When Shortlists Are Too Short, Who's to Blame?

This insightful case study from SageCircle talks about how a vendor almost missed out on a $35M deal because it was left off an RFP shortlist. Although the case study is geared toward software vendors—focusing on the importance of an active analyst relations team—it also illustrates important points applying to software selection projects. The case study is in some ways a cautionary tale for organizations engaging an analyst firm’s guidance in a software selection.

An analyst firm that’s helping develop a shortlist must go to great lengths to ensure that it casts a fair, impartial, and comprehensive net around the vendors that have the best potential to help its client.

When engaging a company to help with your software selection project (and of course I think everyone should), make sure its selection methodology is well-defined and geared toward helping you obtain what's best for your interests.

Since the case study goes into few specifics, I certainly don’t know all the details about the situation it describes, but I got the impression the analyst firm did not have a sound process for developing an RFP shortlist. What happened? In brief, it seems the analyst firm worked with a consultant to make a shortlist for the client and there was a break-down between the analyst firm and its consultant. From the case study:
“The analyst firm consultant’s job was to create the request for proposal (RFP), set up the vendor short list in collaboration with the client, send the RFP to the selected vendors, and then evaluate the responses.”

Somewhere along the way, the consultant developing the shortlist was not privy to information the analyst firm maintained on the vendors. That suggests serious faults in the methodology employed. We do RFP/shortlist development projects all the time at TEC, so I know the intricacies of what it takes to cast your net around the proper vendors for evaluation and shortlisting. There are plenty of ways to find appropriate vendors and products for developing a shortlist, even if you don’t already have internal research on them. Thus, it strikes me as negligent that the shortlist developed in this case was incomplete due to a break-down in the analyst firm’s communications.

If I were a client engaging an analyst firm to help with my selection project, I’d want to be confident that its methodology was solid and well-defined. A selection methodology that allows for gaps in data gathering techniques or that can be compromised by external influence could hardly address my best interests.

And it's a two-way street. The analyst firm should be verifying and re-verifying that it has obtained up-to-date and relevant info from the right vendors. And it should be using that information. Likewise, I’d argue that vendors have an obligation to provide that information and cooperate in a timely manner. After all, vendors that aren't capable--or that do not make the effort--send a message (by extension) about the nature of their care for the customer.

Surprisingly, not all vendors realize how important communication is with analyst firms providing selection project guidance. If vendors brush things aside and neglect to ensure that the analyst firm has up-to-date information, they risk exclusion from shortlists.

It sounds like the vendor in this case study was fortunate enough to have analyst relations people that were on the ball, but some vendors disregard this kind of care in the belief that their connections and people skills with potential clients will solve everything.

I'll end here, with (quoting from the case study) a point that exposes a flaw in that belief.
"While it was the company's market-leading services and the sales representative doing an effective job selling that closed the deal, neither would have mattered if the company had not been able to get on the shortlist."
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