Death, taxes and RFPs. For business software vendors, all three are equally inevitable – and it's not clear which they dislike most. In my on-going humble efforts to serve the industry, I’ve posted nearly 200 detailed questions that could serve as the backbone for many RFPs. The list is available in the Resources section at www.raabguide.com; it’s free once you register.
The thought here is that everyone would benefit if many buyers worked from a standard list. Vendors could prepare one set of answers and buyers would get faster and more reliable responses to a thorough set of questions.
I do have a minor ulterior motive in posting this list. Those of you familiar with the Raab Guide to Demand Generation Systems know it already contains very detailed information on major vendors (Aprimo, Eloqua, Genius.com, Manticore Technology, Marketbright, Marketo, Neolane and Silverpop). But preparing each entry takes a tremendous amount of work and, frankly, it’s hard to make sense of the results. So I’ve come up with a list of mostly yes/no questions that highlight key differences among vendors. This is much easier to prepare and probably easier for buyers to use. I’ve sent this list to two dozen vendors and will publish the results in a new report as soon as the replies come back. Posting the list will encourage the vendors to participate, since they can expect other people to ask the same questions.
Obviously I wouldn't have planned the new report if I didn't think it was worthwhile. Still, the approach has several drawbacks. Here's how I'm dealing with them.
- It relies on the vendors to answer accurately. Outright puffery aside, written questions are open to interpretation and you can bet the vendors will give themselves the benefit of any doubt. The best I could do was to make the questions as specific as possible. Here’s a typical example:
share assets across campaigns: marketing materials such as templates, emails, Web pages and forms, content blocks and links can be shared across campaigns. “Sharing” means the component is stored outside of a specific campaign in a central repository which is accessed during campaign development. The system may either create an independent copy of the item for each campaign, meaning changes to the local copy or the master do not affect each other, or it can establish a link between the campaign and the master copy, meaning any change to the master will be reflected in all campaigns using that item.
Hopefully this is precise enough that a “yes” actually means something. I’ve also described a couple of alternative ways of solving the problem, in the hope that this will encourage buyers to dig deeper on their own.
- The list is generic. Buyers have different needs. Each will care about only some of the questions on the list and about other questions I’ve left out. Of course, I can (and just did) warn buyers to select the items that matter to them. Beyond that, I’m creating separate weights for how important each answer is to small, medium and large marketing departments. That will let my final report include summary scores that help identify which vendors are best suited for each type of buyer.
Naturally, people will disagree with some of my weights. But that’s a healthy debate. In fact, prioritizing requirements is the most important discussion buyers can have when selecting a product. So bring it on.
- Not everything can be scored. Usability, vendor support and reliability are just some items that are hard to capture in yes/no questions. They also can change pretty rapidly. I can’t offer a solution other than to stress the importance of buyers doing their own research through demonstrations (based on their own scenarios), reference checking and conversations with other users.
In theory it should be possible for social media to provide a public forum for such issues. But I don’t see a way to do this without having self-interested parties distort the results. Suggestions, anyone?
Indeed, a truly ideal solution would be for vendors to post their answers on their own Web sites. That would give buyers clear, consistent information without issuing a RFP at all. I’m not holding my breath for that one, however.
In any case, please download the list, use it as you see fit, and let me know what happens. As near as I can tell, everybody wins.