How to Create an RFP Template to Help Ensure You Compare Software Vendors Apples-to-Apples

Selecting the right software can be the difference between success and failure for your company.

The right tools make processes go more smoothly, help employees achieve a flow state, and ensure processes are friction-free. But when you end up with the wrong software, it’s a recipe for frustration, context switching delays, productivity roadblocks, and lots of time wasted when employees need to get extra creative with their workarounds.

It doesn’t matter what product category you’re looking at – document management, cybersecurity protection, business intelligence, collaboration, analytics or anything else – going with the wrong software vendor for your company can sometimes be even more damaging than not choosing anything at all.

But how do you avoid making the wrong move? It’s notoriously difficult to compare software vendors because their features, pricing formulas, integrations, customer service and more differ so greatly from one to the next.

On top of that, you often need the solution “yesterday.” You only have a limited amount of time and money to spend exploring the options, so you need a way to ease and speed up the decisions. That’s why it can be a good idea to develop a single RFP template that helps level the playing field, ensuring that you don’t overlook anything important, and enabling you to make an informed decision.

Here are some of the main things to keep in mind when you begin your software purchase journey with a custom RFP template.

Establish what you need

If you aren’t sure what you need, you’re not likely to find it. Your first step is to involve all your stakeholders in reviewing your business’s needs, both for the immediate and in the near and middle future. It can help to chart a typical workflow to establish which processes need to be included and what challenges need to be surmounted.

It’s notoriously difficult to compare software vendors because their features, pricing formulas, integrations, customer service and more differ so greatly from one to the next.

Many companies jump to an RFP when they actually need an RFI. If you’re still working out what you’re looking for or considering a large (over 10) number of possibilities, it’s likely too early for an RFP.

What’s more, you’re not likely to find a solution that checks every box, so think about which features are non-negotiable and which are “nice-to-haves.” Draw up a scorecard that weighs different issues according to their importance for your organisation, like cost vs. speed of implementation, security vs. innovation, or cloud-based vs. on-prem.

Ask the right questions

It’s never enough to simply review the marketing materials from various vendors. You need to ask specific, targeted questions to uncover the information you need to make an apples-to-apples comparison.

At the same time, don’t ask too many questions. You need to be able to compare all the answers you receive against each other. If there’s too many, you’ll just muddy the waters and make it harder for decision-makers to carry out a realistic comparison.

Consider total cost of ownership

Cost might not be your make-or-break factor, but it’s always vital when it comes to making a purchase decision. But comparing prices can be one of the most complicated parts of your decision process, because every vendor quotes a different pricing system. Ask for a breakdown of how each vendor calculates their pricing.

You have to dig beyond the initial outlay and set-up costs to consider issues like:

  • Onboarding fees and time-to-value;
  • Long-term staffing and infrastructure costs;
  • How the pricing is calculated, such as a one-off payment vs. subscription, per seat, per feature, usage quotas, etc.;
  • Real cost per output unit.

For example, if you’re sourcing a platform in order to crunch data, but one of the vendors you turn to can’t store, handle and access it in a streamlined way, you might need to pay more for third-party data warehousing, whereas a different vendor may have a higher price tag but a lower total cost of ownership because it comes with built-in cloud storage.

Cost might not be your make-or-break factor, but it’s always vital when it comes to making a purchase decision.

Check that it’s truly usable

The best tech stack in the world isn’t going to be much help if your employees can’t use it. You want them to apply your new solution independently, without having to ask for help from your IT people, so verify that it’s truly self-service. To continue with the example of data analytics, you need a platform that allows users to run queries without advanced skills like SQL, and build and manipulate their own dashboards and reports.

Post-purchase support plays a key role here. Does this solution come with a knowledge base, training videos, and community support forum that helps employees onboard and trouble-shoot alone? You also want professional human backup to be there when you truly need it, so check out which channels the vendor uses for customer service and how long it takes to get a response.

At the same time, single-use tools are on their way out. You want software that’s agile enough to be relevant to a number of use cases and departments so that the same tool can add value across the organisation. It needs to play nicely with your existing tech stack, so check that any new solution integrates easily with your current tools.

Finally, your RFP template should ask vendors to comment on how long it takes to implement and onboard your new solution and the amount of time and effort you’ll need before you start seeing value. You might be willing to take the time to realise a new solution that meets all your needs, but sometimes a short on-ramp and quick time-to-value is more important.

The right software vendor is worth its weight in gold

A considered and balanced RFP template is your path to finding the right software that helps your organisation to improve processes and drive revenue, without accidentally wasting time and money on tools that aren’t a good match for your company.

When you take the time to work out your requirements, take the lead in asking questions, establish that the potential software is self-service, powerful enough to meet your needs, and that the true cost of ownership doesn’t exceed your budget, you’ll gain the confidence and peace of mind that you’ve found the right solutions for your company.

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