- Most CRM Request for Proposals fail to surface measurable weaknesses, limitations and differences among competing CRM software applications. That renders the entire RFP process ineffective.
- Request for Proposal best practices can shift RFP responses from uneven and unreliable replies to consistent and comparable answers that disclose meaningful differences and objectively rank competing CRM systems.
- There are also alternatives to Request for Proposal documents. The most popular is a Design Thinking workshop.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software selections often start with a Request for Proposal (RFP) document.
The purpose of the RPF is to screen a group of vendors according to important software selection criteria and down select a more manageable short list for further evaluation.
But most CRM RFP responses fail to identify CRM software weaknesses, objectively score competing solutions and comparatively rank vendors. There are alternatives to CRM RFPs. But if you elect to make the RFP part of your CRM evaluation process, consider the following best practices.
CRM Request for Proposal Best Practices
- Unless you are a CRM expert, it's normally not a good idea to tell CRM software vendors what's needed to solve business problems. Yet when CRM buyers create prescriptive checklists of required capabilities that's what they are doing. A better approach is to thoroughly define the problems you want solved and let the vendors explain how they solve them. The vendors have a wealth of experience and most are expert problem solvers.
- Replace the all too common feature and function requirements list with use cases and business process scenarios. CRM software features and functions rarely differentiate CRM software systems or solve business problems. Taking a more workflow-oriented approach will demonstrate more powerful solutions that deliver more value. Some functionality is important, but it should be considered against the backdrop of complete business processes. Functionality driven RFPs seldom show how the CRM software meets requirements in a business context.
- Define your success criteria. Most RFPs are heavy on requirements and light on success measures. When CRM software success measures are objectively defined, they allow the vendors to work backwards or consider multiple options to achieve your goals. Disclosing decision making criteria also demonstrates a fair and transparent process. Adding background such as the impetus for the project, major challenges or the business case justification further helps the vendors find the optimal path to success.
- Don’t be afraid to share your budget. This will help the vendors understand any financial constraints and deliver responses that are within your means. Sure, some vendors may shift their pricing to your budget but that's not necessarily a bad thing. They are not changing the price of their CRM software. They are modifying the solution, scope or resources to deliver the maximum impact based on the available funds. When all vendors are delivering responses based on the same budget figure, you are getting an apples to apples comparison of what they can achieve.
- Put limits on the length of responses. Some vendors cloud the answers to questions with lengthy boilerplate verbiage, marketing brochures and other repurposed content. These collaterals seldom answer the question. Limiting the answers to questions to a maximum word or page count forces the vendors to concisely answer the questions without superfluous handouts. It also makes the responses much easier to evaluate and score. You may want to allow the vendor to attach collaterals as an appendix at the end of the document.
- Avoid the spay and pray RFP distribution and instead send your CRM RFP to a qualified short list. CRM software solutions vary by customer size, industry, geography, technology, price and other target market factors. If you are sending your RFP to more than five vendors, you are probably not focused on the vendors that are the best fit for your business. Invest in some up-front market research and due diligence to identify those vendors that focus on companies like yours and narrow your RFP recipients to a qualified short list.
- Don't ask for a price unless you have defined scope. Asking for a price without a clear and complete scope will get unreliable estimates at best or erroneous prices at worst. Requiring a price without a complete scope can also favor disingenuous salespeople who deliver deceivingly low figures to get in the door and then switch to higher pricing based on different assumptions or new information.
- Allow vendors to ask questions. Schedule a question and answer session a few days after distributing the RFP. Vendor questions can be enlightening and may suggest you modify some of your request. These sessions always improve the quality of responses.
- Finally, consider dropping the RFP process all together and replacing it with a smaller list of higher impact requirements. Many large companies have done away with RFP documents in favor of Design Thinking objectives. A design thinking workshop brings together a multi-disciplinary team over a day or two and follows a process that surfaces the CRM software's highest impact and most important success criteria; measured in user, customer and business outcomes; and according to the people who will most use or benefit from the business software. Design thinking shifts CRM project objectives from being measured in mostly undifferentiated software features and functions that deliver incremental benefits to being measured in user and customer business outcomes that deliver order of magnitude improvements.