running into six or seven figures, is often not a routine undertaking. Even with dedicated procurement support, the specifics of determining requirements, available solutions and organisational fit requires experience and subject matter expertise that may not be readily available. InAbout the authors their absence, it’s easy to make mistakes when it comes to compiling and issuing a request for proposal that will compromise Simon Daniels is the outcome in terms of the solution chosen and its ultimate Director, Marketing implementation. Operations Consulting at As such, we wanted to share some thoughts based on our Percassity experience of issues that arise in undertaking a request for Marketing Data proposal. The second in our Worst Practices series (see Worst Solutions. practices in Marketing Operations), we take a slightly ironic lookSimon’s experience spans a number at some of the poorer approaches we see, once again with theof business-to-business sectors, intention of assisting organisations to learn from the mistakes ofworking across Europe, North America others.and Asia Pacific and he has beenresponsible for data strategy How many do you recognise from RFPs you’ve been involved in?development and implementation at anumber of respected organisations.Percassity Worst Practice No. 1: Impose veryAssociate andindependent tight timelines for discovery,consultant Geoff documentation and responseDowner is asenior level Once the decision has been made to undertake a request fordata-driven proposal, everyone is keen to proceed as quickly as possible. Werelationship marketing solutions encounter projects that have been years awaiting the rightspecialist. He has more than 25 years sponsorship, at which point pent-up eagerness to proceed isexperience in all aspects of data- unleashed in a flurry of frantic activity. This can result indriven marketing and marketing compressed and unrealistic timescales to complete the processautomation, across a variety of sectors of scoping, discovery, supplier identification and proposalin both B2C and B2B. submission, compromising the final outcome. Regardless of the circumstances, a reasonable schedule should be adopted for all the steps of the request for proposal. This doesn’t mean proceeding at a languorous pace, but time should be allowed for additional interviews, obtaining clarifications and the inevitable rescheduling of planned sessions. Solution providers too should be allowed time to review the RFP documentation, prepare queries for clarification and compile their response. Foreshortening the time available will only compromise the quality of the final responses or even result in providers declining to bid; this might elicit a shrug of the shoulders and the retort that “it’s their loss”, but it could well be yours if a promising solution provider is not among the final proposals. Having been included in the RFP candidate list, it makes little sense not to obtain a response. solutions@percassity.com Page 3 percassity.com
  4. 4. Worst practices in Request for Proposal management Percassity Marketing Data SolutionsCheck points:! Allow sufficient time for every step of the request for proposal process, including internal activities as well as solution provider response preparation.! Build-in time for re-scheduling discovery sessions that might have to be postponed due to interviewee availability 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 requirementswith no indication of priorityIdeally, the scoping and discovery process that determines core requirementsfor the request for proposal will encompass everyone in the organisation withan interest in the resulting solution.The danger though is that anelongated “wish list” of perceived Requirements gatheringneeds is compiled, covering every The process of collecting Survey/questionnaire Should apossible eventuality and scenario requirements for inclusion in a large number of individuals needand pointing to an unrealistic or request for proposal can take to be consulted, a survey orsimply unaffordable solution. many forms. Adopting a range of questionnaire is a good approach. techniques usually makes sense - Online survey tools can be usedRequirements should be subjected here is a selection: and commonality of requirementsto an initial feasibility filter to ensure quickly established. Care shouldthe more egregious instances of Interviews Straightforward one- be taken not to “lead” on-one discussion, examining respondents and allowance made“just in case” needs are excluded at current activities and processes for less qualitative feedback.an early stage. Once a robust set of together with future requirements.requirements has been determined, Prototype Where a brand newa further priority should be applied Focus groups Similar to an solution is being proposed, thereto help solution providers interview but involving 2-4 may be no frame of reference forunderstand how critical each one is. participants and drawing out new requirements. Creating aThis can be expressed in the form multiple viewpoints. Care has to prototype to show to users andof must/should/could or a numerical be taken though to ensure that obtain feedback and suggestions those involved have common can help. In a sense a form ofrating, together with the option to requirements, otherwise the rapid application development,provide commentary. This way session can turn into several iterations quickly arrive at a finalproviders can indicate