We’ve got good news for all the RFP skeptics out there! Are you looking for a new IT provider? If you’re not sure a traditional RFP is the right approach, this article is for you.
What do we mean by “traditional” RFP? We’re referring to the generic questionnaire that goes out to 10-20 IT service providers. This type of document seldom yields apples-to-apples comparison data and has most recipients instantly thinking, “Whoever wrote this has no idea what they’re doing!”
RFPs are not the root of all evil. We have a free downloadable template to help you write one. However, we’ll start with four good reasons not to grab a shotgun and venture into this rabbit hole.
And we’ll conclude with a hybrid approach consisting of three time-tested steps a lot of companies find more effective.
Four Reasons NOT to Use an RFP for IT Support
Reason #1 – The IT information is already out there!
Most Managed Service Provider (MSP) homepages prominently feature granular details for managed IT, co-managed IT, and optional technology services, along with general pricing scenarios.
Since buyers prefer to do 70% of their research before engaging with a sales professional, IT provider websites allow visitors to proceed at their own pace. This will enable companies to go through the initial discovery process and either opt-in or opt-out in the most efficient manner possible.
By digging into blogs (learning centers), reviewing the logos of major clients, and perusing case studies/success stories, visitors can get an informal Ph.D. in managed IT services AND determine what makes one MSP different from another.
Learn More: MSP Pricing Factors
Reason #4 – Widely distributed RFPs take more time than they are worth.
MSPs have to educate prospects and vice versa. Assuming you dedicate 10-20 hours per provider, we’re talking about a serious commitment of time you’ll never get back.
Looking at five MSPs breaks down to 50 to 100 hours. Evaluating ten equates to 100 to 200 hours.
This expenditure of time is even more troublesome if the client has preconceived notions of what they need. Three issues arise:
- Companies ask MSPs to quote services that are way past their prime (like Citrix servers hosted in MSP data centers)
- More thoughtful and better-qualified MSPs get disqualified because their expertise doesn’t shine in a questionnaire
- Clients overemphasize response time, a factor that dramatically diminishes when their systems are architected differently
If your environment is older or a retread of what you’ve always done, you may be needier and have unreasonable expectations.
Three Steps to Take Instead
Step #1 – Agree on high-level business goals and a budget.
Hardware, software, and products are the least of your concerns at this stage. What is your strategy, and what problems are you trying to solve? How much can you commit to making this happen? Come up with a number.
Step #2 – Create a hit list of MSPs for initial qualification.
You and your IT Steering Committee (as per my CFO example above) already have a portfolio of IT provider options in their respective networks. In the same manner, we all know dozens of lawyers, real estate agents, financial planners, and insurance agents. Several viable MSPs are six degrees away.
Scour their websites. Is their content educational or primarily promotional?
Follow their company pages and key executives on LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube. Assess their thought leadership across blogs, shared articles, and videos. Each channel is overflowing with educational content. Especially client comments and reviews.
This qualitative data speaks volumes about their scale, professionalism, culture, and operational maturity.
Reach out and arrange brief qualification meetings to discuss general capabilities and numbers.
Step #3 – Go deep with three carefully vetted contenders for your IT support.
Now that your MSP provider universe is narrower, consider taking the following steps with each IT provider:
- Get them in front of your IT Steering Committee
- Allow the MSPs to conduct key stakeholder interviews with different user groups
- Share all of your IT documentation and contracts (with the pricing redacted)
- Allow them to conduct comprehensive technical discovery
- Visit their offices
- Let each make a final presentation to your team
As I mentioned earlier, one or more of the MSPs may charge you for a comprehensive assessment. We recommend a paid engagement with your top pick and lighter (free) ones with the other two. Then compare the findings and recommendations.
If you’re a nonprofit or a government entity, you may have to issue a standard-issue RFP to a broad audience.
However, organizations that have the flexibility to adopt our approach will get a much better opportunity to know MSPs before making a commitment. You’ll also build relationships with MSPs you may like to partner with the next time around.
When I was in sales, I met a lot of companies I didn’t work with right away. (I also encountered several companies that sent out blanket RFPs every year and after a while, I politely declined to participate.)
Whatever path you choose, we hope you have some new tools for the journey.