Shopping for a digital asset management (DAM) or product information management (PIM) system is tough. There are a lot of vendors and a lot of solutions to sort through. However, with an organized and thoughtful request for proposal (RFP) process in place, you can set yourself on the right path to finding the best solution for your needs.
So, where do you start? The first step is to understand the ins and outs of the RFP — what it is, how the process works, and what goes into writing an RFP that’s actually effective. Today we’ll cover all of this and more.
What is (and isn’t) an RFP?
An RFP, or a request for proposal, is a document that businesses create to help them compare options and identify the most qualified vendor for a project. An RFP outlines a buying organization’s requirements and needs and invites qualified partners to respond with solutions and information on how their products and services can help.
An RFP is not an RFI (request for information). It’s also not the same as an RFQ (request for quote). An RFP may help you gather some of the same information as these other “R” acronyms, but at the highest level, it’s about solutions. An RFP solves, whereas an RFI and an RFQ serve different purposes:
- An RFI educates.
An RFI is part of the exploratory phase of a buyer’s journey and (if utilized) will precede an RFP. Organizations use an RFI to gather general information from vendors to help them determine who they want to include in the RFP process. For example, you could use an RFI to confirm research you’ve already conducted or to get answers to questions that vendors don’t address on their websites. High-level inquiries like “what software integrations do you offer?” or “do you offer X, Y, and Z capabilities?” are examples of questions that could easily find their way on to an RFI. The exact format and number of questions in an RFI varies from organization to organization. The key is to keep your RFI organized — via a formal document or well-written email — and to ensure you’re only including necessary questions that will help you whittle down your list of top contenders.
- An RFQ quantifies.
An RFQ is a formal request for financial details like costs and payment terms. If you already know exactly what capabilities, features, and solutions you need (and why), an RFQ is an efficient way to pull this last piece of the puzzle into your analysis. An RFQ could follow and RFI. Or, if you don’t need an RFI because you’re already well-versed on your options, you could use an RFQ on its own. Just remember, you never want to undergo an RFQ if you don’t already have a handle on how vendors can address your specific needs. While costs are certainly important, you want to also include non-financial factors when calculating your potential return on investment (ROI). Also worth noting, if you’re conducting an RFP process, you probably don’t need an RFQ because you can use your RFP to gather financial information.
What does the RFP process look like?
As tempting as it is to just “get going” on your RFP, it’s not something you should rush. Take a step back and think about your entire buying process and how an RFP could fit into it. Only then can you think realistically about the resources and time you’ll need to commit. At a minimum, plan on taking these steps:
- Form a stakeholder team. Pull together a group of people that understand and have firsthand experience with the DAM or PIM problems you need to solve. You’ll want these people to be from different disciplines within your organization. Typically an all-star team consists of an administrator for your system, a project manager, someone with budget authority, and one or two end users.
- Establish evaluation criteria. Before you get too far in the buying process, get together with your stakeholder team and document the top business problems you need a DAM or PIM system to solve. Keep your list manageable (10 is usually good), as these are the problems or criteria you’ll use to evaluate vendor proposals.
- Create a shortlist. Conduct online and offline research to narrow in on a manageable list of vendors (five to six is usually good) that best meet your evaluation criteria. Talk to a DAM or PIM consultant. Ask your professional network for recommendations. And learn as much as you can from reputable analysts and sites like Real Story Group, DAM News, and Codified Consultant.
- Issue RFP to vendors. After you write your RFP, send it to your shortlist of vendors. Avoid creating extra work for everyone involved by only issuing RFPs to these vendors that you’ve deemed most attractive. At this point, you should have conducted enough research (and possibly an RFI) to understand who your top contenders are.
- Accept questions from vendors. The buying process is two-sided. You need to ensure you receive adequate information to make an informed decision, but you also must give vendors a fair shot. Allow enough time (one to two weeks is typical) in your process to ensure vendors have sufficient time to digest your RFP, understand your use cases, and pose necessary questions.
- Receive and evaluate RFP packages. After you get your RFP responses back from vendors, circle up with your stakeholder team. Read through the responses and evaluate how each vendor stacks up against the criteria you established. At this point, you’ll probably notice that certain vendors can’t solve the issues you face. Remove them from the running, so you can start to whittle down your vendor list. Also, buyer beware — if vendors don’t appear to have any limitations, you might want to press further to ensure you’re getting the real story.
