As a business, we often have the onus put on us to fill in an RFI document for our software. For those of you lucky enough never to have encountered this task, it is a document built by a company to ensure they get the right specification for the product they are trying to buy, and that it does everything that is required. 

In theory it is a great idea. Essentially, you are writing a list of what you want and then ensuring that the supplier delivers. What could go wrong? Several things, actually.  

The first risk is that you learn an immense amount through the buying process. When you begin this process, you start with some key objectives – what are you looking to achieve and what specific functionality will help you to get there? But as you delve into different solutions, you learn the different capabilities of suppliers and the things they offer that you may not have thought to specify. So how do you adjust your list? Do you start the whole process again, with a new, longer list, or do you ignore what you have learnt?  

It is likely that in this process, you keep adding to the functionality, and end up asking for everything that you might possibly want. But these lists do not necessarily bag you the best supplier. A company that does the basics excellently and has a great track record may be dumped for someone who skims the surface. The supplier might tick a box; they might say they do something, but knowing whether or not it really works is a pretty tough ask. That is where reputation matters more than anything else.  

I think there are a couple of areas where it is hard to make this judgement; service and ease of use. I was talking to a new customer this week (which is what prompted me to write this article), who told me of a supplier that came top of their RFI process, but there was so little customer service that operational issues could never be resolved. Saying and doing customer service are two different things. And of course, how do you judge ease of use?  

The easiest system to use is the one you use currently, and the further a system deviates from this the harder it will be to use. You therefore can’t really judge a system for a while. I call it the day 1 versus the day 21 test. If something is still frustrating at day 21, it is an issue. 

I have saved my biggest point until last, and that is benefits. An RFI can articulate features, and test against them to a degree, as outlined above, but it can’t assess the benefits. The benefits are all around where you are on your journey, how willing you are to adopt best practise habits, and how your supplier can help change those habits. This isn’t normally in a document anywhere. There are plenty of well-documented examples of great new systems being introduced, only for the company to stick with the old system and work around the new system, creating even more work. On top of this, the departments further away from the change process are even harder to create the change in. 

However, benefits are the only reason for the change in the first place, and all these benefits, in a perfect world, need to be set out, and articulated. Cost saving benefits are easy to create in theory, but practically driving out the cost is far harder. Saving 25% of a job probably saves no job at all. Sales growth is of course the easy way – I wish I had a pound for the number of times a supplier has articulated the benefits in extra pints sold per day! 

So, am I saying that RFI processes should be abandoned? I think I am. I think we should try to move to a world where we have requests for benefits, with those benefits being articulated through a short number of key items. 

For example, we moved from using Mailchimp within our restaurant business last year to using a hospitality-based system. It has taken some time to set up and get going, and we still have some way to go on getting all the automations set-up and optimised, but the benefits are really clear. We are now able to send out customer e-mails (yes – our audience still responds best to e-mail, and we get a 40% open rate) incredibly easily and frequently. Since we started, our growth rate has increased. As always in this industry, we have to be incredibly focused on the projects that grow sales or save cost.

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