Apr 11, 2001
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Here is Part II to our exclusive interview with marketing database integration expert Bernice Grossman, President DMRS Group, who's served as an expert consultant on the subject since 1983.
Last month in Part I of this interview, Grossman explained the eight key tactics to create a successful RFP for a your CRM/eCRM data integration project (see link below.) Now she takes us on the next step -- figuring out which vendors to send the RFP to, and who to ultimately contract for the job.
BEST QUOTE: "When someone tells me 'Oh yes, we're adding that feature' I always say, 'Great, I'd like to take a look at it to see how it works and then I'd like you to tell me two-to-three places where you've installed it and it's already in use; and, then we can move forward from there.
"I prefer not to put my clients in a beta situation. If I tell you I'm going to add heart surgery to the list of things I do, what are the chances you'd like me to do your heart surgery next?"
HOW TO SELECT THE RIGHT 6-7 VENDORS TO SEND YOUR RFP TO:
Dozens of technology providers are offering CRM/eCRM "solutions" these days. Grossman's advice is firm -- don't waste your time evaluating any of them until you've thoroughly examined your internal needs and produced a detailed RFP that everyone involved has signed off on. Internal research comes before external.
Only after you have an RFP in hand should you begin to learn about suppliers in order to figure out to whom to send it. Without extensive experience, the culling process will probably take you 30-45 days. (A consultant can do it in under a week.)
Your initial goal is to narrow the field to just 5-6 vendors. In fact Grossman says, "People who are unsure send out too many RFPs."
Why not invite more vendors to participate? A primary consideration is workload. If you've written your RFP correctly, responses will probably weigh in at over 100 pages each. Then, everyone in your committee has to read them. Plus, remember every additional RFP sent out means more sales rep relationship management, more NDAs to deal with, etc.
Here are the questions you should ask in order to narrow down your list for 5-6 companies BEFORE you send out RFPs:
(Tip: Grossman says if you are a famous name-brand client, you might want to have someone make these preliminary calls on your behalf without revealing who they are representing. That's because sales reps are only human -- why tempt them to make promises they can't fulfill because they'd love to get your company name on their client list?)
1. B-to-B vs. B2C: Many CRM/eCRM companies specialize in consumer data as opposed to B-to-B data. Since B-to-B data is much more complex, and just plain different from B2C, you can eliminate these vendors from your pool immediately.
2. Web-enabled: Some providers still don't offer Web browser-enabled software. If this is a prerequisite on your RFP (and it is on many people's these days) you shouldn't even look at them.
3. Time Schedules: Demand is high these days, so some providers, who might otherwise be perfect for you, may have too much on their plates already. You should make preliminary calls to find out who has time to handle your job within your required deadlines.
4. Clients: If possible, find out what companies your competitors have used for similar purposes. Grossman says, "It's perfectly reasonable in your up-front research to ask who vendors work for and if they've done work for specific competitors."
Marketplace expertise can be a plus. In fact, one year after consulting for Christian Dior Cosmetics, Grossman was hired in rapid succession by five more large cosmetics firms.
5. Installed Base: Unless you've already decided you're interested in being a beta tester (see below for more info), eliminate every technology that doesn't have an installed base already. If you won't have the opportunity to evaluate the technology in real-world, live-action, it's not worth sending an RFP.
TOP FOUR QUESTIONS YOU MIGHT HAVE ABOUT RFPS
1. Should you insist on Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs)?
Yes, you should definitely make potential suppliers sign NDAs prior to receiving your RFP. Expect in return to be required to sign one for the vendor before they reveal the inner workings of their technology to you. This can slow down the process. Grossman says, "I've gone back and forth 7-8 times just to get an NDA signed." However, if your RFP is well written, the level of information it contains is definitely something you don't want your competitors getting their hands on.
