Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and similar questionnaire spreadsheets have long played a prominent role in the selection process for new software systems. Many organizations create long lists with hundreds – to sometimes even thousands – of questions.

High scores are necessary for vendors to be added to the short list of candidates.

Many vendors of MIS/ERP systems find themselves facing a dilemma. Those who fill out an RFP honestly run the risk of being eliminated in an early stage – because the competition can easily fill in ‘yes’ everywhere, when in fact the truthful answer may be ‘no.’ It is the classical opposition between the overly ambitious and the precise. And too often, any room for nuance is lacking.

So who ends up fooling who?

Another issue is that vendors will evaluate every single question separately. This means that a ‘yes’ on question number 245 is not necessarily possible simultaneously with a positive answer to question 722. Just think about that for a minute…

More importantly, does this long list of questions really address the real business issues facing your company?

A software implementation partner recently laid out their reasons for declining to participate in an RFP:

“Our experience is that RFPs such as the one presented (with 1000+ items) rely on the honesty of the submitter, and favor those who lie or are deceptive in their answers while punishing those who are honest.  This is the top reason we do not reply.  We are very honest in our answers – and have been excluded due to that.  Follow up with customers we have found in 100% of cases that the selected vendor(s) had been untruthful about their answers and the customer was ultimately disappointed.

If the customer wishes to actually review each of the 1000 items – at 1 minute per item reviewed that would require 16.66 uninterrupted hours.   We have never had a customer perform for such a review.  Again this favors the dishonest responses as most people assume the customer will never really check the level of honesty prior to purchase for the vast majority of the items.  They are right.

For us to honestly answer the RFP would require senior ($200 per hour) consultants to spend about 8 hours.  $1600 is quite costly simply to obtain an opportunity for discovery.  A dishonest answer in which we simply say everything is out of the box we could do in 30 minutes but we will not do that.  90% of the 1000 are out of the box – but it will take hours to describe the nuance of the items that are not.

This design of RFP was very common through the 2000’s but has fallen into disuse in the last 10 years.  We rarely see it any more.

Lastly – the RFP design makes assumptions which do not accurately support cloud deployment, subscription licensing etc.… I started to answer some parts and found it was much too limiting to provide accuracy. For all the reasons I have given, we have a policy not to answer RFP of this kind.”

As a buyer you can ask yourself what the actual value of such an inquiry is.

Choosing the vendor with the highest score might seem logical and obviously has a good feeling to it. But if it turns out during the implementation that your vendor has practiced a little ‘overselling,’ you are probably too late. After all, software licenses do not have a deposit, right? And there you are: contractually bound to a vendor who “hasn’t completely understood” you during the earliest stages of the agreement.

In recent years, a more popular RFP approach is more of a “short answer” style – less “fill in the cell.”  Also the focus has to be on functional areas, rather than feature-level questions.  For instance, 40-50 functional area responses seems reasonable. If you work this way, you also allow them to show their skills as a true sparring partner. Isn’t that exactly what most companies are looking for?

Therefore, when sending out an RFP, give your vendors more room for nuance. Don’t just have them choose between ‘yes’ and ‘no.’

After all, the world is not that simple!

PrintVis and our worldwide team of implementation partners will take confusion out of the equation.

PrintVis is the Microsoft-certified MIS solution for the print industry vertical, based on the world-proven ERP platform Dynamics 365 Business Central. PrintVis lets you respond to growth and decline in this highly dynamic business environment, whether you work in commercial print, packaging, label, wide format or any other area of the print industry spectrum.

“ePac’s goal is to support small & medium businesses with custom flexible packaging solutions to allow them to compete with the larger CPGs. Part of our strategy is to build small manufacturing plants embedded in the communities that are home to our customers. This requires technology that is flexible, scalable, and that continues to evolve. We continue to add capabilities to our manufacturing platform so the software needs to adapt to ever-changing requirements. This is why we chose Business Central/PrintVis. PrintVis have proven to be exceptional partners who have worked tirelessly with us side-by-side to drive the innovation that the ePac mission requires.” – Parag Patel, Managing Director, ePAC Flexible Packaging.

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