October 13

A vendor wrote your RFP. You won’t believe what happened next.

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  • A vendor wrote your RFP. You won’t believe what happened next.

Corporate purchasing is hard. People who don’t make purchasing decisions probably don’t realize what a challenge it is. How hard can it be to shop for things? We all shop for things, don’t we?

But buying (say) cloud hosting is a lot harder than buying a pair of shoes. For one thing, when you buy shoes you don’t have to worry about how those shoes will affect dozens of other stakeholders; you just have to worry about how they affect you. For another, you know all the right questions to ask about your shoes: are they comfortable, do they look good, and are they the right color?

Odds are unless you are a hardcore IT expert you have no idea what questions to ask a cloud hosting provider. If you’re an executive of a mid-sized e-commerce business, you just want to make a decision and get back to your day job. If you’re a purchasing manager at a large enterprise, you have dozens of other outstanding purchasing requests demanding your attention and don’t have the time to focus on becoming a cloud technology expert in a matter of weeks.

You want to run an RFP to compare multiple options, but you don’t know where to begin. So what do you do? You call up a salesperson and start asking them questions to educate yourself. Before you know it, they’re offering to give you their own vendor-written RFP! Problem solved, right?


scoobie doo smh at vendor-written rfp

It’s tempting. Oh boy, is it tempting! After all, they are domain experts. And if they include anything that biases the results towards their own solution you’ll surely catch it, right?

Actually, you probably won’t. Not because you’re not smart and capable, but because a subtly biased question can sound so reasonable if you aren’t deeply educated in the domain.

Let’s consider a specific example in cloud hosting. Suppose that their vendor-written RFP includes a question about supporting virtualized instances of Linux and Windows servers. Sounds fair, right? I mean, shouldn’t your hosting provider support Linux and Windows servers?

Well, if you really want a virtualized server running one of those operating systems so you can install a bunch of software yourself, then yes they should! But what if what you really want is just for someone to host your website without forcing you to get into those details? The truth is you probably shouldn’t care about the underlying technology. But as it turns out, the company that “helped” with your RFP just so happens to provide virtualized servers running the OS of your choice. By including that question from their RFP template, you’ve guaranteed that you’ll get a “no” from (for example) Google, Microsoft, and many other excellent hosts. And you’ll get a “yes” from the company that gave you the RFP!

Or perhaps they suggest a question on whether classroom training is available. Training is important, isn’t it? Of course! Sounds reasonable! But does training need to be delivered in person, as a lecture, in a group setting? Is that an efficient use of time for your company? There are many ways of efficiently delivering product training these days, and the best hosting solution for your company’s needs might offer training in a better way than this vendor-written RFP leads you towards.

These subtle introductions of bias towards a single vendor add up over the course of a long RFP and are a major contributor to the first touch problem. (For more on that and other problems relating to corporate purchasing, check out Corporate Purchasing Is Broken and the RFP Is a Horrible Thing.) You want to find the best solution, not just the first solution. That’s why it’s much better to lean on community expertise – rather than vendor expertise – when looking for help with an RFP. Rely on the wisdom of other buyers who have been in your position! And use the aggregate expertise of the vendor community, not the single opinion of a biased salesperson.

To get started with an unbiased RFP template, join Vendorful today!


best practices, RFP, strategic sourcing