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The latest in marketing strategy, technology, and innovation.

  • July 16, 2012

How to Go Beyond "Check the Box" RFPs

Ah, the RFP. We encounter them constantly, either issuing them or filling them out.

Fan or not, the RFP process is a reality of doing business, especially in the B2B world. But while there are plenty of helpful articles on responding to RFPs, there are few resources aimed at helping businesses write better RFPs.

RFPs are designed to help start the vetting process when a company decides to purchase a new product or service. Yet, too often the typical RFP ends up being too general, resulting in a "just check the box" approach from vendors interested in winning the business. Often companies tend to cast a wide net so as not to miss out on an opportunity. As a result, each company can do just enough to check the box "yes".  In the end, your left with canned responses and the natural conclusion is just to select lowest price tag, not necessarily the best value.

It doesn't have to be this way. Here are four tips for writing RFPs that go beyond the "check the box" approach.

1. Don't Just Ask "Yes" Or "No"
When you want to get to the bottom of things, asking a yes-or-no questions seems like the obvious option. But in many cases, a simple yes or no is more vague than clarifying.

Make your vendors really explain what they bring to the table. Ask open-ended questions so your prospective vendors have a chance to articulate the differentiators with their offering.

2. Ask What Happens After the Sale
It's easy enough to understand what happens during the sales cycle. But what is life like post-purchase?

Too many times, RFPs are geared toward features and functions. They don't focus enough on how the company will help ensure you succeed once the deal closes. Ask specifics about the onboarding process, education, client support, and give them the chance to demonstrate how they will be committed to you.

3. Reverse the Roles
When selecting a list of companies to invite to your RFP, put yourself in their shoes.  Ask yourself, "Who they typically sell to?" Who are their target markets? What is their track record with companies similar to yours?

You want to make the vendor explain how their solution and staff will work for you. Throwing up a list of logos may seem impressive, but it can be misleading. (For instance, do they serve that big logo or just a tiny division?) Ask the vendor to explain how they have helped similar businesses succeed.

4. Interview Respondents
Consider talking to some vendors before you start the process. See who stands out as thought leaders and companies that can help you execute a strategy. Conversations are invaluable for understanding what you need to ask on your RFP.

Plus, this step may help save you loads of time, allowing you to focus on a handful of core providers instead of inviting 15 companies and adding multiple steps to the elimination process.

Following these steps enable you to create a customized RFP that makes vendors go beyond pat answers. If you want some help with an RFP, check out our RFP tool and resource center. It's a great way to get started.

Have you issued an RFP recently? How do you approach the process?

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