- Schedule demos. Reach out to your shortlist of vendors and schedule demos. You never want to buy DAM or PIM software without seeing it in action. If you’re impressed with the demo, take one more step and ask vendors for a trial site so you can play around in the tool. This will allow you to experience the user interface (UI) firsthand, test different scenarios, and (just as importantly) get a feel for a vendor’s customer service and support.
- Announce selected vendor. Breathe a sigh of relief — you identified a partner! Let all vendors that participated in your RFP process know if and why they were or were not selected. And if you haven’t already, figure out how you’ll also announce your new DAM or PIM solution to people throughout your organization. There’s always a certain amount of change management needed!
Do you always need an RFP?
Some organizations and regulated industries require buyers to conduct a formal RFP process. But outside of this, an RFP isn’t always needed. In fact, sometimes it just complicates the process. If the project is small — say you’re looking for very basic DAM or PIM capabilities — undergoing a robust RFP process might just create more work than a simple RFI. Or, perhaps you’re already very familiar with the best DAM and PIM solutions for your needs. In this case, a few simple vendor conversations, demos, and trials may suffice.
Ultimately, it’s up to you. Everyone’s situation and reasons for using (or not using) an RFP are different. Usually it comes down to one question: “Will an RFP facilitate a better buying experience and connect you with the best solution for your needs?” If the answer is “yes,” then, by all means, an RFP is for you. If the answer is “no” or “I don’t know,” it’s probably worth taking a step back and evaluating what approach will connect you with the best solution and get you the best return on your time.
Tips for writing a winning RFP
If you’ve decided that an RFP is right for your organization, it’s time to put pen to paper — or should we say fingers to keys — and get writing. There’s no magic formula for writing an RFP, but with a few best practices (and a helpful template), you can gather the information you need to make the best, most informed decision. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when writing your RFP:
- Assemble scenarios, not a feature list. Rather than including a checklist of requirements, provide vendors with at least three to five stories that illustrate real problems experienced by real people within your organization. Use these stories to highlight your biggest DAM or PIM challenges, and if needed, pull in a few shorter use cases to highlight secondary necessities. Ensure your scenarios clearly describe what you’re trying to accomplish, why it’s vital to your business, and who is involved. This will ensure vendors provide you with solutions, rather than a laundry list of system features.
- Identify use cases from a variety of teams. You’re likely familiar with your personal DAM and PIM challenges, but what about the issues other partners or departments experience? Before finalizing your RFP scenarios, reach out to a variety of teams — marketing, creative, communications, IT, video, sales, outside partners, and more — to understand their pain points and use cases. Only then can you understand the breadth of challenges and narrow in on the most business-critical scenarios for your RFP.
- Push for a deeper understanding. Ask vendors how they handle post-buy engagements like implementation, customer support, and training. What does the implementation process involve? Is ongoing support included in your subscription price? What can you expect in terms of professional development for your team? A detailed line of questioning is critical, but you should also ask for case studies, testimonials, and a trial period to evaluate if vendors actually live up to their claims.
- Think beyond your current issues. As time goes on, your organization will likely develop needs that are more sophisticated and complex. When writing your RFP, think about your immediate, near-term, and future DAM or PIM needs to ensure you’re capturing your big-picture priorities. To spur ideas (and gauge approval), look at research and reviews from Gartner, Forrester, G2 Crowd, Capterra, and even see what DAM and PIM LinkedIn Groups have to say about how different systems solve their unique challenges.
- Outline the scope of the project. Regardless of the format you use for your RFP, make sure it provides a solid overview of your current situation and project needs. On the first page of your RFP (possibly as part of an executive summary), list your primary goals, desired timeline, existing software and licenses, number of assets or products, stakeholder team, IT implementation needs, and any other information that you think the vendor needs to know.
- Prepare a realistic timeline. As eager as you are to roll out a DAM or PIM solution, be realistic about how long the RFP process takes. There’s a lot of information to digest, but it’s also important to leave room for demos and trials. Your exact timeline is dependent on your company and needs, but typically the entire RFP process takes a minimum of eight weeks — sometimes longer.
How to find the right DAM or PIM system
While an RFP is right for some organizations, it’s not always the answer. The most important thing is that you embrace an evaluation process that will ultimately connect you with the best DAM or PIM solution for your unique needs.
With that said, if you’ve decided that an RFP process is right for your organization, we’ve got just the webinar for you! Join us as we walk through how to create an RFP that simplifies vendor evaluation. Reserve your spot today.