RFI – Your Success is Riding on the Right Information

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When I was working on a doctorate I had one class where there was a requirement for a term paper due each week (on a Monday). The professor made it clear that the minimum number of pages for each paper was 10.

I never asked them why 10 and not say more. I figured out the less part, somehow they had deduced that to get your point across tied to data (hi endnote), the number was 10. Often times, I would go past 10 pages. I never wrote (to my recollection) one that was 20 or 30 pages in length.

In middle school and high school, I had teachers that would assign term papers. I can recall only one with a set minimum, and that was a middle school history teacher. That number was 10.

Nobody ever got thrilled about writing a term paper. Not in middle school, high school, college, post-graduate and so forth. Let’s remember that this way before the instant access to the Internet, albeit by the time I was working on a master’s you could find information via Archie or Jughead (FTP) – you had to be there.

I bring up the past, simply because we are ingrained at an early age on the term paper or some refer to it as a report with pages that have to be written. Perhaps you had a teacher/professor that stated a minimum number, to ensure that Stewart would not go three pages, because Stewart was a slacker.

As a result of the indoctrination, there are folks out there who routinely back in their days, wrote papers/reports that would make the teacher/professor cringe due to its length. Heck, when I taught at a university, I would see such papers and cringe.

It’s one thing to write a thesis or a dissertation with hundreds of pages (or at least 80), it is another thing to have to read a college paper that goes anything higher than 20 pages, and yet, a lot of people went with the “okay, you want a term paper, read my 96 pages on how Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was really about an LSD trip” (for the record, that is a theory out there).

RFP

One item, that people who are looking for a learning system often perceive is that the RFP will be the key deciding factor on selecting or at least narrowing down their list for a learning system. It is why vendors get inundated with them, from folks who have never looked at the learning system, initially.

The stories of 50 page, 100 pages, even 200 pages of an RFP/RFI exist in the space, not a myth, reality that someone out there, decided a large number of pages was the key to selecting/narrowing down to find the best learning system.

There are L&D, Training, and others (who are overseeing the process, and are the same ones where their e-learning program and thus learning system, resides) who go either committee (by force or choice), or send around the “what do you want to have” inquiry to every department (by choice or force) or Procurement has their own RFP or a vendor provides/posts an RFP out there (which btw tend to skew towards that specific vendor – and yes, other vendors can see it quickly).

When you go the first two routes – and I say force because the CEO or whomever you report to, says, you must have a committee or send this to all these department/division heads, lots of pages seem to be turned out, and a lot of questions (many redundant or not relevant) appear too. Procurement’s approach is the worst, because it is a generic RFP that could be for an HRIS system or HCM and has zero application or minimal to a learning system – despite IT BTW who thinks they are all the same thing. If your CTO or head of Procurement thinks that way, the next time they ask you for a report, give them an index card and say, well it’s the same thing – paper with words on it (Don’t do this, uh index card for a report).

The IT folks involved in the RFP is another monster. Cookie is one thing, but it tends to slide more towards Frankenstein. IT should have minimal input – security sure – but the majority of vendors host on AWS – so just send them there – which the vendors will either do via a link in your RFP responses or a cut and paste off the site in their response.

IT will need to know about the integrations aspect, if an HRIS or HCM or whatever 3rd party system you already have can connect (if you want this) to the learning system and what data is getting pushed and pulled. I rarely see IT folks ask about “backups and scheduling” or “maintenance” or even data breaches and the processes – and notifications.

Hacking is a common one, but in the 22 years involved in e-learning, I can name only two vendors whose system was hacked. Two. One was about five years ago, and no the vendor didn’t tell anyone – surprise! Oh, and they hosted on-site as I recall, but I digress.

Other than that – security and integrations, there isn’t any other relevancy to having IT actively involved. Actually, I should add a third, and that is if your company provides employees with a laptop which has restrictions put in place ahead of time. In that case, IT will need to know that say a VPN will work with the system in the cloud and what impact speed wise will it create (all VPNs will reduce your speed/time to enter a site). If the laptops are missing audio cards, then IT will need to add them, stuff like this. Some laptops lack certain programs, such as Adobe Reader (PDF) or similar PDF programs – again, IT will need to add that either directly or more likely point employees to a place to download it.

