To RFP or not to RFP?

Should you issue a full-scale RFP for your next new system? How much detail do you really need to include? Should the RFP come before or after deep conversations and lengthy demonstrations with possible partners?

Here are three guidelines we’ve found useful for associations in your position.

1. A full Request for Proposal (RFP) works well when you have detailed processes that you really cannot change. While most organizations are open to business process improvement during a new system implementation, sometimes that isn’t possible. We often see that with AMS/CRM system selections, where the system has to cope with complex dues calculations that are mandated by the bylaws. We’ve also seen it with certification management systems, where many of the processes are influenced by the need to stay accredited.

The full RFP can be the slowest of the paths to a new system, in that you need to document all the details up-front and make sure that a partner can really meet them as a first hurdle. But it also ensures your business needs can be met before you move onto the next step.

2. A slimmer Request for Information (RFI) works well for organizations that know what they want but deeply want to explore different ways to achieve that. We often see that for a content management system (CMS) selection, where organizations know they want a great website that meets certain criteria, but are open to establishing completely new workflows to achieve that. Or maybe you’re willing to change processes substantially to achieve the lowest cost system implementation.

An RFI allows partners to describe their experience and ability to meet your needs in broader strokes. It’s typically easier for a partner to respond to an RFI, because it’s more about what they offer than what you want.

3. An even tighter Request for Quote (RFQ) works well when the overall skills and experience of the new partner are more important than detailed functionality, maybe because you’re embarking on something completely new. If you’re not even sure exactly what you want, let alone how to get there, you need to rely more upon the expertise and approach of a partner.

In that case, your first step might be to interview partners over the phone for general fit and capabilities, then have them come in to learn more about your needs and talk more about their capabilities. When you’ve narrowed it down to one or two, then you can ask for a quote that reflects the work that you’ve agreed needs to be done.

This approach might be a model for associations embarking on a new online learning program, and seeking an LMS vendor who will bring some creative thinking to designing their learning program and modules. Outside of the technology realm, it’s also a great model for choosing organizational development consultants, who offer more tailored and flexible services.

What’s more important to you? Functional fit, cost fit, or culture fit? Those are good questions to ask yourself in deciding whether to issue a full RFP.

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