10 Simple Steps for Using an RFP to Find a Salesforce Consultant
Submitting an RFP that helps you vet potential Salesforce consulting partners and also adequately describes your organization's needs can be challenging. You often do not know exactly what your technical requirements are at the RFP stage, and it can be hard to know what to ask and who to trust.
Over the years we have seen many organizations struggle with this process and while there is no one-size-fits-all foolproof formula, we have noticed that implementing some simple recommended steps can go a long way toward future project success.
Let’s start by defining the most common terms and what these mean in the world of Salesforce implementation projects.
RFP vs. RFI
RFI (Request for Information): A short document (typically 1-2 pages) that allows you to qualify the partner based on relevant experience, history, stability and compatibility.
An RFI is a great way to identify a group of interested consultants who are a good cultural fit. It's quite concise but if you structure it correctly, it will save time on both sides and help you vet who to invite to the RFP round.
RFP (Request for Proposal): A longer more formal document that allows your organization to outline specific requirements around budget, timeline, and features.
Responses are generally requested in a standardized format so proposals can be weighed against each other. Strategy and business objectives are outlined so that risks and benefits of the engagement can be identified upfront.
Now that you know the difference between those two terms, let's jump into the tips. Here are our top 10 tips to help you in this process.
1. Start with an RFI
For large projects, an RFI is an excellent way to check for cultural matches with potential consultants. Below is an example of a basic RFI outline:
A Statement of Purpose
Why are you looking for help? Make sure you have clearly stated goals.
When do you want a response? In what format? And, to whom? Be sure to include their contact information.
What are the key points around which you’ll make a decision? For example, firm size, number of locations, a range of services, business history, portfolio samples, case studies, etc. Make sure that your questions will actually have an impact on your decision.
Next, request specific capability information related to your project. This could be deliverable formats, software required, etc.
Now, provide an area for candidates to include some information that may not be directly within the scope of the RFI but which they think is relevant.
You will need to clearly state how your selection process will proceed. Also, identify how many firms will move onto the RFP process. Finally, provide a contact should the candidate have additional questions about the process.
If your RFI requires that you disclose sensitive information, make sure to get a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) signed before sending the RFI.
2. Be clear on goals and objectives.
Before you hire a consultant you need to be clear on the business need for each technological requirement. Build your case for major investments within your org first before engaging a consultant. Consider the risks and opportunities inherent in the project.
3. Do your homework.
At last count, there were over 1000 consulting partners on the Salesforce AppExchange. Ask for recommendations from other nonprofits within your network. If you're purchasing licenses from the Salesforce Foundation, your Account Executive can also give you some suggestions based on your project.
Be an informed buyer, watch demo videos to learn what is possible with Salesforce. Research how other nonprofits use the tool and connected apps to give you ideas on how to structure your proposal.
4. Set some limits.
It's nice to feel wanted, but flirting with dozens of consulting firms at once can get a bit exhausting. Set a goal to find 5-10 prospects for your RFI, which will translate into 2-3 finalists for your RFP.
5. Make sure your RFP covers the basics.
Your RFP should at a minimum include the following:
- Questions asking about the consulting partner's history, size, and stability
- Proposal instructions, including any deadlines for responses (usually 10-15 business days minimum) and process for consultants to confirm receipt and participation.
- Your organization's current situation
- Any needed deliverables
- Questions around expertise and compatibility. You could consider including things like training, workflow automations, and development of Communities or portal sites.
- Standard hourly pricing by role
- Request for case studies or work examples
- Request for references
- Budget (set a range and discuss with consulting firms to make sure you are in the right ballpark)
For more, check out this excellent session on RFPs from a 2014 Nonprofit Tech Conference by Peter Campbell.
6. Don't depend solely on the document response.
You should consider combining your RFP with a phone or in-person interviews. You want to make sure your consultant can walk the talk, and a quick phone conversation is a great way to ensure they're more than just pretty words.
Salesforce.org's VP Global Alliances Dave Averill likens finding a Salesforce consulting partner to finding a good doctor (and we would have to agree). As much as you would not go to a hospital with a list of symptoms and look for the lowest cost, you should not use the RFP alone to find your consultant. During the interview, try to talk with the people who will be on your project and trust your instincts.
7. Involve the right people.
Projects can get completely derailed by not involving the right stakeholders early on. You know your organization; think about who will be affected and who needs to sign off and who will be the project lead.
8. Consider your decision-making process
Before you get RFP responses you should have an idea of how you are going to select the finalists. Consider whether you can use polling or scorecards to rationalize your decision. Once you have made your decision, notify all vendors who participated and be open to providing candid feedback to those who were not selected.
9. Think of this as a long-term relationship.
Technology changes quickly and the project you scope today may no longer serve your organization in five years. Find a consultant who you trust so that they can help you adapt to changes in the future. If you're not sure you are ready to commit, ask if the consultant will start with a paid discovery phase.
Also, make sure to ask about their support and training resources- most good consultants want to set you up for success and enable you as much as possible.
10. Be open to adjustments.
Your RFP is most likely only the beginning and is your best thinking from your current point of view, but you don’t know what you don’t know. Most consulting firms use an agile process and will expect you to have some flexibility in your process and approach. Bringing this perspective early on will go a long way.
For further perspective on this topic, we also recommend Dave Averill's excellent article, "How to Choose a Salesforce Consulting Partner" as well as Peter Campbell's NTC session as well as this follow-up post on RFP software.
Ready to submit your RFP for a Salesforce project?
We've been in this business since 2006 and seen many RFPs. We'd be happy to take a look at yours and see how we can be of service.