Let’s be honest: RFPs are kind of awful, for everyone involved.
Requests For Proposals have long been the go-to process for sourcing and selecting technology providers for organizations of all sizes. But they’re time-consuming, hyper-bureaucratic and very often not all that effective in discovering the most suitable solution and provider.
While an RFP can enforce a structure and discipline, it can result in the wrong vendor being selected because of the way submissions are assessed and scored. RFPs can also dissuade the most appropriate vendors from even chasing the business, because of all the time required to respond to an opportunity that may or may not work out. Or even be real.
If you are an end-user, sourcing digital signage technology for the first time, or to replace or refresh what you already have in place, have a good, hard think about whether doing an RFP is the best way to get to a solution. There are much less labor-intensive ways to find what you need, and they’ll probably be more effective in helping you identify the right option.
If you work for a large corporation or government entity with rigid procurement processes that mandate RFPs, well … Godspeed. You’re doing it.
But if not, let’s look at some easier paths.
First, here are some hard truths about RFPs:
- The recipients don’t tend to trust them. They worry, right or wrong, that RFPs are skewed to already preferred vendors, or even that the RFP questions were crafted by vendors already tight with the end-user;
- Recipients also worry the RFP and its process are just optics exercises, and that the decision has already been made (but the “rules” say the opportunity has to be put in front of multiple vendors);
- Recipients look at the size of the opportunity and weigh that against the amount of time needed to craft a response. In a lot of cases, sales directors will opt instead to keep their people focused on chasing opportunities they know have real chances of happening;
- The size of the RFP document can directly correlate with the likelihood of getting responses. In other words, if the RFP is a 100-plus page document filled with endless questions, many vendors will take a pass. If the RFP question list is short, and the questions asked are on point and smart, more vendors will respond;
- If the RFP casts a wide net across dozens of potential providers, vendors will think it is just a fishing trip, and the people issuing the RFP will be reading responses at 3 AM, trying to get through the pile. No one wins.
There’s A Better Way…
Develop a very clear, crisp narrative about what is needed in terms of technology, and how it will work within the organization. You want to understand what you need the technology to do, but more to the point, you should fully define how it will be managed.
For example, does the company want to buy the software and host it on its own servers, behind its own firewall. Or does it want to effectively “rent” the technology, using software as a service (SaaS) that sees the cloud-hosted infrastructure and central ops handled by the service provider.
Who will “own” the screen network within the organization? Who will plan, run and watch things? Is that one person? An in-house team? New hires? Or will much or all of the work be outsourced to a service provider?
What are the characteristics your organization needs in a service provider? Do you want a company that makes and supports great software, but gets out of the way? Or do you want a company that can help right at the start – at the ideation stage – being a partner all the way through planning, rollout and ongoing operations.
In each case, and many more, these can be very different kinds of companies. The problem is that RFPs are not a great way to tease out that information.
A Different Approach
Do just a mini RFP. Craft a document that is just a handful of key questions, focused on the ones that really matter:
- Is your platform reliable, secure and reliably supported?;
- Is your company financially viable and will, therefore, be around for the three to five years of a contract?;
- Does your platform align with our technical and operating needs, and our planned approach? This should be spelled out in brief – such as SaaS vs enterprise;
- Describe how you will have our backs for the term of the agreement;
- Clearly spell out the size of the opportunity, timelines, status of budgeting (such as “we’re good to go”) and whether or not there is a preferred or incumbent vendor.
There are some other good questions and statements to slip in there, so don’t be limited by those listed above. Just don’t go on and on. You should not be wasting your time, or that of the vendors, rattling off questions about things like support for animated gifs or social media feeds. A lot of RFPs are stuffed with questions about whether vendors support or do things that just about every vendor supports and does.
The differences are less in the technology and more in the working style, technology approach and fit to the market vertical. For example, there are software platforms that are all about advertising that could probably also do the job in schools, workplaces or healthcare, but there are platforms that are specifically optimized for those vertical markets and use-cases.
For example, Spectrio has a solution that’s all about the auto dealer environment – tuned to its needs, dynamics and business systems.
Chances are, particularly if you already have a digital signage network in place, you have some ideas on what you want and who might be good to work with. Send the RFP to a few of them who seem like the right fit. There’s little reason why they won’t respond.
If you don’t know the technology or the company, engage a digital signage industry consultant. Some might want a retainer and weeks of work. You probably don’t need that. Other consultants will hopefully do a few hours with you to help define your needs, and then recommend a short list of suitable service providers.
If you can get to that short list, send out that mini RFP, sift through the responses, and then have perhaps three companies in for a meeting – ideally in person. Don’t make it an hour. Make it a morning. Or a day. The more time you have to chat, the more likely you’ll get beyond features and specs discussions and into a quality conversation about ideas and working styles.
If digital signage technology is all new to you, maybe have the consultant sit in on the presentations to guide the conversation and filter the responses. Vendors who are good at responding to RFPs and sales presentations are not automatically good, as well, at delivering on their services.
These meetings will chew up some time, but think about two or three days allocated to this process, compared to what might be weeks and months to do a full RFP. This is much shorter and easier, and there’s a good chance the outcomes will be better, too.