Finding the best vendor means treating bidders right

Is it a buyers' market for content technologies? Some enterprises believe that technology suppliers are so hungry for business that they will line up for kilometers to respond to an RFP.

This is increasingly not the case. We're actually seeing fewer responses to even "good RFPs." I think there's a couple reasons for this:

  • The best suppliers are always busy, and especially in the areas we cover -- content technologies -- demand has remained reasonably high
  • The macro-economic climate has vendors and integrators scrutinizing sales costs and taking a harder look at where they allocate their bid resources

Consulting and integration companies are particularly busy. Are you looking for outside integration help to supplement your lean internal project teams? Well, you're not alone.

And what about software vendors? Well, we're pretty tough on them in our product evaluations. But it turns out vendors can be finicky too.

So, how should you proceed when you're looking to procure technology? This is not a broad primer. You can read all our blog posts related to selecting technology here. Rather, today I just want to urge you to think a bit more about the people on the other side of your procurement table. They're sizing you up almost as much as you're judging them.

Here's eight practical steps to keeping the best suppliers interested in working with you.

Set the right tone

1) Don't be bossy or dismissive. Not in the RFP, nor in person. If you talk to bidders like a servant, you won't get the best firms responding. The best firms are looking for a solid, long-term partnership -- as should you. Don't be fawning, but treat bidders with professional courtesy.

2) Give bidders a chance to ask questions, and answer them all for everyone, in writing. Aside from the obvious substantive benefits for all concerned, this can become an important get-to-know-you phase for both parties. Here again, tone and some degree of empathy matter.

For example, if as a (usually good) rule you don't reveal your project budget when bidders inquire, then don't just reply, "we won't say." Instead, respond that your project has executive sponsorship as well as an approved a business case, and that you recognize its general size and scope. And that you are looking for good value as well as a good fit. You haven't told bidders you're full of excess cash. You have told them you possess sufficient resources to see the project through. If you harbor doubts about that, then hold off on the RFP while you re-set your bearings.

3) Ask to see proof of any bidder assertions, but respect their time. Remember, if they're really talented, they want to make good use of their time, before and while working with you. If you include a proof-of-concept phase as part of the selection process -- and we always recommend that you do -- then let bidders know up front, rather than spring it on them later.

4) Try not to rush bidders unfairly. Giving a bidder two weeks to respond to a complicated RFP or RFI will lead to shallow, cookie-cutter proposals, and fewer than you expected. By the same token, don't rush your own diligence, either. Shotgun procurements, like shotgun weddings, lead to ugly divorces.

Get your RFP ducks in a row

5) Convey that at least for the most part, you know you what you're talking about. With RFPs as with life, smart is sexy. If you don't know the technologies or the marketplace particularly well, then I can guarantee you won't regret issuing an RFI first.

6) At the same time, concede when you don't know something, and be as precise and clear as possible in all information you provide. Vagueness makes bidders anxious they might lose their shirt or misinterpret what you really need. Some good firms won't respond at all. The others will respond with architectures and pricing all over the map, making faulty assumptions as they guess your true intent -- and leaving you confused about true differentiators.

7) If you want to work with the best people at the ideal vendor or integrator, persuade them that your project could present an interesting engagement for them.

8) Focus on desired outcomes, and inasmuch as possible, let the bidders describe how they would get you there. Don't box them in with excessively detailed assumptions about how you want the system configured. To be sure, some operational details will always be important; for example, you may need to follow a particularly constrained business process for regulatory reasons. In the event, just explain your constraints, and remain open to alternate ways of doing things.


You could sum this all up in a general life dictum, "show respect." And expect it in return.

Showing respect is not the same thing as being friendly. The bidder's salesperson wants to get friendly, on the assumption you'll become more malleable. Friendly or not, you will want to push bidders to show their best, and you should negotiate hard over contract and financial terms -- now more than ever. Bidders expect as much, and besides, they're very practiced negotiators. This is a business deal, and in the end, you can get to a win-win.

Our research offers specific advice related to selecting technologies within different marketplaces. If you think you need more help, contact us.

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Gil, Partner, Cancentric Solutions Inc.
iStudio Canada Inc.

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