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Another swing at RFPs-Requests for Pain

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Consider this a plea for the better angels of our nature to return. Or, in some cases, to show up for the first time.

This column over the years has criticized a certain meta consultant and its many worthy competitors in the way that they have tried to steer conversations when it comes to software selection.

I get it—There are a lot of choices out there for any business need you can think of, whether CRMs, HRMS, ERPs or more, and whether they live in the cloud or on premises. The field is getting more crowded by the day, and on a feature by feature checklist, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference. If you are on the hook to make the choice, you really want to gather as much information as you can, in order to help your organization, and avoid difficult conversations later.

And given the industry’s ongoing convergence in capabilities, you might even hope that somebody can make the choice for you—and you can either take the credit or avoid the blame, depending on how the project turns out.

It seems like the safe way to address this concern is to hire a meta consultant or selection consultant to help you ascertain the fit, and give you recommendations. They can, and will give you recommendations, sometimes informed, and sometimes not so much. Some are quite good, and others can be a bit “Lazy”, dusting off the same RFP template and running you through a process, when, they likely already know the answer of what platform might actually be the best one for your organization.

How can you tell the difference between the two?

I think it is pretty easy, and not just because I play in this sandbox (truth in pundicizing: I’m not a disinterested commentator).

The major application suites are more or less at parity these days. Who aren’t at parity are the teams implementing the software. They’re not equal, and have much more to do with the success or failure of a project than the software.

And RFPs are not going to help in you determine who would work the best with you, understand your culture and your goals, and, indefinably but importantly, feel to you like a real partner.

If RFPs actually worked, selection consultants would already know what to offer you, based on the umpteen RFPs their firm has already conducted over the last 18 months. If they did work, why are there still difficult projects that selection consultants point to as part of their own sales pitch?

Experience has shown that software and implementation companies will put in mountains of work to TELL what they’d do, only to not be given the chance to actually SHOW how they might actually have a real advantage for a specific customer. After a decade or two of these cookie cutter RFPs, potentially amazing partners of yours kinda give up, and just copy and paste their answers into the next auto scoring excel spreadsheet that is emailed to them.

What’s the alternative? Dump the RFP, and get to know the people that you would be working with.

Choosing both a solution and an implementation partner to make it work has a lot in common with recruiting and hiring. That includes a key principle in the hiring game: Having applicants do the job in the interview.

This is the better solution for solution selection, too. It’s one we’ll flesh out over the next few weeks – to get to know the people who would actually implement the project, and ensure that you 1) feel like they understand you, and 2) can adequately explain, face to face, how they are going to help you implement the software in a way that will meet your goals. This comes down to communication, and your understanding of what the Partner can effectively promise and deliver to you.

You have every reason to be skeptical, and the selection consultant should encourage it. The best way to gain an understanding of the potential solution and implementation partner is to work with them.

More on what that looks like next week.