Technology Shopping: Key Steps to Getting What You Need
You’re probably shopping. Or just about to, or just finished, or completely procrastinating doing it at all. The problem is, when you’re busier than ever, it can be really easy to get distracted by all the shiny packages, discounts, and cheerful sales people… and I don’t just mean holiday shopping.
With 2017 just around the corner, you’re likely planning next year’s budget, including technologies purchases for the new year. But how do you make you find what you really need?
To help you prepare for endless options, glittering demos, and experienced sales teams (who tend to be very good at their jobs), our seasoned customer Anne Burkett of USI has some helpful guidelines for how to stay focused in your search, and make sure you get what you really need.
5 Steps to Effective Technology Shopping
By: Anne Burkett
Step #1: Identify your top business goals and greatest needs
The first step is to identify what you really need, clarifying must-haves vs. nice-to-haves. Then balance your budget approach with a clear understanding of how much value a tool that solved your primary needs would add overall.
For example, you might initially think a software is too expensive, but if adopting it would save you the equivalent hours of hiring another person, the value/cost might be quite reasonable.
Ask your team to do an inventory, identifying which of your current technologies are:
- Great as is, and should stay in place
- Could be improved (need new integrations, updates, etc.)
C. Don’t exist and you know you need them (you’re using elaborate “workarounds,” etc.)
Once you’ve quantified your business goals, and established where there are current efficiency gaps, you’re ready to ask for buy-in for your technology “shopping list.”
Step #2: Get Buy-in from the right people
Next, work with critical decision makers, key users, and those that will be impacted by the new technology.
Before you start actually shopping, hold a meeting with all these stakeholders to make you sure you understand the types of criteria you should be looking for, and the essential questions to ask.
Having these folks onboard early in the process is crucial, because they may have requirements or concerns that are important to them and/or that will impact the overall success of the project.
Once you have your key factors and end result in mind, it’s time to go into search mode.
Set #3: Carefully choose your evaluation method
What should you do first? Should you “google it” and call the top 3 vendors? If it’s a relatively small purchase or a simple need, possibly. But if it’s a complex need or several thousand dollar purchase, I’d recommend a more formal process.
The best way to gather all the information you will need to make a well informed decision, is to build a Request for Proposal (RFP), as it’s a perfect way to level the playing field.
I recommend using a tool to help with this part. Look for something that will organize your various vendor responses so you can evaluate them side-by-side. Comparing answers across each question makes it easy to distinguish quality. You’ll clearly see if they interpreted the question the way you intended, or if they gave you a mile of “fluff,” or a monosyllabic response.
While Microsoft Word is often used for issuing and evaluating RFPs, I don’t recommend it, because there is no easy way to combine the answers for review.
On the other hand, a good RFP-specific tool will organize answers in a way that easily allows you and your team to compare apples to apples.
Step #4: Effectively manage the communication process
So we know choosing the right evaluation method/tool is important. Another noteworthy consideration is how you will handle your vendor communication.
How will you answer any questions the vendors might have? How will you manage the negotiation process?
Again, it’s easier if you have a RFP tool. Especially if that tool allows you to answer questions as needed for individual vendors, and then make your answers public for all who may have the same question.
Email works as well, but of course it’s more cluttered. If you are going to use email, I’d recommend keeping the answers “blind” so the vendors do not know specifically who they’re competing against.
Step #5: Prep for your demo
Once you get through the data gathering portion of the RFP, then it’s time to go into demos.
To make the most of your limited time (you usually get an hour or less), do you homework beforehand.
Review relevant RFP responses prior to demos, so you and your team will be prepared and ready with questions that way vendors won’t have to waste time repeating answers.
You should also know that doing a demo often leads to additional questions. It can be really helpful to make those queries official supplemental RFP questions, and ask that all the vendors answers them, allowing you to continue evaluating equally.
Do these 5 steps sound intimidating? Don’t despair.
The upfront work you put into a thorough vetting process means you can begin the next phase, implementation, with confidence.
Your due diligence (hopefully) means that any big challenges have been identified in the selection process, and that both your team and the vendor’s are all on the same page — setting everyone up for success.
Most importantly, taking the time to figure out what you really need, and to make sure you’ve asked the right questions ensures that all your work pays off and you find the right fit.
Anne Burkett is a National Practice Leader, HR Technology at USI Insurance Services.
USI is one of the country's leading middle market employee benefits brokers. Our focus on delivering quantifiable solutions across the entire breadth of the benefits spectrum sets us apart from other brokers and consultants. With over 250 consulting professionals and over 2,000 employees nationwide, the employee benefits division of USI continues to grow by delivering results and creating satisfied customers.
[Editor's note: RFP365 was in no way incentivized, nor rewarded for publication of this post.]