The traditional RFP-driven vendor selection process is heavyweight and often has undesirable outcomes:

  • The RFP process it time- and resource-consuming. Forrester estimates that CRM vendor selection projects take six to 12 months to complete. The effort involved to compile detailed requirements often produces something resembling a programming specification rather than a concise statement of business process needs.
  • Outcomes are often undesirable. The more onerous the RFP process, the more likely it is that some of the more viable candidate vendors will opt out  after determining sales considerations costs and reading the tea leaves of the competitive situation. When this occurs, mediocre or unqualified vendors may be the only ones left to choose from.
  • Failure to differentiate among mature products or identify innovators. RFPs only include requirements that buyers can envision now and generally look quite similar to capabilities that vendors can deliver in current releases rather than more visionary features that don't exist in many products today.
  • Vendors gain the upper hand. Vendors often have much more experience with RFPs than the buyer. A cagey vendor will look to circumvent the formal process by influencing executive decision-makers informally or disrupting the process if it is not going its way. Slick sales presentations and RFP responses often gloss over product weaknesses.

You should consider a proof-of-capability evaluations based on business process requirements and less on checking off functions and features. How do you do this?

  • Organize. Define a charter that consists of a concise statement of strategy (i.e., vision and rationale), scope, objectives, resources, and time frame for the project. Define a project team that includes an executive sponsor, a project director or team leader, and a project team composed of business and IT professionals with a vested interest in the outcome. Create a summary of the  business and technical requirements to identify candidate vendors.
  • Narrow. Screening the vendors at this stage is a vital task that should result in a shortlist of two to five vendors — ideally three — for further consideration. Determine whether to give incumbent vendors priority based on integration and license upgrade opportunities.
  • Evaluate. Detailed demonstrations are critical. Demos put the software through the paces of performing business process scenarios directly relevant to your business requirements. Provide scripts to the vendors a few days in advance to give them time to prepare. In addition to the business process capabilities, you should also focus on usability, flexibility and supported technology standards.
  • Decide. A proof-of-concept (POC) trial is useful in some cases — when technically feasible and when you need additional assurance before making a major financial commitment.