2. Should one vendor be able to handle all your requirements?
It's "highly unlikely" that one company can do 100% of what you need done, and handle every angle of the job equally well. So, you'll probably need several vendors. In this case, be sure to ask each three key questions:
a. Are you able to integrate your services with other providers?
b. Are you willing to work with other vendors? (And, is there anyone you don't like working with?)
c. Who do you already have a history of doing business with?
3. Should You Consider Being a Beta Tester?
A beta tester is someone who's agreed to be one of the very first installed clients for either a new company, or new technology from an established provider. While Grossman doesn't advise her clients to be beta testers for the reasons quoted at the start of this article, she does say, "Lots of companies have had a terrific experience being a beta."
The good side: serious savings. If you have a big need and a small budget, beta testing may be your only shot at getting the tech you need.
The bad side: "It will absolutely take longer than anybody thought." Plus you'll have to deal with bugs, and possible underperformance.
Also, bear in mind as a beta tester, you may be expected to open up your facility and operations for tours from other prospective clients. If your operation (or corporate culture) is super-top-secret, beta testing won't work for you.
4. How much time should you give vendors to reply to an RFP?
Three weeks is a good time frame. Grossman says, "The only time I'd give them a month is if there's a major holiday."
Formality is the key to timeframe success -- every vendor should receive your RFP on the exact same date and have the exact same response deadline. If you change the deadline for one, to be fair you must change the deadline for all. Grossman says, "If they can't handle the deadline for an RFP, it's usually a clue that there may be some other areas where meeting schedules may be a problem."
THE NEXT 3 STEPS: PICKING A FINAL SURVIVOR
Step #1: Evaluating RFP Responses
Before you send out an RFP, you should create a checklist that every member of your committee will use to make his or her response evaluations. So when the responses come in, you can evaluate them both fairly and easily.
(BTW: Grossman recommends placing the RFP responses as protected Word or PDF documents on your intranet so committee members are not waiting for a single print copy to be slowly circulated through people's in-boxes.)
Be prepared to go through a second round of questions prior to inviting vendors in to make personal presentations. These questions will illuminate any answers that the vendor didn't clearly explain in their response.
By the end of this process, your committee should be able to winnow the list of 5-6 down to 2-3.
Step #2: Formal in-person presentations
Now it's time to invite the 2-3 survivors in for their first-round in-person presentations. Limit presentation time to three hours each; and, require that these presentations be online test-drives. Grossman is very firm on this point, "Screenshots or Powerpoint slides are not good enough!"
The object of the demonstration is to see for yourself exactly how their system works, not to be sold with a flashy presentation.
After these first-round presentations, you should invite the best-of-the-best back for full-day presentations. That's the time when you'll want to bring in an average user from every department who will be affected by the new system. Ask each user to actually test drive the proposed technology while you're watching. Grossman says, "I can't think of a better way for somebody to understand what it's going to be like when they use it. So when a vendor says, 'This is really intuitive', you can say, 'Show me!'"
Step #3: On Site Visits with Actual Clients
Once you've tested the technology yourself, why do you need to travel to see it in place at other companies? Grossman uses the analogy of buying a new car. You'll learn different things from your own test drive versus from interviewing someone who's actually owned the car for a while.
Remember, you're spending a lot of money on this technology. It's worth the travel investment to check it out completely before making your final decision. Expect to sign another NDA at this point before being granted a client-side on-site visit.
Grossman recommends you make at least two client-side visits. While you can ask the vendor to set these up for you, they should NOT be among the attendees present. Double-check the clients they recommend are indeed using the same technology you're considering purchasing, and not something different from the same company. Request interviews with specific titles and department heads ahead of time so you know to whom you'll be talking. Then, respect their time (plus make sure you get the most useful data) by preparing a list of questions and check-offs prior to the trip. These should include:
- Where did the project come in versus budget?
- Where did the project come in versus time estimates?
- How many staffers did the vendor assign to the project versus how many they had expected to assign?
- How did their people mix with the client's culture?
- If you could have changed things, what would you have changed?
Once you've completed these final three steps, you should be ready to pick the right vendor for your needs. Good luck!