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Chris Capistran

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When it comes to choosing a new CRM system, there are few decisions a company or association will make that are more important. Not only is CRM software expensive, but it serves as the lynchpin for all your business practices, from customer service to sales to marketing. A new CRM often takes months to customize to your specifications and then you need to train your entire staff on how to use it. To say it’s a large investment is an understatement.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many organizations engage in extreme due diligence when choosing a new CRM. It’s not uncommon for companies to spend tens of thousands of dollars hiring a consultant to guide them through this process and many hours crafting a mile-long specification wish list. From that process, these companies will then compose a detailed RFP and blast it out to dozens of CRM vendors.

But unbeknownst to these companies, how they craft and execute on the RFPs has the potential to alienate the very CRM vendors that could best serve their needs. If you place too much upfront demand on a vendor, then you’ll often find the most qualified CRM providers opting out right away, while only the most desperate (i.e. low quality) vendors choose to respond to your RFP. Here are four mistakes I see companies make when going through the RFP process:

Placing all the due diligence demand on the vendor

Too often I see companies embarking on a spray-and-pray approach to sending out RFPs, in that they include hundreds of questions and then send them to sometimes dozens of firms. It’s not uncommon for a detailed RFP to take upwards of 40 man hours to complete, and if I suspect that my chances of winning the contract are low I’ll often delete the email without a second thought — especially if I receive the RFP during a good sales month in which I’m fielding much warmer leads.

Instead, the company should absorb most of the upfront due diligence labor by performing more research ahead of time and narrowing the list of RFP recipients considerably. Most CRM vendors churn out a surfeit of online content detailing their offerings, which means you can often determine whether they might be a good fit without asking them a single question. If I know this due diligence has been performed in advance and that I’m only one of a handful of vendors to receive the RFP, I’m more likely to participate in the process.

Adding too much specificity to the RFP

I’ve seen RFPs come across my desk that ask upwards of a thousand questions, many of which try to not only drill down to a CRM software’s capabilities, but also force the vendor to estimate how many man hours it will take to implement these capabilities. But the problem with this approach is that many of these questions can really only be answered with “it depends.” For instance, many questions center on whether a functionality exists “out of the box” or if it needs to be customized or configured, but it depends on what level of functionality the customer requires. When you apply the “it depends” metric to thousands of questions, then you end up with a very wide range of estimates as to the amount of configuration needed.

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Often times, I think a CRM customer would be better served by sending out a request for information instead of a request for proposal. An RFI is a higher level document that outlines your general requirements and asks the vendor to give a summary of their history, capabilities, and price ranges. The more specific questions can be asked during a demo. Speaking of which…

Waiting until the finalist stage to request demos

You can ask as many questions as you’d like in your RFP, but you’ll still never truly understand a vendor’s CRM offering and expertise until you see a demo. And yet most customers wait until after they’ve reached the finalist stage before requesting one. Preliminary demos are often quick to set up for a potential customer, and while they won’t be fully customized to your specific needs you can still get a basic feel for how they work in only an hour. When you’re conducting your due diligence prior to sending out an RFP, reach out to vendors and ask for a demo. You’ll be surprised by how many agree to it.

Not giving better constructive feedback to finalists

The finalist stage is especially onerous for the vendors. Once you feel you have a legitimate shot at winning a contract, you’re willing to put a lot more work into demonstrating that your offerings truly are the best. This means configuring the CRM to the client’s needs and then taking them through a comprehensive demo of the product. All told, you can spend up to 100 man hours by the end of the entire process, all of which you’ll never be paid for regardless if you win the contract.

And occasionally, despite all that work, you won’t win the contract. Which is perfectly reasonable; after all, the client could only pick one. But at the same time, if I’ve diverted all that energy toward the pitch process, at the very least I would like some constructive feedback from the customer as to why we didn’t win. Not only will it help my company on future pitches, but it will be a show of goodwill and appreciation from the customer, who may move on to another company at some point and want us to bid for a project in the future.

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