Best Practices and Guidelines – 10 Steps for a Successful RFP Process with Contact Center Technologies
The process of implementing any new technology in your Contact Center can often be daunting. What is the best process for establishing which technologies are best aligned with your organizational goals and needs? I am going to walk you through the technology acquisition process with proven strategies that will enable your organization to easily and effectively chose the most suitable technology.
Sole Sourcing vs. Request for Proposal (RFP)
You have determined you wish to source new technology, now what?
The next step is to establish whether to Sole Source or issue a RFP.
What is Sole Sourcing?
A “sole source” procurement process can be defined as any contract entered into without a competitive process.
What is a RFP?
A request for proposal solicits proposal, from qualified vendors who you believe can meet the requirements of the organization.
Sole Sourcing can be perceived to be a risky proposition. What if you have missed some detail or neglected to reach out to a leading provider?
RFP Process is a safer approach. Although more time consuming, it allows you to assess all of the major players in the market.
In determining how to move forward it is important to realize:
- What we know
- What we believe we know but that is incorrect
- What we know we don’t know
- What we don’t know what we don’t know
5 Reasons to issue an RFP
- Improve decision making,
- getting more options before narrowing down to what works;
- avoid jumping to conclusions without evidence
- due diligence on major purchases and contract.
- Reduce overt bias both internal and external
- Increase the transparency of decision making, reasoning and clarity
- Ensure that all people / management are complying with steps, rules and regulations, reviews etc. and have the authority to commit the organization to a contract.
- For infrequent purchases RFPs reduce the issues risk of poor purchase and allows the decision to be broadly accepted
10 Steps When Going Through the RFP Process
- What are you Seeking
There are some questions you need to answer:
- What will you ask for?
- Who will you send it to?
- How will you evaluate the responses?
In determining what you are seeking, you need to ask yourself the following:
- Why do we want this technology?
- What will this technology allow us to do?
Unclear goals will produce unclear results.
Define Your Own Use Cases
Once you confirm what you want to be able to do and/or achieve with the new technology, you can begin to define the requirements you are seeking. Building use cases provides granularity and will allow you to specifically see the opportunities and benefits of the new technology
- Where you will use it?
- How it will be employed?
- What benefits are expected
- Researching Contact Center Technology Solution Providers
Who can provide the desired solutions?
Next you need to identify the providers that you believe can deliver the solution to help you achieve your goals.
- Identify vendors who can provide the types of solutions that can help you achieve your goals
Here are some first steps when researching solution providers:
- Ask you peers in similar organizations
- Reach out to your network for recommendations and guidance
- Look on-line for solution providers, check analyst groups like Gartner, Forrester, etc.
- Defining Your Requirements
The next step is to create a list of the desired features and functionality you want to see in the technology solution:
What are our Requirements?
It is important to determine if all the requirements are equally important or if some should be weighted as more important than others. Be sure to ask for detail on how the vendors can meet the requirements.
- What is mandatory? – those required capabilities you can’t live without
- What is a nice to have? – features or functions are that would be nice to have, but not mandatory
- What is informational- interesting, but not required today? – capabilities that you would like to know more about, which could be desirable in the future
Weighting the Value of Requirements
In defining your requirements, it is important to weight the value of each function and capability. Examine if all the requirements are of equal value or importance. This will help you determine how to assign weighting value. You can use the ‘Mandatory’, ‘Nice to Have’ and ‘Informational’ with defined values, of 3,2,1 or you can add separate weights based on each requirement.
Ask the vendors to explain how they will meet your requirements – don’t just ask for confirmation. As with most things, there can be a lot of ways to comply; a simple ‘Yes’, will not communicate as much information as requesting the detail on ‘How’.
- Define ‘Rules of Engagement’
Defining the ‘rules of engagement’ is crucial. One of the objectives of any RFP process is to eliminate bias and ensure that all vendors have the same opportunity to win the business. We don’t want sidebar discussions taking place with vendors, as this could provide an unfair advantage to one over the others.
You will want to mandate the vendor communication to only take place in writing, by email. This facilitates information sharing with all parties and provides an audit trail supporting the process.
When defining the rules of engagement:
- Do not allow vendors to communicate with anyone except as authorized in the RFP
- Mandate that all communications will be in writing
- Allow Technology Vendors to Ask Questions
It is impossible to identify and answer all of the possible questions that could arise from reading an RFP. Vendors will have questions and you will need to understand and answer each question, subsequently sharing the responses with all vendors.
- Plan on a question period following the release of the RFP
- Share the questions and answers with all vendors
Many of the questions asked, are likely answered in the RFP, but vendors want to ensure a correct understanding. Ambiguity can be dangerous as it can lead to unidentified assumptions – the objective of the vendor Q&A is to eliminate any confusion or ambiguity that may exist regarding what you are seeking or how you intend to use the solution.
