Some years ago I asked political commentator James Carville a question he’d never heard before. Now I’m realizing it applies to today’s world of RFPs and sales calls.
A little background is in order. Back then, I was a business editor for a small community newspaper group. I got to interview Carville and his wife, Mary Matalin, a Republican strategist, at a hospital foundation dinner.
Of course, I asked the usual questions relating to the hospital’s mission and what the couple thought of the day’s political climate. But then I asked a question I saved for last: “What didn’t I ask you that I should have?” Carville seemed surprised and said nobody had ever asked him that before.
That points out a major problem in communication most of us have. We already have expectations set in our minds. We believe we know everything our potential partners and clients want and need. In turn, they think they know our capabilities and the ins and outs of our software development expertise. Unfortunately, in most cases that’s not completely true.
Problems with RFPs
An RFP just makes a potential client’s preconceived notions about how we should solve their problems concrete. This locks us into a specific direction by a rigid set of questions and requirements that don’t even match the extent of what we offer. At the same time, an RFP doesn’t give us enough information about their business to create the best solution.
It’s understandable that an executive would want to do business with an established firm. But does that lock out innovation?
A coworker said the RFP process, doesn’t build a relationship with a vendor that’s to be your partner.
Purchasing a BI solution will play a significant role in an ISV’s future. A good partnership with the vendor brings in their expertise. That helps to ensure a successful and timely integration and deployment. The rigid, formal RFP process offers no opportunity for collaboration for the best solution.
Michael McLaughlin of Mindshare Consulting keeps hoping for the demise of the RFP. He wrote that for 99.9 percent of projects, much value exists in collaborating with the client to define the problem and design its solution. “If clients keep you ‘at arms’ length,’ they sacrifice access to expertise in problem analysis in the name of creating a ‘fair’ buying process. The result: the client receives a stack of mediocre proposals to solve an unconfirmed problem,” McLaughlin wrote in his blog.
He said clients that you don’t know who request RFPs may want your proposal as a “stalking-horse” bidder. They’ll use your proposal to get concessions from their preferred provider. Or they might just need your bid to fill internal requirements on the number of bidders. Either way, your company has little chance of winning those bids.
I especially dislike companies using RFPs just to figure out if they can do the work themselves in-house with no intention of selecting any partner.
Marketing consultant Avi Dan wrote in Forbes that the RFP is inferior and obsolete. When selecting a marketing agency, he said that it may give you an idea of its past accomplishments. “However, you’re not hiring an agency’s past, you’re hiring its future,” he wrote. So make sure partners and vendors prepared for it.
An Alternative to the RFP?
So what should replace the RFP process? Well, start off with figuring out the problem you need to solve. For business intelligence and analytics, do end users of your application need technical support for every report? Do the right people have access to actionable data in a manner that helps them spot trends? Where else do your clients struggle with your application’s BI tool? How much time do their struggles take away from your development team’s work? And what features do your clients requests that you don’t or can’t offer?
Certainly you should research the possibilities that a modern BI platform can offer. But don’t get fixed on a specific solution. BI vendors should be experts on solving these problems for you, just like your company excels within your industry. Be willing to ask them what haven’t we thought about or how would you solve this challenge. Make sure they ask you the same thing. The collaboration will lead to a better embedded BI and analytics solution.