Step 6: Request for Proposals (RFPs) and Site Visits

For some time we have been discussing the right way to go about choosing a new business management system. Before you ever get to the software selection process, you want to be sure to do plenty of work ahead of time. In the first five articles in this series, we discussed various pre-planning steps including internal preparation, success measurement, asking the right questions, knowing the difference between objectives vs. processes, and identifying the reality of your true business processes.

You have come this far; don’t turn back to old habits now.  You have just spent a considerable amount of time, energy and money in prep work.  Now you are going to put that investment to work as you make your selection.

There are many common use methods people use when trying to select the right business management software.  Some of them work well, others not so well.

These methods include feature lists; look and feel; referral from a friend, business associate or competitor; complex methods like Requests for Proposal (a more sophisticated features list); hiring a consultant to do a business analysis and manage the implementation; gut call; and the list goes on.  Just because these methods are commonly used doesn’t make them “Right” or “Best”.  You are looking for uncommon results.  So, let’s discuss some of these techniques, and sort out between those that are beneficial, and those that are less likely to be successful for you.

Requests for Proposals

Let’s talk about RFPs (Request for Proposals).  RFPs sound like a great, objective tool.  Generally you hire an “independent” consultant.  The consultant fills out a software spreadsheet with your answers to a series of questions and then submits the same list of several hundred questions to a number of software companies. By assigning a numerical value to each returned answer and hitting the F9 in Excel to recalculate the sums, you now have the information you need to make your best selection.  Sounds great, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it isn’t. The reality, after having responded to dozens, is that RFPs tend to be about features, not about business objectives, culture or processes.

It’s sort of like analyzing the elements of the human body.  You can isolate all the elements, name them, quantify them and have 100% of the physical identity, but you still miss the identity of the human.  You have the elements, but not the personality, emotions and intellect.

Many companies like ours will not take the time to respond to an RFP.  Many times the person who writes the RFP slants it in the direction of the software with which he or she is familiar.  Sometimes the leading software vendor actually writes the RFP and uses specific language that describes the functionality of the software he sells.  As a rule of thumb, if a company does fill out the RFP and a question is not crystal clear, the answer is always “Yes”, because they can always say that they interpreted the question differently because it was vague.

Purchasing new business software is not about processes, features and functions.  It is about business objectives.  RFPs are all about features.  Answering a question with “Yes”, “No” or “Modification” does not provide you or the software vendor with the kind of information that will assure a successful implementation.  In our opinion, RFPs focus your attention on the features rather than your objectives.  As such, RFPs are a distraction and may prevent you from getting the solution you need.

Site Visits

Another common request is a “site visit”.  This is where you visit a company that has hired a particular VAR and installed that VAR’s software.  A site visit has value, because it can help you understand the results a particular VAR will provide. Keep in mind however, that it is not about understanding the business software, how the company you’re visiting solved their problem or how they use the software.  The site visit is to give you the intangible data, the comfortable feel that, “This software is used by real people to solve real problems, and therefore, it should work for me, too.”

In our next blog we will be discussing Demonstrations – When to do them, and what to look for

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