their ability to individual interviews. solution that solves the businessmeet, partially meet or not meet problem.requirements, creating a more Brainstorming/workshopsnuanced view than a simple yes/no. Involving larger groups, Suggestions and support logs workshops can kick-start the User feedback regarding anPotential solutions will have process, especially in a “green existing system may already bestrengths and weaknesses in field” situation. Participants are collected and these suggestions encouraged to pitch ideas, in turn can form the basis for futuredifferent areas and the rejection of triggering further suggestions requirements. Similarly, supporta candidate unable to strictly meet from others. Ideas can be requests and problem reportsa given specification might rule out prioritised and worked-up for may also indicate areas foran otherwise promising option. further assessment subsequently. development or implementation.Good responses to the request forproposal will suggest alternative Observation and review Where Use cases Sometimes, theapproaches to solving business an existing system is being easiest way to explain newissues represented in the replaced, as-is requirements can requirements is by illustrating howrequirements that might not have be uncovered by examining how it a system will be used. Such use is being used and reviewing cases, essentially storiesbeen initially considered. Overly documentation. Care should be describing specific scenarios,prescriptive requirements risk the provide a user-centric view that taken though to ensure that futuresubmission of responses that lack requirements are not omitted – can be converted intoinnovation or lateral thinking. see Worst Practice No. 3! requirements.solutions@percassity.com Page 4 percassity.com
  5. 5. Worst practices in Request for Proposal management Percassity Marketing Data Solutions Check points: ! Guard against creating a requirements set contributed from across the organisation that encompasses every conceivable eventuality. Consulting widely is important to achieving comprehensive requirements that are well supported, but 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. Solutions that don’t meet every requirement often turn out to be strong contenders when the ability to present a novel approach is available. ! Allow and encourage providers to include narrative with their proposals (within tight length limits) so that alternative approaches can be outlined in more detail. These can be followed-up in any presentation that a provider is invited to deliver. Worst Practice No. 3: Define requirements solely on current practices Requirements discovery always starts of course with gaining a thorough understanding, and ensuring rigorous capture, of the current business processes and activities that are tried, tested and accepted across the organisation. The chosen technology solution will have to be able to reproduce or support this “as-is” situation unless there is the unlikely opportunity to perform a complete business process re-engineering initiative. Future needs must be kept in mind as well though. Once selected, a solution is likely to have a life of three years or more, so must support the needs of the organisation as they develop over that period. There must be a vision to ensure that the chosen solution will not become redundant simply through being unable to support activities as they evolve over time. Requirements gathering should be sufficiently widely spread to include decision makers and “Once selected, a influencers in all of the areas likely to have a short/medium term future need, solution is likely to often referred to as “to-be” requirements. have a life of threeyears or more, so must An underlying consideration when developing the to-be scenario is to ensure a thorough awareness of the different capabilities of the candidate solutions. support the needs of Solution providers will of course present their view, but will – not unreasonably the organisation as – emphasise the benefits of their particular solution. Review business they develop” objectives and solution specifications carefully to help understand the options available and the key characteristics that will best support your business model. Ultimately this will help to develop and extend the to-be model and ensure the greatest value from the chosen solution. Check points: ! Capture existing or “as-is” requirements that reflect current business processes so that potential solutions can be matched to them, avoiding the need for extensive alteration to existing practices. ! Ensure future or “to-be” requirements are also identified, ensuring the chosen solution will have an acceptable lifespan and grow with the organisation. ! Thoroughly determine the capabilities of potential solutions and consider them against all requirements, maintaining a healthy credulity over solution provider claims. solutions@percassity.com Page 5 percassity.com
