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In today's episode of 'As the Quarter Closes: RIP RFPs
If you want to see how far we’ve come in the business of technology—and sadly, how far we still have to go—then look no further than the simple RFP. Yes, the Request for Proposal that’s at the core of getting new business.
It’s a staple of every industry, and plenty of good people make a living creating and answering these. But in the world of software as a service, especially when at its core there’s something as new as an API strategy, the RFP is obsolete. It’s a fossil. It’s a dinosaur. And it should be just as extinct.
Ten years ago, the company I worked for used to drown in RFPs, and we knew that every single one we got also went to every other company in our space. It was obvious that knowledge workers had slaved over their spreadsheets to create hundreds of questions with thousands of check boxes for answers. We regularly navigated through points such as, “Do you have integration data warehouses?" "Do you have integrated sales, service and marketing?" "Can you integrate with SAP ERP?"
Back then, a lot of the time we had to say no while our rivals said yes. It was truly frustrating, but even being objective, was it really the best way to evaluate each vendor and its offerings? Let’s put it this way: Many of those rivals later ate the dust, while my old company, Salesforce, dominates the market and is still headed upward.
Many RFPs are by nature designed to highlight the number of features on each product. That’s the kind of laundry list that sometimes offers bragging rights, but how much applicability does it have it the real world? The more effective emphasis should be on issues such ease of use, integration with the existing infrastructure, and viability with workforce practices. But then, how do you ask: “Are you easy to use?”
You can’t ask that, nor can you realistically answer it. But in the world of SaaS, you can show it.
You want to know how the product will work? Figure out what you need, set up a Proof of Concept and put the vendor on a tight deadline to get it done (Try a week or two—you give them months, they’ll take months.) Mimic the real-world scenario, in which the employees are too busy to answer a lot of questions. Lay out a realistic scenario: “Here’s what we need to see in the demo in order to move forward.”
Best of all, see it live. We can put our offering on the server in a live production environment, aligning it with the existing network. Of course, a rich API program goes well beyond the infrastructure to encompass an optimal strategy, a broad developer community and operational excellence. You should be able to see that emerging right out of the demo.
At many forward-thinking companies, APIs are being written into business plans, being discussed in boardrooms and highlighted on earnings calls. It involves a new approach to business, a twist on the old channel strategy, and fostering a community of developers. A traditional RFP won’t cover that. We will.