Best practices say that when you’re ready to find a new association management software (AMS) system, you should issue a request for proposal (RFP). Read on for tips to ensure your RFP drives accurate proposals and helps you find the right AMS for your organization.
When you’re ready to move to a new AMS system, you’ll likely issue a request for proposal (RFP). An RFP is widely considered to be a best practice when it comes to big purchases like software. The primary purpose of an RFP: to gather proposals and discover how well potential products meet your requirements at an acceptable price.
The RFP: What it is
An RFP is a document that provides background and details about your project and solicits bids from vendors. Your organization might write the RFP, or you might work with a third-party consultant to help you write it.
A typical RFP includes the following elements:
- Overview of your organization
- Project overview
- Project goals
- Project requirements, including budget
- Project deliverables and specifications
- Project timeline
- Proposal format/outline
- Request for references
- Proposal due date
- Your criteria for evaluating RFPs
- How to reply/contact information
Seven tips for your AMS RFP
A well-crafted RFP is important to the success of your AMS project. It conveys the project scope to software vendors, helping to ensure you get accurate proposals and choose the right AMS for your association.
Here are seven tips to help you build a strong RFP and get the highest number of quality responses to choose from:
1. Do your homework. There are dozens of AMS vendors in the marketplace. With so many to choose from, you need to do some preliminary homework to identify your key requirements. Here are four key steps:
- Outline your biggest challenges that the new AMS will address.
- Determine what functional areas of the organization will need to access the new AMS.
- Select the core team that will evaluate the options.
- Determine timeline and high-level budget for the project.
2. Send an RFI first. Narrow your list of prospective AMS vendors by issuing a request for information (RFI) before the RFP. An RFI asks basic questions: high level capabilities, vendor strengths, and typical budget. It is fair to send an RFI to many prospective AMS vendors. They are relatively easy to respond to, and most vendors will respond.
3. Send the RFP to no more than three vendors. Use the RFI to narrow the list of prospective vendors to three or fewer. Sending to more than three vendors is an indicator that an organization has not done their homework and will dramatically reduce the quantity and quality of responses. In fact, many top tier vendors likely will not respond if the number is greater than three.
4. Set a realistic time frame for RFP responses. Allow enough time for the vendors to provide you with high-quality responses. It’s unrealistic to send a 50-page or longer RFP and expect a response within two weeks. Instead, allow four to six weeks for a thorough, well-considered response. And be sure to expect vendors to ask questions during this time frame.
5. Set a realistic time frame for project start. You likely want to start your project right away. But keep in mind that top-quality solution providers often have a backlog of RFPs and projects. It’s also important to take an honest look at your organization’s own constraints – vacations, holidays, and events may impact the best time for adopting a new system. Be realistic and flexible about the ideal time to begin your AMS project implementation.
6. Be transparent. The more transparency you offer up, the better. Be clear about how many vendors have been sent the RFP, who they are, what the budget is, and your key evaluation criteria for selecting a new system. These factors help vendors to quickly identify if they would be a good fit for your specific project.
7. Work with a consultant. An experienced AMS selection consultant can lead the creation of your RFP and refine the goals of the new system. They’re familiar with currently available AMS systems and can narrow the list to the systems that will meet your needs and budget. Also, consider having the consultant play a role beyond the selection – some of the most successful implementations have the selection consultant as part of the implementation team.
Things nobody tells you about the RFP process
Here are a few things you may not have considered when it comes to building your RFP:
- It’s going to be a lot of work. An RFP is a valuable tool to help ensure a successful software project. But building a solid RFP is time-consuming. And so is responding to one: Input from sales, engineering, and implementation teams is required to thoroughly research and respond.
- Your RFP can inspire the software vendor. Top-notch vendors like to be inspired and challenged. When your RFP makes it clear that your association is seeking to move to the next level and innovate, the vendor is more likely to be excited and inspired to work with your organization.
- It takes two. While you are selecting a software vendor, the software vendor is also selecting a customer. In fact, the software vendor sometimes will decline to respond to a poorly executed RFP because it indicates that the organization has not fully considered its goals and needs. Some red flags that can cause a vendor to decline to respond:
- Poorly written RFP
- Lack of clarity of goals and objectives
- Lack of transparency
- Lack of timely responses
- Disengaged / difficult interactions with staff
Now that we’ve discussed all that you need to know, you’re well on your way to creating the perfect RFP. (And, if you’re a forward-thinking association looking for an innovative, platform-based AMS, be sure to send it our way!)