This blog post covers the pros and cons of the RFP process and gives tips for writing your RFP.

The Death of the RFP. Long Live the RFP!

Fri Jun 28, 2013

As an avid fan of Mad Men, I of course watched this week’s season finale episode. (Spoiler Alert!) No, I'm not going to harp about Sterling Cooper and Partners kicking out Don Draper or how Peggy is going to be the next Don.  But, I would like to call attention to one point in the episode that piqued my curiosity. When Ken Cosgrove (the sales guy) walks into Don’s office, he says “Hershey’s Chocolate sent an RFP out to the top 30 agencies and all anyone seems to care about is that we’re in the top 30.”

This point in the show made me realize how old Request for Proposals are. Although I’m sure there has been much evolution when it comes to how RFPs are written, delivered, and strategized, the concept is still really dated. So it’s time for a refresher, right?

What is a RFP? And why is it used?

An RFP, also known as request for proposal, is a document submitted from an organization to a vendor or multiple vendors asking specific questions about how the vendor can meet the organization’s needs. As a former Percussion customer, this wasn't a necessary part of the process for me because I really wanted to get my hands on the product instead of hearing how great it was. But I knew that there would be many stakeholders who would never have the time to see the product and although would want to have many questions answered about the product. And believe me, the questions came up, even after we launched. I was thankful for having the response to the web content management RFP available to whip out and say here it is, right in the document.  Long story short, an RFP is a very useful tool, but a better security blanket.

The Pros and Cons of RFPs

There are many RFP templates out there, from analyst firms such as Gartner, Forrester, or even web content management vendors such as us. But the main issue with this is that they can be very big, long winded, and even biased. You should only use these templates as a guideline to help you work on your document. Why?

Every organization is different; in size, target marketing, marketing goals, etc. And the purpose of every website is different; portal, eCommerce, marketing, recruitment, and membership. Therefore, if you start with an RFP template for an enterprise level web content management system you are going to get every single answer under the sun that isn't relevant to your business. This can result in a longer process for reviewing the RFP and even scope creep, which is one of the last things you want when it comes to selecting a new system to help accomplish your goals.

An additional con has to do with the process behind sending out an RFP. When writing your request for proposal keep in mind that it should be sent if you have a plan to implement within 90 days. Why? The web industry is constantly changing. And if organizations have implemented the agile development methodology, then a feature requested in the RFP, might have already been created or even in the road-map. You want to make sure your RFP aligns with the web rate of change as much as the software you end up selecting.

How Can I Write the Best RFP for My Business?

As mentioned above, you want to avoid asking for something more complicated than you need. So, here are some tips to as what you can do before you even start working on your web content management RFP:

  • Clearly define:
    • Your organizational goals
    • The purpose of your product
  • Write out what you have today and the downsides to that platform
  • Prioritize your requirements. Write down what you want, need, and what your organization definitely doesn't want.
  • Think of all the questions you have for the vendor.
  • Research your competitors and what they are doing right.

And last but not least… When you sit down to write your web content management RFP, be as detailed as possible. Most organizations worry about being detailed in their RFP because they want to see how the vendor interprets the question. The problem with this ends up being that the vendor gets confused as to how they should answer the question, and they might not answer it correctly.

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