10 Tips for a Successful Source to Pay RFP Process
As I begin my 20th year in the Source to Pay space I have reflected upon the thousands of RFP processes I have participated in of which some have been absolutely well thought out and beautifully executed while others turned out to be absolute disasters for both the customer as well as the provider.
For those that ran the RFP process exceptionally well I would say that the following were the key traits that I would encourage you to follow:
1. Pull in IT Early Into the Process: There is nothing more disastrous than to go all the way through an RFP process only to have IT come in at the end and determine that a selected provider does not meet their security requirements. In a perfect world you would send out your IT requirements in advance of the RFP and have the vendors get past the IT security audit in advance of the RFP being issued.
2. Embrace the Analyst Community in your Vendor Selection: The analyst in this space ( you know all the big names) really know the player exceptionally well and can really assist you in determining which providers are the right ones for you to engage in your project. Don’t just rely on the reports, spend the time and the money to have phone conversations with several of the analyst and explain to them your goals and objectives. They can be extremely helpful in giving your guidance and direction.
3. Interview the Project Manager/Deployment Team Lead: One of the most critical elements to the success of a Source to Pay deployment is having a team lead that you as the customer feel comfortable with. Take the time to ask the provider for several candidates for you to interview and insist on getting the one that you and the entire team feel comfortable with. Ideally you would have the candidates come on site and spend time both in the office s well as outside the office. You are going to be spending a lot of time with this person, you need to make sure it is a good fit.
4. Request on-site Reference Visits: I do not put a lot of stock into the traditional reference process where you ask for three references and make a few phone calls. In a perfect world you would ask for a current customer who is using the same modules you are seeking and fits your similar scope and you would ask to go on-site and see how that customer is using the solution. Ask to speak to IT, leadership and a handful of power users as well as the site administrator. This may seem like a major investment in time but it will truly help you weed out those who do not truly meet your needs. I would suggest only doing this for your two finalist.
5. Don’t Use Just One Vendors RFP Template: Most vendors will be more than happy to provide you with their RFP template to save you time. While it may be tempting to use their RFP template because it usually is very well assembled it is also not comprehensive. It will only contain the functionality they have and obviously not the functionality they don’t have. A best practice is to collect several of these RFP’s and highlight the functionality listed that you think is most important to your success. No need to list out the functionality that you never are going to use.
6. Be Transparent if the Project is or is not Budgeted: Vendors are happy to participate in an RFP process regardless if it is budgeted or not. However, in fairness to the vendor community I believe it is fair to be transparent that the project either is or is not funded. If the project is not funded the vendor community knows there is a chance that a winner may not result in an award decision. On the flip side, the vendor community in general is happy to assist you with industry standard ROI estimates as well as provide budgetary guidance. One thing to consider if your project is not budgeted is to simply ask for budgetary guidance from the vendor community and follow it up with an RFP once you have approval.
7. Run a Lunch and Learn Prior to Developing an RFP: Often times you don’t know everything you are looking for in a final solution and wont know everything you want and need till you see what is available in the market. To gain this knowledge I am a big fan of having the vendors come in and hold Lunch and Learn sessions. These tend to be very informal and non scripted product reviews in which the vendors are asked to informally walk you through their solution. Have as many stakeholders as possible in these meetings and have them take notes on what matters the most of what they saw.
8. Host an Extensive and Exhaustive Scripted Demo: The only way to know for sure if a vendor can meet your needs is to have them come in and have them run a scripted demo in which you want to have them walk you through exactly how the solution would solve for all your use cases that you need solved. Give them a step by step request and if possible have them do it using real life examples. Send them (under NDA) some of your contracts, RFP’s, Supplier onboarding documents, etc. etc and have them model it after your current process. When the vendor presents the scripted demo I would encourage you to have a scoring sheet in front of you and have your team rate the vendors ability to solve for your use case.
9. Insist on Several Types of References: Not all references you hope to secure should all be in the same cycle with the vendor you are considering. In a perfect world you should ask for the following: a) ask for a reference in which the customer has just selected the vendor but has not gone live. b) ask for a reference customer who is at the mid-way point of their deployment. This is an excellent chance to learn more about their ability to manage the rollout c) get a steady state reference who has been live for at least a year if not longer.
10. Hold a Formal Win/Loss Review: If the vendors who participated in your RFP process ask for a formal win or loss review please take the time to debrief them on what they did well or where they could improve both their product and offerings as well as their RFP response process. The vendors put a lot of time in this process and at a minimum they hope to gain some insights from you as to how they can improve for the next time. Holding these debriefs should not be attempts to get back in the door but rather learning opportunities. Typically most vendors will request these debriefs and we would greatly appreciate it if you took the time.