Lengthy, Functionality-Driven RFPs Are Not Effective

I’ve looked at a lot of RFPs and helped produce a few responses over the years….and it strikes me that they almost all ask for way too much detail on the functionality front. I think customers buy based on the story a company paints for them: a credible, stable company, with happy customers, and a rock solid, evolving, cutting edge product. You want to buy software from folks you trust and who you want to work with. The incredible functional detail articulated in some RFPs by customers (with the enthusiastic help of their paid IT consultant) drain energy and time from both parties – the customer and the vendors. When a customer doesn’t buy because "that firm had some small widget you didn’t have," that’s just an easy answer to a decision grounded more in the feeling and trust the customer had in the company. Instead of asking, "Does your software contain this text box above this feature on this page?" I would ask questions like:

  • Be honest with us. How do you stack up to the competition? Where are they better than you?
  • For the software implementation to be successful, we need to enjoy working with each other. Each vendor required to have an informal coffee with chair of reviewing committee.
  • Where has the product been, where is it now, and where will it be going? What’s on the roadmap?
  • We have a vision of doing XYZ with your software. We know each of your customers bought your product for a different reason. Which of your customers share our vision? Which do not and how so?

In sum: people don’t buy because of tiny functionality details. Why is the process in so many software purchases driven around such an approach?

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