eWEEK.com ran an article today on questions to include in an RFP for web conferencing vendors. The article of course is available as a link from the Webinar Success Industry News page (shameless plug!). Press releases are at the top of the page, news stories and articles at the bottom.
I'll get to their recommended questions in a moment, but first a brief word from a former enterprise software marketing manager. Please, folks, think carefully before issuing a giant, detailed RFP to a bunch of vendors. (If you are not familiar with this aspect of corporate decision making, an RFP is a "Request for Proposal" and typically contains a huge number of questions about product functionality, company viability, and so on. They may be used to do initial short-list selection of vendors to bring in for demos or pricing talks. But more often, they are used purely as a CYA policy that gets filed in a drawer somewhere so if the project doesn't work, the project management team can pull out the document and say to the vendor that the product didn't perform as stated.)
I have watched many sales and marketing representatives fill out RFP's at various software companies. The typical process is to start by answering YES to all product functionality questions. Then you backtrack through the list and see if there is anything you can't somehow rationalize to say "Well... It would be possible if you jumped through these eight hoops." At great risk of personal injury, a dedicated RFP responder may try to get an engineer involved to answer a particularly tough question. The detailed response, sprinkled liberally with qualifiers, is then paraphrased back to a one sentence answer. Or back to the one word "Yes."
The problem with most RFP questions is that they don't adequately differentiate between different approaches to the same functionality. For instance, the eWEEK list has a question asking if the web conferencing product supports application and desktop sharing. This question gets a YES from just about everybody. But does the app sharing support a user-defined region on the screen, full desktop, or a named application? If a named application, does it show pop-up windows that are children of the main process? Can you whiteboard on top of the screen share (yes, at least one vendor allows this advanced feature). And so on. The YES/NO functionality doesn't give you enough information to rank-compare vendors.
I'm not saying that this list is a bad thing to have. On the contrary, I think eWEEK has done a tremendous service for many companies investigating the purchase of a web conferencing solution. But nothing beats experience in trying to use the different implementations of features.
Another thing to recognize is that many of the features listed may be unimportant for your needs. Don't just pick up the list and throw it at your potential suppliers and then count the number of YES answers. Go through it and see if the feature is useful to your company and your needs. If you don't understand the use of the feature, don't include the question... The answer won't do you any good. (This isn't just me... eWEEK also points out that purchasing company priorities should guide the use of questions on an RFP).
The big one that bothers me is their statement that "All RFPs should include requests for customer references..." That's not fair to the references or the supplier. A reference check should be the LAST step in your purchasing decision, after you have decided that everything else is appropriate for your needs, including pricing. A reference check lets you confirm your decision. It shouldn't be used in lieu of an evaluation process. Reference calls take valuable time away from busy companies, at no benefit to them. Each time a reference is listed on an RFP, a conscientious sales/marketing person has to seek permission from the reference and alert them that they might get a call. It is a strain on the relationship even if the RFP reader never does follow through. Just asking too many times can be an imposition.
But little gripes aside, this article is an immensely worthwhile addition to your knowledge base when selecting a webinar vendor. If you don't understand the questions and their relative importance, you might want to consider getting outside help in your selection process. Ahem. You know who to call.
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