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Sorena Tiba | RFP Best Practices for Digital Workplace Leaders
Digital Workplace

Sorena Tiba | RFP Best Practices for Digital Workplace Leaders

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7 minutes read time
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Published on Oct 18th, 2023
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Written by Sorena Tiba

In this episode of The Workgrid, we continue to part two of a two-part series regarding the pre-sales relationship with software vendors featuring Sorena Tiba.

Part two is focuses on the RFP process and how application owners can best tailor their RFP approach for digital workplace selection.

Can you explain the RFP process and why it’s particularly important for the procurement process of digital workplaces and intranets?

RFP stands for Request for Proposals, also used interchangeably in some cases with RFIs (request for information) and RFQs (request for quotes). It’s a really great way, when done right, of leveling the playing field across different types of vendors. It removes some of that imbalance that you might have if you just really like a sales rep, or they’re based in the same area as you, or something that doesn’t necessarily align to what you’re trying to solve for with a tool or technology. It creates a baseline that sort of equalizes the vendors on that same playing field. Where RFPs are successful is when they are written in such a way that it’s not only the technology that you are evaluating but the vendor, too. You don’t just want a list of features, functionality, and price, because what you’ll end up with is something that checks off 15 out of 17 boxes with the best price, but when you get into implementation calls and go live, you find out that those fifteen things don’t connect very well in your specific use case and you end up never using half of them because while you did have it on your list, it wasn’t prioritized or implemented for your specific needs.

It's also important to evaluate the vendor so you know how long they’ve been in the space, what they consider successful implementation and successful customers.

Talk to their customers and see what they are like. Understand not just their technology offering but also their business. We see a lot more people wanting to talk to real people in this process. They don’t want a support department being outsourced somewhere else and having to wait in a queue for thirty minutes, they want to be able to talk to Brenda in customer success because they have a question about a use case and want some guidance. They want to talk to Danielle in support because she helped them out with four tickets in the last six months and she’s helpful with documentation and already knows what their use cases are. So, in those RFPs don’t just focus on what the system can do but the vendor as well.

My recommendation is always: remember vendors do things differently. Everyone might have documents, or blogs, or forum topics. You don’t want to ask six thousand questions about one feature, “Do you have blogs? Do they do xyz?” No vendor will want to answer that level of detail, but you are better off positioning the RFP with these points:

  • This is what we want to accomplish.

  • How will you get us there?

  • What is the combination of features and functionalities you can deliver to get us to our goals?

You don’t want a feature-only RFP because different vendors get to different endpoints in different ways. Tell us what your problems are and let us do the leg work to tell you how we can solve for that. You’ll also remove the vendors who just say yes or no. I’ve talked to my team about this at length. Don’t just say yes or no because you can interpret a question several different ways and you want to set the right expectation with that prospect, with how far you can take this and what you can deliver. So always say “yes, and” or “no, but” so that the person reading that actually gets a solid breakdown of what you are offering so when you go with a solution-driven RFP you are forcing those vendors to get out of those yes’s and no’s and answering how they can solve for your specific needs, and ultimately getting a better answer out of them.

I love the fact that you are coaching your team to make sure they are thinking about it from sitting in the shoes of the customers themselves. That’s absolutely critical. If you’re the customer, you are thinking they put in the time and effort and perhaps they are not even the leading vendor in the process, but you start to think hey maybe this is a vendor who is starting to understand what I need.

For me, if you’re on the pre-sales side you are on your best behavior. You are in the early dating phase. This is not even the honeymoon phase. You are trying to show the best of the best that you have to offer and if all you have to offer is yeses and nos and checkboxes, then what is that vendor going to be like when you’ve signed with them and they already have your money? To me, when I am on the receiving end of RFPs for tools and technologies that we buy, I look for things like laziness in the sales reps, and I look for things like quick answers just to get it across the finish line, as much as I do for the vendors that are trying to understand what we do and going beyond it. No technology platform is perfect. If they tell you that they are bug free and don’t have a single issue that is someone who is blatantly lying. But it’s how they deal with those situations; it’s how they look at prospects and engage with you. It’s the relationship they build with you, not just because you happen to want to go out for a beer with them afterwards but because you have faith and confidence in what they are telling you on the sales side which will extend to the customer side. That to me is much more valuable than someone who can check off all the boxes on my list.