Once again, though those inquiries are rarely asked in an RFP, especially from folks in IT.

HR involvement

IT is Frankenstein, and HR (assuming they are not overseeing the whole process) can either be Casper the Ghost or the Amityville Horror. Again, there are some requirements needed – if you need to tie the learning system, for example, to an HRIS. HCM, Payroll, Recruiting and similar systems. If you need employee files to be uploaded, then you need HR’s assistance in getting those files uploaded (if an HRIS or similar is not in existence). There may be some other requirements, but there are HR people who think a learning system is just like an HRIS. Again, it is not. Nobody would ever confuse Limburger cheese with Swiss. Yes they are cheeses, and it ends there.

Procurement

There are a lot of companies whose RFP could be short or long, and in the end, the final decision is procurement. What’s worse is that there are vendors whose pricing is predicated on the procurement angle, and thus, will go higher, knowing that procurement will require them to go lower. Now, this is a major mistake, because whoever is overseeing the decision, is going to make sure the system is within their budget.

Anyway, Procurement using my wonderful analogy of monsters, ranks up there with the Kraken. Seems friendly at first, right before it devours you. If Procurement gets involved early on in the RFP process and requirements, you can guarantee that your selection of a learning system – that you really want or actually aligns directly to everything you need, will be reduced (I’ve seen buyers get a system that is missing 80% of what they need, because Procurement picked a cheap one that doesn’t, even though the other system was within the budget). Any CEO or Managing Director who says they want you to get a learning system (and within your budget) should recognize that Procurement is a hindrance to finding the best system, err right system for your learner’s needs. And by allowing the “P” to have input into the “what you want/must” in an RFP, is not a smart choice. BTW, how often does Procurement allow L&D or Training to add their questions to Procurement’s RFP – for their system?

What is Relevant in your RFP

Well a use case is extremely relevant, but only if it is written correctly and if the vendor responds or prepares to respond with said use case(s).

Use Case Reqs

  • Clear and right to the point. Zero ambiguity. Have someone who is not in the decision making process, who knows very little about a learning system or needs for that matter, review it. Can they understand what you are trying to say or explain? If they seem confused, I guarantee that a salesperson at a system will be too.
  • Details matter. Here is your chance to show your former English teacher you enjoyed the class around specificity without redundancy. I always tell clients, that the more details I know the better. Again, eliminates ambiguity. If you say, “we want a system where one learner can see this and another sees that” – first off, all systems do that, and secondly, it isn’t clear. “We want a system where we can have PDFs or videos or courses assigned to a learner in Dept X or Area W with XYZ rules/processes compared to another learner who we want only to have courses tied around the appearance of hummingbirds.”
  • If you have multiple use cases – then provide them. But don’t go overboard. I’ve seen 20 or more use cases, which if your company is less than 500, that is way too many. If you are using a system for employees and customers, then two use cases are the minimum here. You may end up with eight or 10, which is fine if is needed, but even then, by being clear and concise it shouldn’t turn your RFP into a term paper.

Vendor’s Use of the Use Case

I read an inquiry on whether you (the vendor) when presenting a demonstration of the system, should focus only on the use case(s), or the RFP requirements or a mixture.

It’s a good question to ask, because the answer isn’t simple. There are Pros and Cons if you only focus on the use case(s), in the demonstration.

Pros

  • Shows that you read the use case and can apply it what is being presented/shown to the individual or folks viewing (on site or online)
  • If you go use case only, the best ones are the ones that weave it into the process.

Cons

  • The Agenda method with a use case or cases. This is where the vendor doesn’t weave in the use cases, rather they start with them, and go step by step. Use Case one – we go here on the system. Next, Use case two – we go here. It seems scripted and truly a bad idea.
  • You – the salesperson are assuming that the “buyer” knows everything about what exists in the systems today. This is where you, the salesperson only focus on the use case(s). If I the buyer have no idea about cohort-based learning, I’m not going to incorporate with my use case specifics with the use of cohort-based learning. If my use case is around metrics, I may be unaware of what metrics are really relevant and which ones aren’t OR that your system has xyz metrics that are game changers for the buyer.
  • You – the salesperson makes errors because the “ask any questions” which is always stated at the beginning of any demonstration is ignored, due to you, the salesperson focusing on the use case.

