Seven Critical Steps When Choosing a Partner from an RFP
By Kemal Carr, President, Madison Advisors
Selecting the right business partner for customer communications management (CCM) delivery is a critical task. Shrewd organizations use the Request for Proposals (RFP) process in an attempt to make the best decision. After receiving partner responses and confirming references, there is one more important step before your final selection: Conduct a site visit to the finalists’ production centers.
A well-crafted RFP will help you gather information about the prospective vendors. Technology, operational performance standards and pricing can be compared. At Madison Advisors, we utilize our industry-recognized Best Practices Assessment (BPA) to assist in creating the partner candidate long list. However, because of our extensive pre-work, we can eliminate many firms that don’t meet our clients’ base requirements, thereby saving valuable time and expenses for all parties.
Even when correctly executed, RFPs can be a drain on all parties, both buyer and seller alike, so the more pre-work that can be completed in advance the less stress on all parties. Our enterprise clients are savvy enough to know that while there isn’t a vendor fee for RFP participation, those costs ultimately have to be borne by their clients, so they end up paying in some form or fashion.
Therefore, streamlining the partner selection process with the ability to invite only appropriate partners reduces costs for all parties and ultimately saves money.
Here is how Madison Advisors’ process works to make the above critical considerations happen:
1. Our extensive work with service providers gives us the rare opportunity to interface with clients that know and may even use the prospective partner submitting the RFP. This virtually eliminates the time-consuming need for calls with references to determine how (and if) the prospective partner manages and sustains relationships. Our process enables you to skip this entire step, again, saving time and unnecessary expense. In the past two years, even with the pandemic affecting us all, Madison Advisors performed 14 Best Practices Assessments (BPAs), our comprehensive study designed to examine best practices across the converging markets of high-volume outbound and inbound communications (including internal document services operations), for the top print service providers in the nation.
2. When we’ve narrowed the long list to the short list of participants, we help facilitate the site visit. This is a critical step as it adds important insight about the vendor. Seeing the actual equipment, layout and work environment allows one to compare what is written in a bid response to what takes place at the facility. Several RFPs have been won or lost during a visit. Again, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Madison Advisors conducted site visits as our clients’ proxy.
3. It’s important to bring the right members of the RFP team along for the visit. While there isn’t a right number, generally less is more. At a minimum, the project sponsor, sourcing manager and a print/mail subject matter expert (SME) should attend. The vendor will have a team of folks on hand to impress the prospect, so multiple attendees help level the playing field. The SME’s focus will be on the equipment and processes used in production.
4. A tour of the production floor is mandatory. Don’t settle for a view from a conference room balcony. As you walk through the facility, takes notes on how work is staged, the make and models of equipment used. Follow the workflow in particular. Look for security controls, including cameras. While the vendor has probably taken extra preparations for the visit, the truth is right below the surface.
5. Take a moment to talk to the employees. Not just to the people the vendor has hand-picked for briefings, but any employee you may pass. Don’t conduct an interrogation, but just carry on a conversation. “Good morning.” “How are you, today?” “What are you working on?” One thing I like to ask is how the piece of equipment they’re running is performing today. That will typically get a rich dialogue going about challenges with the work product, equipment or both, especially if it’s not going well.
6. At the same time, the SME should be talking with machine operators. Do they understand how the system works? What is their awareness about printing technology and postal regulations? How do they handle jams or misfeeds and recreates/mutilated documents? As in the example above, don’t just have discussions with the operators at the machines the vendor spotlights, but talk to as many people as possible.
7. When the visit is finished, the RFP team should discuss what they learned. Specifically:
- Does the processing equipment live up to the description in the RFP response?
- Does the facility have the proper security measures in place to protect personal information?
- Is the work culture at the facility consistent with your company?
- Do the employees exhibit the values you’re searching for in a business partner?
- Is this a facility you would trust to produce critical communications for your company?
The business partner awarded the outsourcing contract will impact the relationship with your customers for the length of the contract. The formal RFP responses will provide a lot of information, but not everything you need to know about the vendors. In general, site visits will help bring the entire process to a conclusion. The investment of having a trusted advisor in your camp is minimal and relatively cheap insurance when compared to the knowledge gained in helping you make the best possible decision.