How important is vendor experience and reputation to be considered as they begin to prep their RFP?

I think vendor experience and reputation is extremely important. You can’t come into this space and be new and say that you know everything about everything. Look at our background and history. We can sit in a room together and there are a million things that you know that I don’t and a million things that I know that you don’t. And there are a billion things that neither one of us have even touched yet is our decades of experience. So, I think that going with a vendor that has a proven track record is extremely important.

I see all these flashy websites with percentages and such. They drive me crazy. Because with swapping a few variables out and by ignoring a few key factors, you can get those numbers to say basically whatever you want. To me, hearing from customers and speaking to individuals within the organization outside of the sales rep, your customer success managers and your support people, other parts of the business that are going to be engaging with you throughout your entire customer lifecycle, and hearing it directly from customers whether it’s through case studies or quotes or talking directly to them is way more valuable than a business that comes in that has been around for three years and says “we have 100% retention rates” – well of course you do. You signed three-year contracts and none of them have come up for expiration yet.

What are some of those key items that should be on the RFP so that a vendor can best prepare themselves to understand a business more fully?

I think there is a part of business history and background that should be included but you don’t have to go to the depths that you might want to because you also want to test those reps to make sure they are doing their homework when it comes to your business. Again, it’s about understanding what is driving the project – Why this? Why now? What are the objectives, use cases, and scenarios? What are the driving factors here? Because that will define what else you need to include in there.

If digital overload is something that is a significant business problem, if you are losing employees because they hate your tools and they’ve got fifty applications they’re spending all day every day trying to navigate through, that will then tell you that you need a significant section on integrations. The RFP should include not just, “Do you integrate with Slack?” but what you want people to do with that integration and what you are expecting users to accomplish. You don’t want to recreate the whole system within your digital workplace – it’s never going to be the same and it’s never going to be good enough – but what are some of the critical actions or workflows that users need to accomplish. Ask the vendor that type of a question. It does require a little bit more legwork up front, but what you will end up with a is a more detailed RFP that’s more inline with your business so you can select the right vendor for what you are trying to achieve.

Let’s look now to the post-RFP process, how should customers know they’re not just getting the photoshop dream and it’s something real?

I think that there are a few pieces to the demo side of things.

When you are looking at demonstrations, let the vendor show you their system in a way that’s optimized. There is something unique about each vendor and platform. I think organizations are trying to minimize the prettiness and art of the possible by saying “you will click this and you will go here next,” but that’s detrimental to the experience because no two systems are built the same way. You might have a platform that looks and works very well in that specific workflow but everything else falls apart after that. You might have another vendor that doesn’t look very good when you are following steps one, two, three, and four but they can get you to the end result by going steps one, four, three, and two. This is a better way to see what the experience is going to be like.

Watch out for vendors who say yes to everything. That is always a big red flag for me. If you can do everything I need you to do, prove it to me. Look for vendors who will say “we don’t do this, but here’s how we can get you 70% of the way.” Look for vendors that even during the demonstration are asking you questions, not just giving you yes or no answers. If you ask, “do you integrate with Salesforce?” do they just answer yes and move on? Or do they ask you questions to better understand why you are looking for that integration? Do they follow up and say, “how are you looking to use that integration?” Then let them explain how far they can take you down that path. If in the demo they are just saying yes or no and moving on, it’s usually an indicator that they can’t fully meet your needs, but they don’t want you to go that layer deeper.

This blog was adapted from The Workgrid, a podcast about the digital workplace, technology, and everything in between. For the complete episode, please visit: RFP Best Practices for Digital Workplace Leaders

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