Step #1: Identify your top business goals and greatest needs
The first step is to identify what you really need, clarifying must-haves vs. nice-to-haves. Then balance your budget approach with a clear understanding of how much value a tool that solved your primary needs would add overall.
For example, you might initially think a software is too expensive, but if adopting it would save you the equivalent hours of hiring another person, the value/cost might be quite reasonable.
Ask your team to do an inventory, identifying which of your current technologies are:
- Great as is and should stay in place
- Could be improved (need new integrations, updates, etc.)
- Don’t exist and you know you need them (you’re using elaborate “workarounds,” etc.)
Once you’ve quantified your business goals, and established where there are current efficiency gaps, you’re ready to ask for buy-in for your technology “shopping list.”
Step #2: Get Buy-in from the right people
Next, work with critical decision makers, key users, and those that will be impacted by the new technology.
Before you start actually shopping, hold a meeting with all these stakeholders to make you sure you understand the types of criteria you should be looking for, and the essential questions to ask.
Having these folks onboard early in the process is crucial, because they may have requirements or concerns that are important to them and/or that will impact the overall success of the project.
Once you have your key factors and end result in mind, it’s time to go into search mode.
Set #3: Carefully choose your evaluation method
What should you do first? Should you “google it” and call the top 3 vendors? If it’s a relatively small purchase or a simple need, possibly. But if it’s a complex need or thousands of dollars, I would recommend a more formal process.
The best way to gather all the information you will need to make a well informed decision, is to build a Request for Proposal (RFP), as it’s a perfect way to level the playing field.
I recommend using a tool to help with this part. Look for something that will organize your various vendor responses so you can evaluate them side-by-side. Comparing answers across each question makes it easy to distinguish quality. You’ll clearly see if they interpreted the question the way you intended, or if they gave you a mile of “fluff,” or a monosyllabic response.
While Microsoft Word is often used for issuing and evaluating RFPs, I don’t recommend it, because there is no easy way to combine the answers for review. You and your team will find the task daunting if you cannot easily compare apples to apples; it could delay the project as a whole or create an excuse to not use all of the important data you collected.
Step #4: Effectively manage the communication process
So we know choosing the right evaluation method/tool is important. Another noteworthy consideration is how you will handle your vendor communication.
How will you answer any questions the vendors might have? How will you manage the negotiation process?
You will want to be sure you are giving all vendors the same information so no one is at a competitive advantage. I find it best to request vendors to send their questions in prior to the RFP deadline so they can incorporate the new information into their RFP answers. But it is important to share all questions and answers with all participating vendors. If it is a blind RFP, maybe have a place on your website where the data can be easily shared. Or, request vendors to submit that they are interested in participating early in the process so you can share data with the full list of participants.
If you are going to use email, I’d recommend keeping the answers “blind” so the vendors do not know specifically who they’re competing against.
Step #5: Prep for your demo
Once you get through the data gathering portion of the RFP, then it’s time to go into demos.
To make the most of your limited time (I recommend at least an hour per vendor, maybe more depending on the scope of services), do your homework beforehand.
Review relevant RFP responses prior to demos, so you and your team will be prepared and ready with questions that way vendors won’t have to waste time repeating answers.
You should also know that doing a demo often leads to additional questions. It can be helpful to make those queries official supplemental RFP questions, and ask that all the vendors answer them, allowing you to continue evaluating equally.
Hopefully this upfront work is not too intimidating. The better you can manage this part of the process, the better prepared you will be to make the best possible selection. It is important to get as much information exchanged between your team and the new vendor before implementation starts. Your due diligence should help identify any big challenges and that both your team and the vendor’s are all on the same page — setting everyone up for success.
Most importantly, taking the time to figure out what you really need, and to make sure you’ve asked the right questions ensures that all your work pays off and you find the right fit. The last thing you want to do is go through this process again in a couple of years because the selection process was not thorough.
USI is here to help. Although you and your team is best suited to review and determine which internal changes should be made, our team can provide you with best practices that we have seen with our thousands of other clients across the states. We also have a team who continually vets the market and is there to be sure you start with the best selection of vendors that will meet your needs.