Conducting formalized purchasing processes represents an essential aspect of any business seeking to maximize return on investments and improve organizational outcomes. Request for proposals, or RFPs, help define projects, set expectations, and ensure the right clients and vendors are selected to help businesses grow effectively and efficiently. BWF recently sat down with Cloud for Good’s Eric McCune, Director of Sales, Education, and Tim Love, Director of Sales, Nonprofit to discuss the value and best processes of the RFP process. Cloud for Good is a Premium Salesforce.org Partner specializing in Salesforce implementations for nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions, and a trusted partner of BWF’s.
What is the overall value of going through an RFP selection process?
Eric McCune (EM): Some of Cloud for Good’s clients choose to go through the RFP process so that they can see a variety of offers for their projects. In education, they are often seen as an impediment to purchasing and are required for a project over a certain dollar amount. Our customers who approach them as a value-add will see benefits from getting multiple quotes, learning more about the bidding firm, and building a shortlist of firms with whom they can have discussions.
Tim Love (TL): The overall value of the RFP selection process, in my opinion, has three primary purposes: to find the right solution (platform and third-party applications), to align with the right partner to implement the solution based on the companies values and technical resources, and to give the organization an idea of the total cost of ownership and timeline of the project.
When is the appropriate time for business requirement gathering and what does that involve?
EM: Having well-articulated requirements is critical to any successful implementation. I see the most successful clients with their requirements documented and aligned well ahead of any discussions with implementation partners. This allows firms, like Cloud for Good, to be efficient in our project scoping process, and to get to the project impact quicker.
TL: Business requirements gathering starts when you begin engaging with a client. Gathering business requirements is a critical first step for every project. To bridge the gap between business and technical requirements, a business analyst must fully understand the business needs within the given context, align these needs with the business objectives, and properly communicate the needs to both the stakeholders and development teams. We accomplish this through a series of meetings with Business Unit heads or power users.
What is the difference between business requirement gathering and business process mapping?
TL: Business requirement gathering tends to be a more general, zoomed-out review of an organization’s technology offerings that touches on broader tech limitations and how to overcome those limitations with the proper implementations. Business process mapping, on the other hand, refers to activities involved in defining what a business entity does, who is responsible, what standard a business process should be completed, and how the success of a business process can be determined. The primary purpose behind business process mapping is to assist organizations in becoming more effective.
What is the difference between an implementation partner and an ISV partner?
TL: An Implementation partner, or System Integrator (SI), works on customizing/building out a customer’s software based on the internal business processes. An ISV partner, or Independent Software Vendor, makes software compatible with other platforms or products.
What role does a technical ISV partner play versus a more strategic project partner?
EM: ISV partners are a critical part of our clients’ success with Salesforce. They accomplish concrete and valuable use-cases that would not make sense for clients to custom-build. Functional examples of ISV partners that we work with constantly are document generation, events management, payment processing, and more.
What is temporary project staffing and why might that be needed?
EM: Most of Cloud for Good’s higher education clients leverage existing employees from across the business to support our implementations, whether in IT or the business unit as Subject Matter Experts.
TL: Temporary staffing, from our perspective, can be the customer using our employees to help fill gaps in the IT staff for customization of deployment of software. This might be needed if the customer cannot hire in time or afford staff long term.
When does the planning phase end? Who are the right stakeholders and at what point should they be involved in the selection process?
EM: During partner selection, we typically engage with a variety of stakeholders. They may be involved in scoping the project (Discovery) or during the final presentation. Ultimately, it varies from customer to customer, as some organizations have a more “bottom-up” approach to making decisions, while others are “top-down.”
Why is it important in the Salesforce ecosystem to perform a needs assessment upfront?
TL: One of the biggest reasons for a needs assessment upfront is for the scale of the project. Can the customer afford to do everything right away? Do they have to phase the project out based on cost or internal bandwidth? What is the timing of the project and how does it align with their company initiatives?
Once the RFP is issued, are there best practices around vendor engagement?
EM: We recommend open and transparent communication with vendors during RFPs. For Cloud for Good, the least helpful RFPs are those where we are in a black box with no customer interaction. This leads to sub-par responses, solutions, and, ultimately, proposals—the more open and honest communication between the vendor and prospective customer, the better.
Could you speak on the difference between buying software and buying a development platform?
EM: When you invest in Salesforce, you are investing in a living, breathing platform. It is constantly being innovated and improved upon. Our customers love that and continue to invest internally in their skills and staffing accordingly. Software has historically been a bit more stagnant, relying on the developer to issue updates and releases. With Salesforce, our customers can innovate and iterate around virtually any use-case on campus – from Advancement to student success to research tracking.
What factors or red flags would contribute to a company declining to be involved in an RFP process?
EM: Limited access to the client and not having well-defined requirements/documentation to provide immediately come to mind as major red flags within an RFP process.
TL: For me, nothing comes off as a bigger red flag than company culture misalignment. Making sure the company reviewing the RFP and the company submitting the RFP are aligned in core values and have the same expectations going into the process is paramount for the ultimate success of that process.
Eric brings over five years of experience in the higher ed community to Cloud for Good. His background in student recruiting, alumni engagement, and annual giving helps him understand the unique needs of large and often complex institutions and gives him unique insight into how Salesforce can help them achieve their goals. Eric’s Salesforce journey began when he helped his university select and implemented the platform for their advancement team in 2013 – he has been a Salesforce evangelist since. Eric graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder, with a degree in International Affairs, and studied for a year at The American University in Cairo.
Tim Love brings over 18 years of sales experience with a technology focus as Director of Sales NPO at Cloud for Good. Over the last decade, Tim has dedicated his time and efforts toward working with nonprofit organizations in helping them navigate and find success with the Salesforce platform. Currently located in Mount Gretna, Pennsylvania, Tim is a graduate of West Virginia University that prides himself on a demonstrated history of working in the information technology and services industry. When not exhibiting his passion for connecting clients with transformative technology, Tim enjoys traveling and spending time with his wife and two children.