- Scoring and Evaluation
The biggest mistake we see organizations make, is that they have not defined how they will score and evaluate responses until after they have begun reviewing the responses. This can be dangerous as it creates a risk that the scoring and evaluation becomes influenced by one or more of the responses, possibly providing an advantage to one vendor over another.
Be detailed and specific when developing your evaluation scorecard:
- Know how you will evaluate the RFP responses before you receive any
- Define your scoring approach in detail, be specific. Common evaluations elements include;
- Functional Requirements
- Reputation and References
- Ease of Use
If you over-weigh one of these elements, the others become less important.
When establishing your scorecard:
- Don’t be influenced by the responses, to change your weighting
- Ask vendors clarification questions
- What are the set up and recurring charges?
- Ask vendors to provide a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), and calculate TCO yourself
- Have more than one person evaluate the RFP’s
It is easy to be influenced by vendor responses to cause you to want to add, remove or change requirements, but if we allow this, once we start reviewing the responses, we compromise the entire process. If there are great points you wish were included in the RFP, note it, and look for the same in the other responses or add it to your vendor clarification questions but don’t change the scoring criteria.
Evaluations should be completed by multiple individuals, not everyone brings the same experience, knowledge or attention span to the reviewing process. By enlisting multiple stakeholders in the review process, you will increase your odds of a good outcome. It is the dichotomy of scores that can add value to process, as the team will discuss why they awarded X or Y to a particular response which may present a different perspective than another person saw. All this discussion improves the rigor in the process.
Here are some sample requirements you may wish to include in your RFP’s
- What is the security protocol?
- What are the language requirements today, will they change in the future?
- Will you own the data?
- How important are API’s to you, to what systems?
In the Contact Center world, we tend to focus on what we can do with the solution to improve Contact Center and customer outcomes, and not so much on what risks a new technology may present from a security or IT perspective. Be sure to engage these folks in the establishment of your requirements.
It never ceases to surprise me that folks think it is their data just because it is logical as it is their center, their customers and their agents. But, at the end of the day ownership is determined by the agreement and the ‘grey squinty print in 4-point type’
Make sure the data is yours, and you know how you will extract it if you ever choose to migrate to another solution.
- Reputation and References
Checking references is commonly not completed as this can be a time-consuming process and we assume that any reference will only say positive things about the vendor, but, this is not always the case. Reference checks may yield responses like, “I wish we had never selected this vendor” and “we signed the contract 2 years ago, but haven’t implemented, as the vendor still can’t get the solution to work as promised”
When checking references, ask about:
- The implementation process and team
- The cost and any variance or surprises
- The timeline, was there any slippage
- Any surprises in the process
- How well the solution met their needs
Research the vendors
Research the vendors and to understand how have others rated them. Look for high-quality research and rankings such as analyst firms, magic quadrant, Forrester wave, check their websites. Look for credible awards received and reviews of the solutions on websites, in discussion groups and online communities.
When researching vendors, look for the following:
- How do analyst firms rate them?
- Have they won awards or recognition?
- Are the on-line reviews positive?
- Ask the Vendors Questions in Terms of Ease of Use and Support
Ease of Use:
You will want to assess how easy the solution is to operate and manage. Most organizations don’t want to acquire a solution that incurs a professional service charge each time they make a change. Ask about training and background required to manage and employ the solution. Ask if additional or advanced administrator training is offered by the vendor.
- How easy is the solution to use?
- Do you staff need additional training?
- Can you make changes yourself or are ‘professional services’ required?
No matter the solution or vendor, you will need to reach to support at some point in time. It’s important to understand how this will work and what it costs.
Most vendors offer a multi-tier support models and the cost of each will vary with the speed of response and accessibility to the support team.
- How do you get technical support?
- Are hours of support limited?
- How is on-going professional services charged?
It’s advised to over-spend on support in the first year. This is when we will be least knowledgeable and will have the highest degree of change thus assistance and support will be desired.
Assistance may not be deemed support and may be considered a professional service – understand how professional services will be charged.
- Shortlist and Vendor Demos
At this point you will want to down-select by creating a short-list. To carry too many vendors forward is time consuming and generally yields very little in terms of changing the overall ranking. Short-listing the top 2 or 3 vendors can make a great deal of sense.
With each short-listed firm, you will want to set up demos of their solution, typically via WebEx or similar. You will want to see how the solution operates, the different dashboards available to differing classes of users and assess its ease of use and flexibility. Get the entire team to attend the demo and ask the vendor to record the demo so it can later be shared with those who didn’t attend.
You will then score then demos, employing you scoring model.
- Final Scoring
The final step is to combine the scores from the RFP and Demo to generate a final score or ranking
Then, reach out to the highest scoring vendor and begin the negotiation.
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