If you’re selecting a platform you’re going to spend a $50k+ on, always go through the RFP (request for proposal) process.
There are many reasons for this.
- It forces you to research your target audience. Creating an RFP without first researching your audience is clearly a waste of everyone’s time. Putting together a good RFP forces you to research your audience in-depth and develop a clear set of needs and use cases for the community. You will learn more than you suspect during this process.
- You have to specify what you need in detail. An RFP forces you to specify in detail exactly how your community will function, what you need, and typically requires you to develop your strategy in advance.
- It forces you to think through which features are most relevant and important to you. Not all features are important. Therefore it’s good to weight on a scale of 1 to 5 (or typically 1 to 3 for us) which features are most important. This is why you need to develop a strategy before developing the RFP. Without knowing your strategy you will struggle to know what features are most critical to your members.
- It helps you build strong relationships with stakeholders. In a larger organization, creating an RFP forces you to build a consensus about current capabilities, technology needs, and whether you can implement the technology yourself or need someone else. Bringing more stakeholders into the process early and building a consensus around budget, needs, and capabilities is wise. You might later find the stakeholders you consulted early are more likely to support you later on.
- You can identify potential tripwires early. You don’t want to be deep into the integration process and discover a problem which prevents you from using the platform. Having an RFP you can run past key stakeholders helps you identify and overcome potential problems before they become critical problems. Trust me, this will save you a lot of time and money later.
- You get more competitive bids. Trusting a vendor will give you a competitive quote without a competitive bidding process is like trusting a market seller to give you a good price when they’re the only stall you can buy from. You can’t make a choice without options. You never know how well your vendor compares with others until you have their competitive options. Once you have different quotes you can decide if investing an extra $20k per year is worthwhile to go with the leading platform. More information never hurts. You can’t make an informed decision without informed choices.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but the point should be clear; going through an RFP process is what professionals in this space do.
p.s. Hint: Ensure you get clarity on what features come directly out of the box and which require further custom development. It’s one thing for a vendor to say they can do [x], it’s another to be clear when it requires custom development work.