Thus the best route to go is the combo Use Case and RFP and New or Beneficial Functionality in your system – that the buyer isn’t aware of or even considered – due to lack of knowledge or misinformation or even because they are not in L&D or Training, and are unaware of what is available. A combo approach is tapped via weaving in the use cases with what is being seen, but also “hey with an LRS, you can capture content engagement far more, by xyz” – if the prospect is into content curation and engagement. I should note that there are vendors who have an LRS, do not mention it, because the client doesn’t ask about it, or that the vendor doesn’t even know what the LRS is best used for (it’s not data records – which was its initial premise). This above example is a perfect example of relying only on use case or use case and RFP. Hence the third addition.

Oh, and a vendor must realize that just because the person is in L&D or Training, that they will know what is relevant in metrics and what isn’t. It is why I was thrilled to hear from one vendor, who told me they will show the client what is relevant to them and what they need to view on the metrics side of their system. In their example, they noted that they find quite a few L&D folks who do not know. When you recognize that 20% of your buyers have no idea on anything L&D or Training, and they are overseeing the system/administrators – the vendor must take control and explain. Never assume. Ditto on the Jargon. Drop it. I may say I need SCORM 1.2, but I have no idea on what it is, what it does, and why it is more beneficial than say SCORM. BTW, the majority of people do not care. They want it, you either have it or not.

Go with the Guide

Here is where I push the use of my template (can be found in the section “RFP/RFI Checklists/Templates” in the Learning Library). Not from the “you have to use this OR this is the best option for you”, rather take a look from the standpoint of what you are seeking and or considering. There will likely be items on there, that you were unaware of existed in the space (albeit not every vendor has it), or what the vendor may use as terminology. Take a look at the skills data questions. When you are writing your RFP, are these questions in it? If you are selecting a system where skills functionality and capabilities are in it, then yes, these questions are relevant. Ditto on Technical and Security – the keys, the essentials are listed here. It is everything you require – maybe, maybe not – but you can always add it – if you decide to use only the template OR add it to your written RFP.

Take a look at the Training and Support tab. The number one reason people leave or hate their learning system is support. Yet, it is rarely asked in RFPs. I would want to know how long it takes someone during normal business hours to respond. Because, how many people gripe that XYZ didn’t respond to my inquiry or even acknowledge it? A lot.

If you choose to use the template (whether you go only with it OR add additional items), be aware that is should be a key component, but not the only component. Ditto if you decide to do your own written RFP/RFI.

Too many people use their RFP as the main deciding factor. That’s not a good route to go.

For those interested in using my template, here are the benefits of doing so (Regardless if you decide to add line items to it OR remove line items you do not need)

  • It’s constantly updated to ensure the latest that exists in the space is out there – that could be relevant to all types of use cases. It is not perfect though, nothing is, so if you want to create your own podcasts in the learning system (beyond rare), then add it as a line item.
  • You can use it for any vertical/industry, even associations, non-profits and yes, higher education. For education aka EdTech (why do I still see corporate vendors refer to their system or the people wanting to buy it as EdTech?), it won’t have connection to an SIS or plagiarism, nor is it focused around Synchronous based Learning (which EdTech is heavy on). And yes, as a college or university, you could purchase a learning system not in EdTech and do just fine – actually well.
  • Questions that you may not have thought of or features you may not be aware of – exist in there.
  • It notes you need a use case or cases – but that is best added as separate sheets = using Word or similar programs.
  • Cohort-based learning is a new tab – with a link for vendors to read more about what is cohort-based learning, on top of the features – not just the ones listed in the post, but others. Including the dreaded “rubrics” which vendors refer to, when covering ratings or competencies (which is the legacy term, that has been replaced by ratings).
  • I use the exact same template you see, when working with clients (yes, I have clients where I find the right learning systems for them, based on reqs, etc.)
  • The template is extensive, but it works – at least in my own experience. There are vendors who see it quite a bit, and others who have not. Do some gripe? Sure, but if they want your business, they will complete it. Always make sure they provide “details” in the comments column next to their responses. I will explain shortly, why this is extremely relevant.
  • Provides specificity. And a new column for you to add your additional details or comments on something you want or may want.
  • Offers the vendor to state something is on the roadmap for 2022 – thus, maybe it doesn’t exist now, but hey by the end of the year it will. Plus, it now offers, roadmap23 – meaning 2023.
  • New question – Whether the system is on FindAnLMS. I heard from a lot of readers who wanted to know if the system they were considering or thinking about was on my platform, FindAnLMS, where you can get even more details, compare, connect and soon to launch see video demos. I hadn’t thought about adding the question, but thought yeah good idea. The Point here, is that I do add questions based on readers or folks who use the template and say, “what about asking this”.