  6. 6. Worst practices in Request for Proposal management Percassity Marketing Data SolutionsWorst Practice No. 4: Expect unrealisticallydetailed business case inputWe’ve seen a number of situations where a request for proposal has beenissued, quite often lacking in detail itself, with the expectation of a fullresponse including business case and return on investment model. It’sattractive to ask solution providers to undertake additional work in this way,but is invariably counterproductive and won’t result in the desired outcome.Providers are unlikely, especially in an initial response, to have attainedsufficient knowledge about organisational specifics to be able to provide anymeaningful assessment. “Solution providers may be unwilling toWhere justification is provided, it may be necessary to unravel objective undertake such amodels from the sales pitch aspects of a response, focusing on the key detailed level ofelements that the solution does well. In addition, solution providers may beunwilling to undertake such a detailed level of response while still on the “long response while still onlist”. They may have to judge whether it is worthwhile responding, or if the the long list”RFP is just “fishing” for free ideas that can then be used elsewhere.It is common to ask shortlisted providers, and certainly the one finallyselected, for more detailed information that will help to illustrate a businesscase, but by this stage in the relationship the process should be much morecollaborative. Discussions should be taking place around a table, rather thaninterviews across a table, at which point they are more likely to value the co-operation.Check points: ! Avoid setting unreasonable expectations regarding the detail in RFP responses relating to business case and return on investment justification, especially if background detail in the request is lacking. ! Keep in mind that any contribution around return on investment may be coloured by specific strengths of the solution provider itself. Be objective when assessing these aspects of a response and draw from multiple sources wherever possible. ! Work with the solution provider ultimately selected (or at least the final candidate) to obtain any further detail necessary to contribute to the business case, drawing on specifics of their solution.Worst Practice No. 5: Send the RFP to a longlist of solution providers “just to see whatthey come back with”Inevitably, there will be many different providers of systems and services thatcould be invited to respond to a request for proposal. Representing different “Should the solutionpositions in the solution provider landscape in terms of scale, capabilities and provider list startdelivery model, there will be seemingly compelling reasons to include each becoming too long,one in the final list. Combined with companies favoured by the variousstakeholders involved in the decision or that are currently in vogue with look again at howrelevant industry analysts, the list can become long and unwieldy. closely each one meets the selection criteria”Avoid succumbing to temptation though, and ensure that the RFP is issued toas tight a selection of solution providers possible so that the process remainsmanageable and thorough. Keep in mind that every additional solutionprovider represents another proposal that will need to be reviewed andscored, as well as managed through the overall process. On the other side ofsolutions@percassity.com Page 6 percassity.com
  7. 7. Worst practices in Request for Proposal management Percassity Marketing Data Solutions the equation, responding to an RFP, especially a more complex one, can be a significant investment that providers would rather not make if it’s just for the basis of comparison. Certainly, it’s important to ensure that a suitable cross-section of available providers is invited to submit proposals. We’ve seen successful bidders proposing an unanticipated approach or deployment model that actually turns out to represent the best fit. Equally, as well as alternative solution proposals, a range of responses allows representative pricing options to be obtained that might also turn up unexpected options. Should the solution provider list start becoming too long, look again at how closely each one meets the selection criteria and if there is any overlap between them. A disciplined approach at this point will pay dividends later on. Check points: ! Restrict the number of solution providers invited to submit proposals as far as possible. Ensure they are chosen on the basis of their ability to meet the selection criteria 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 so that an informed comparison can be made. ! 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. Conclusion The worst practices discussed here are just a selection of the traps in which it is all too easy to become ensnared in the process of undertaking a request for proposal. The challenges and potential pitfalls though shouldn’t be used as justification for failing to take a rigorous approach or indeed avoiding the need to undertake change altogether. Embarking on an RFP in a considered and methodical way will help to ensure the solution best meeting the needs of the organisation is selected, the provider is well prepared for its implementation, costs are kept under control and that decisions can be justified to stakeholders and boards. As is often the case, a little investment upfront in planning and commitment will lead to rewards later on as the process runs smoothly and on time. Regardless of the size and nature of the organisation, the type of solution being sought and the characteristics of the solution provider, a well-managed RFP could be the difference between success and failure of the entire initiative. A positive outcome for everyone involved is only a few steps away. Good luck! solutions@percassity.com Page 7 percassity.com
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