Over the past ten years with Meridian, I have been the lead technical writer and proposal manager for over 500 learning management system (LMS) proposals. I have seen request for proposals, or RFPs, RFIs, RFQs and RFOs from every industry, every sector, in every space. I have led 300 page, multi-volume efforts that were a complete breeze, and 15-page, single-volume beasts that went through more rewrites and revisions than I care to remember, and everything in between. I have seen gorgeous, well-organized RFP packages and RFP requests that were obviously produced with little understanding of the RFP response and RFP production processes.
It’s safe to say I know a good RFP when I see one.
Proposal professionals will tell you there is nothing quite like receiving a well-organized RFP. On the flip side, there’s nothing worse than being assigned a poorly organized RFP. Each proposal presents its own set of unique challenges, but over the years I’ve picked up on what works and what doesn’t.
If you’re in the market for a new LMS, here are three tips to help you provide a compelling, easy-to- evaluate the request for proposal that clearly addresses your goals and challenges.
1. Keep the RFP focused on your challenges, mission-critical features and other pain points
Identify your critical pain points, goals and challenges and make those the focus of your proposal.
Elearning is a crowded space. Many vendors offer similar core eLearning functions for attacking common client challenges. These functions make up core eLearning functionality, and without them, the concept of learning management and an LMS would not exist.
If you have done your homework, you’ll notice many of your potential vendors have similar core functions. In order to differentiate then between your vendors, it is then best to make the proposal about your key challenges, mission-critical features, and any pain points you may be having with your current vendor/training solution. Identify your critical needs and base the RFP off those, rather than a general checklist of core eLearning functions that allow many vendors to claim compliance with your requirements (while lacking any real areas for differentiation). If you need to witness functions or confirm basic technology, the best time and place is the demo. That’s where you will receive a much better understanding of the function than in a prose-only response.
If you must include a lengthy list of common eLearning requirements, yes/no checklists of core features are sufficient if your critical features have their own response section. Emphasizing critical features reduce the need for a 500 requirement proposal.
We don’t want you wasting your time on something that is lengthy, difficult to evaluate and doesn’t cover your core needs. LMS vendors want to solve your specific training and eLearning challenges – so make them clear and prominent in your RFP!
2. Give us a format to follow
Your RFP will be easy to evaluate if you give the vendors a clearly defined numbering system that is different than your RFP sections. My favorite RFPs are defined clearly into two main basic sections:
- Your requirements, company language, required legal language and any other info deemed necessary to give vendors the background they need to produce an informed and compliant response.
- Proposal rules should be listed in a clear format that defines the exact structure and length of each required section of the response. Your required response format should not align with your RFP numbering. Give it its own numbering/outline format to differentiate it from the rest of your RFP requirements. The point is to give vendors a crystal clear expectation of what you would like returned as part of the RFP packet. This can be difficult if it is not structurally different from the rest of your RFP.
Don’t leave it up to LMS vendors to determine the structure of the response, you end up with a wild variety of response lengths and types, which are difficult to evaluate side-by-side. Give them your preferred response structure in an easy to reproduce section that is page limited. This will ease your evaluation and allow you to make an apples-to-apples comparison of your vendor RFP responses. A clearly defined, numbered and page-restricted response format will also reduce RFP clutter in proposal question/answer cycles, further ensuring vendor focus is where it should be…in solving your specific training and eLearning challenges!
3. Be aware of how your proposal rules impact the ability of potential vendors to accurately respond to requirements.
One of our primary recommendations is creating a rules and response structure that restricts the amount and type of information you receive. However, you also should consider how those restrictions impact your response. This ensures that you have not created any Catch-22 situations where vendors must choose between being compliant and providing the information requested.
For instance, I recently was the technical lead for a proposal that was a mandatory 15 pages in length. The client did not make page-length concessions for the table of contents, cover page, or cover letter in their response, and they further dictated double spacing and 12 point Times New Roman font for the proposal body. These restrictions created a scenario where it was very difficult for our team to provide the information requested within the page lengths dictated by the client proposal rules. If you want a high volume of detail in your response, you may need to reconsider a short page limit. It is perfectly acceptable to page limit specific sections of the RFP while easing those limitations in other sections. Use this to your advantage to clearly outline your preferred response format.
You must also consider your response tools. If you are using excel to document requirements and glean vendor capabilities it is a good idea to only include one question, requirement or concept per cell. Also, it is a good idea to avoid requesting lengthy documentation in an excel response. Spreadsheets are a great way to view your requirements next to vendor capabilities, but it is not the right place for potential vendors to put in a sample contract or lengthy company support policy document, for instance.
Taking a common-sense approach to proposal rules and page length restriction allows vendors to provide a compelling response within the preferred format while preventing a hodgepodge of various response lengths, styles and formats. Balancing your requirements with your proposal rules will further ensure vendor focus is where it should be… solving your specific training and eLearning challenges.
Following these simple tips will begin the process of defining a clear and concise RFP that will better your chances of identifying the correct vendor to solve your particular eLearning/training challenge.