Items to Add to your RFP – Have you thought about?

  • You want the vendor to check out some materials you have posted online or learn more about you – via an area you want them to go to on the internet. But how do you know they really went there? For the link use a URL tracker. I use Bit.ly – If you want to add QR codes where you can capture data, add PDFs, do a bunch of cool stuff – I use MYQR. In fact, I added the cohort-based learning PDF from the learning library in the QR code on the template. Validation and verification is relevant these days. For the record, I am not getting any compensation for mentioning these two sites.
  • Toss in a question on your RFP that tests whether the vendor really knows L&D or Training, if you are overseeing it. If you are using it for associations, toss in a question around the association space, something that anyone who has experience in the market, should known. Don’t make it so obtuse or off the charts, nobody would know, except you and your fellow MENSA association friends. I’ve heard vendors go, “we know all about L&D” and then I say, “oh, so what is OD” – and they are silent. Or ask, what do you mean? If they say that, go what does “OD stand for”. I won’t post the response here, but I bet some salespeople will surf the net after reading this to find out. The reason I do this, is that any vendor will tell you they know your market or this and that, and let me tell you, there are vendors who think L&D is the only game in town – and everyone is in L&D. Now if you are in training, why would you want them?

RFP relevance to the demo

Remember when I mentioned you want a vendor to provide details? Well, regardless if you use my template or or not, I do recommend that you create (using a spreadsheet) features/capabilities you want, in one column, and then another column, the vendor answers yes, no, and whatever else you want to offer, and then have a column for them to leave comments.

Most folks with their own RFP put everything in a word document, and then the vendor responds and its lots of text. Sometimes I get a sense that it is more cut and paste (which is common), but sometimes the cut and paste isn’t really tied to the question. It is as if, a robot it just adding stuff.

What they are not expecting though is a spreadsheet and some RFP pages – or just a spreadsheet template for example – i.e. the one you create. Again, be specific on what you are seeking, just as you would with your questions in a word doc.

You are going to use that spreadsheet/template for two purposes

  1. As part of your process for narrowing down a system (You should have talked to the vendor first, see if it is a potential match, and then send your RFP and spreadsheet or my template. Way too many people do it the other way around, which goes with the blast to everyone angle. It’s one thing if you are looking for a pool person via Yelp, it is another for a big budget item, like a learning system.
  2. You are going to use those “yes” responses to validate when you are seeing the demo. And here is why you want to do that.

Validation. I know of vendors who say “yes” to a certain feature, but in reality do not have it. What they will do, is spin, “well you can do it, if you do this in this section, then that…” – if you are fine with that approach, all is good. If not, then it is a minus. And I know vendors who say “yes” they have it, but knowing their system inside and out, they really don’t. It is what we call in the tech space, “vapor”.

You may use a template and go, well, I can’t validate all of my yes and they said yes to (which is what you are doing). No worries, focus on the big ticket items that are MUST HAVE or I will punch the car door approach. You will NOT send the vendor ahead of the demo, the items on your sheet that align. That’s like a professor giving you a test prep sheet and completing all the answers for you. How do you know they really know? I often said that to myself, in some classes.

