They say the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. But in my case, a journey of nearly a thousand RFPs paved the way to a single game-changing solution.
It was ten years ago, but I still remember the day vividly. I was in a client’s boardroom. Our team, which included ten employees from the client’s company, had run an RFP for a Global MPLS Network and it was time to present the winning bid to the CIO. I had thought that the CIO had been involved throughout the development of the RFP… but that wasn’t the case.
The reaction at that meeting wasn’t what I’d expected.
The CIO stood up and accused us of bias and said, “It sounds like you’re just shoving this vendor down my throat.”
It floored me. I had to backtrack and explain how we were just a facilitator and that the ten company employees sitting there had been involved throughout the process in outlining the requirements, weighing all questions, and scoring all responses.
It was a tense and uncomfortable meeting. I explained our approach to RFP writing, which eliminates bias by turning qualitative questions into quantitative ones, and weighting and scoring responses in advance. The approach was new to the CIO, and after much explaining and arm-waving, he conceded and admitted that it was the most irrefutable argument he had seen for vendor selection, and he was happy to move forward with the winning vendor.
A sigh of relief…
After leaving the meeting, I knew the RFP process needed to change so I’d never be in a position of having to defend a vendor selection ever again. Ten years later and several hundred RFPs later I’ve launched DirectRFP®, an RFP technology platform for procurement teams — and I wanted to share my journey with you here.
Cracking the nut: Time for a better way
I set out on my journey to build a tool that would cut down on the time and effort it took for my team to create RFPs, and provide more transparency for our clients. Three grueling years and many developers – outsourced, offshore, and in-house — later, DirectRFP® v.1 was born in 2005.
The RFP technology platform, with hundreds of thousands of lines of code, turned many repetitive, essay-type questions typical of RFPs into multiple-choice questions. Spreadsheets and documents synonymous with RFPs were replaced with user-friendly, one-click functions. Passing documents back and forth between teams was replaced by a unified dashboard.
Simplifying qualitative questions into quantitative questions not only provided clarity for the requirements, but cut the vendor selection time from weeks to minutes. This really changed the way that my company, LinkSource Technologies, ran RFPs for our clients. It brought clarity and transparency to the process and cut down on tedious, repetitive tasks significantly for our team.
Over the years, we have successfully run several hundred RFPs on behalf of LinkSource clients and have never had to defend a vendor selection since that fateful day.
A better RFP process for vendors and buyers
Think of a vendor responding to an RFP manually; then responding to another and another. It’s a time-consuming, often repetitive, and costly process. The best vendors end up replying to fewer proposals and both buyers and vendors lose out.
Now think of the buyers. They want to run more RFPs in order to procure goods and services at better price points, but developing the RFP is arduous, repetitive, and costly. A limited number of RFPs can be put out by a procurement team, and the company loses on cost-saving opportunities.
By automating much of the RFP process, DirectRFP® made it easier for both our customers and vendors because they didn’t have to start from scratch each time an RFP was created. Questions became easier for vendors to answer and results became more predictable for the customer.
The whole process also became more transparent. The dashboard showed all RFPs in progress, ones that have been abandoned, and the length of time and number of staff involved in each. We could easily collaborate with stakeholders on our clients’ team and ensure all requirements were met.
With DirectRFP®, the procurement process became more accountable, which made it much easier for our team to meet our clients’ goals.
DirectRFP® v.3: An even-better better way for the RFP process
But I wasn’t happy just having an RFP technology platform for my team at LinkSource Technologies.
There had to be more procurement teams that could use DirectRFP® for themselves!
In the process of building v.3, I talked with more procurement professionals in different industries to understand what they needed for their RFP process.
Building DirectRFP® as purchasing tool for enterprise procurement teams was a whole new beast. The entire team at LinkSource was involved in launching DirectRFP® from accounting, operation to the sales team; they have all been involved in getting data into the database and providing insights from our customers.
Over the past year, I’ve had a chance to demo DirectRFP® to several Fortune 500 companies. The reaction is always the same: “this is a game changer for us.” This validation motivated us to invest more, continue to build in functionality, and launch patent pending DirectRFP® as its own company, where I am the chairman of the board.
What’s ahead for DirectRFP®?
Incorporating Artificial Intelligence
I am really excited about what we are doing to incorporate more artificial intelligence into DirectRFP®. This will allow predictive analytics to kick in by looking at the RFP questions, looking at the database, and outputting who the top suppliers are most likely to be.
Already a functionality in DirectRFP®, users can import existing RFPs into the system, making it easy to convert PDF, Word, and CSV spreadsheets into automated multiple choice questions in the platform. AI here is also helping to make the import function better and better every day.
RFP Library Marketplace
We continue to look for ways to make purchasing easier for procurement teams. The next step will be to develop an RFP marketplace – a repository of RFPs for various products and services. With a simple upgrade, enterprise buyers can choose a template compiled by industry peers, and with a click of a button get seven miles down a ten-mile road.
Why Fortune 500 companies are as psyched as we are
Imagine the time savings. DirectRFP® can save as much as 60% on the time it takes for your team to run an RFP and award a contract. It can cut those RFP costs by as much as 50%. But more importantly, once the bids come in, you get instantaneous results — no more weighing, scoring, and insertion of potential biases. No more needing to defend a position.
It’s cut and dried. All bias removed. All scoring already done based on what you as the buyer are looking for — and more vendors now involved to widen the playing field and perhaps find even more cost savings.
I’m confident that DirectRFP® will indeed change the RFP playing field, pushing the needle for more efficiency and better procurement models across the Enterprise.
We’re constantly improving on DirectRFP®, and I’d love to get your feedback. Check it out here, leave a comment, or send me a message.