Can Social Media Sources replace the RFI?
By Elizabeth Gooding on January 10th, 2011
Previously I hit a few high points on what issuers and responders face when dealing with Requests for Proposals (RFPs). One factor that can send the whole RFP process downhill is the issuer’s desire to get the best results with the least amount of work.
In theory, if you really want to find the best solution at the best price, you need to talk to a lot of different suppliers and be willing to review a lot of bids. But who wants to source 100 vendors – or even 20 for that matter? In the past, I have always encouraged my clients to issue a short “Request for Information” or RFI in advance of the RFP process. Some possible goals of the RFI may be to:
- Learn about new services available in the area you are searching for bids on – for example, the latest trends in direct marketing, fulfillment or variable full-color printing.
- Vet the requirements for your upcoming RFP. Are you asking for the right services or are you looking for the best price on the leading edge solution from the 1990s? (You’d be surprised how many RFP’s read like the latter!)
- Cull the list of suppliers who will receive the full RFP by asking just a few key Yes/No questions that are critical capabilities or contracting points that you will require from suppliers.
Now that you’ve read this far, let me confess that I don’t think that social media can actually replace the RFI – but, I do think it can help to make the RFI and the RFP process a lot more effective and efficient. There is a wealth of information out there that can be accessed without 16 advance meetings and a full legal and compliance review!
Let’s look at LinkedIn for example. In the Question and Answers area there are over 500 topics on Request for Proposal (from both the issuer and the responder perspectives.) It’s helpful to look at the questions that other people have asked – but it’s also a straight-out opportunity to ask questions of your own. Naturally a lot of the questions will get jumped on by suppliers trying to present their solution – but often they have some good insights on what makes a good RFP. And – you’d be surprised at how many times peers of yours at other companies log on to share their experiences, recommend suppliers, or share what they’ve learned about new technologies. Many times members will also recommend experts on a particular topic which may lead you to articles, blog posts, or even sample RFPs.
There are also discussion groups on particular topics. For example there is the Print and Procurement (International) Group which has 6,936 members from around the world. I would say that there is more Printing (3,478) than Procurement but it still posts some pretty lively topics. If you post a thread saying that you are looking for companies that can provide a specific service your likely to get a quick response. For example, the post:
“I have a 400 Pg + Cover perfect bound book live project. Quantity = 1,500 and involves spot colors. I am looking for a book manufacturer with digital and offset capabilities.”
. . . received 38 responses within a matter of days. The neat thing is, social media sites allow you to drill down on the responses you get. If someone responds to a post you can click over to their profile and see who has given them recommendations or look at the anwers they have supplied to other questions. Click again to look at the company page on LinkedIn – or go directly to the company website. You can see who else works there and if they have any interesting presentations or recommendations as well. All of this is available before you have sent any formal communication out from your company.
Potentially, you can quickly identify many new suppliers that you might not have considered, identify experts who can help you define all of the things you should ask for in your RFP and identify ways of making the RFP process much more efficient. I still think that you will want to issue an RFI to narrow the field before you issue an RFP – but maybe in some cases you can get what you need from a bit of online research and networking. Let me know what you think.
And, stay tuned (or stay RSSed or something.) Next time I’m going to talk about why you might want to skip the RFP all together!