Scorecard

Add it with your validation. 5 points for a MUST HAVE, 3 points for “Yes” to “Yes” and they can show that. And minus one point or a O, for not having it, even thought they say yes they do. If they spin, then you can decide “okay, I can handle that” – and decide to give them 2 or 3 points OR say “no way” and give them a zero.

This is tying back to the spreadsheet and your RFP.

Now you have three in play for the demo.

Before I forget, around “Yes” but it is done this way, rather than “Yes” it is this item.

There are vendors who do not have the feature, but will state so, and say how it can be done. I’m cool with that. But I ask anyway so I can see how it can be done, rather than assume it is easy to do – which vendors will often cite.

The Three for the Demo Tie it to your scorecard

  • Spreadsheet Yes to Yes (or the word RFP)
  • Use Case(s)
  • New functionality, or items you haven’t thought of, but might give you pause and think”ooh, I can use this”

What is really irrelevant if you add it to your RFP

  • Three or a list of references – No vendor is going to give you a reference that hates or had issues with the system. This is like asking a candidate, can you provide me three references? What, like they are going to give you folks who hate them, or think they are incompetent? I get this is a standard with a lot of folks, the reference request but remember – that reference isn’t you. They are going to be different in some way. Could be the same industry, same job role, same user base, location and so on. But they are not you. They do not think like you. They do not have your learners, employees, customers, and so forth. They didn’t write your RFP, didn’t look at the same things you will be looking at, assessing.
  • NPS score – Who cares? This should not impact your decision in any such manner. Vendors love to tell you, their NPS score (if they use NPS). Never tell you how many passives, or detractors, or methodology, and approach and why they asked X versus Y and so forth. Plus, really they should use multiple programs, and not just NPS. NPS ties around customer experience and that a high score means loyalty and love, with the promoters are going to tell others about their system. The reality though isn’t even close. I mean, how often have you written a review after the place you went to, asked you to do so? I’d love to hear the number of detractors and why they slide into that group? What were those responses? Might be just negative humans, griping about your food, OR it could be an issue that is in the system, that multiple people are saying over and over again.

Bottom Line

As a vendor you have to decide whether or not to complete an RFP. You should have a product person, someone in product management, review the responses to validate they are accurate – because that person, should know what is the latest with the system, what is coming down in say next month, versus the salesperson who may not know. This is a process every vendor should do, and yet, the majority do not. The vendors who do, wow, big win. For support, the salesperson should ask the head of customer support to review those questions and respond. And with data. They all capture data. Any vendor who says they do not have support data, are either lying our totally incompetent – because support calls costs them money, so reducing them is essential. Plus, who wants a bad support person, destroying your business?

As a potential buyer use the RFP, spreadsheet, etc. as key components, but not the end component. It is a combination of RFP, spreadsheet or Template, seeing the system, asking questions and validating what they the vendor stated as “yes”, and seeing what is new you never thought about. Do not make the mistake of thinking, “Well that is a cool function, but we do not need that”. I can tell you, you will regret it.

When you buy a system, you need to be looking down the road, three years – hence the value of forward-thinking. Not right now. What happens if you leave your current employee and go elsewhere, and that new place has a learning system, which lacks certain features you had in a previous system or want? What are you going to do? Ask them? Some folks will try to get out of the contract – have fun trying that. Well, if this is what might happen to you, think about someone the first time out, or the person replacing you.

Every system I ever bought at various companies and entities, I never left to switch to another system and I was never was unhappy with it. I am a huge fan of everything included.

You may not need it now, or use it now, but who says you won’t three months from now, six months or even a year from now. If it is included at no additional charge, just have the vendor deactivate it, or you can via a click (a lot of systems can do this). Then when you are ready, click on or activate.

As with anything, that huge RFP you shouldn’t be doing, pricing has to come to play. My template doesn’t state pricing, but when you contact the vendor tell them you want pricing with a formal proposal. And you want it itemized, with that discount (common with three-year deals, 15% is the standard).

As Mr. Bernard once told me,

“Yes, you need to go to the library”.

Had he been writing an RFP, I bet his retort would have been

“What you think I am going to read 45 pages?”

Yes sir, you should.

Even if you don’t.

E-Learning 24/7

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