Most event organizers know their way around a request for proposal (RFP). The familiar template for soliciting proposals from potential vendors has been commonplace in the industry for decades. RFPs can be effective tools for making decisions about competing solutions in cases where responses can be standardized. However, event technology is emerging and metamorphosing in ways that defy standardization. Maybe it’s time for organizers to look beyond the RFP –or at least sideways.
RFPs are useful when the product or service being solicited is so familiar that issuers can easily articulate their requirements in a document. They are less helpful when organizations have a problem (for example, poor attendee engagement), but multiple possible solutions (mobile apps, hosted-buyer software, or social photo booths) or don’t know enough about the technologies to draft an RFP.
There is something else about RFPs that makes them less effective for organizers in finding the best solution to a problem. To some technology developers, RFPs are at best a long shot and at worst lacking in integrity. It takes a lot of time and resources for recipients to prepare a proposal all the while knowing that the templates are often used as a procedural formality rather than an intent to purchase or change incumbents. For those reasons, some technology firms avoid responding to RFPs altogether.
I’m not suggesting that event organizers abandon the practice of using RFPs. In many instances, the technology being solicited has become standardized enough that an apples-to-apples comparison is possible and appropriate. What I am advocating is a more open-minded approach to both searching for solutions and evaluating vendors. Here are some measures event organizers can take in lieu of, or in addition to, an RFP to find the best event technology for the job:
- Reduce the formality. By writing an email or drafting a letter that simply states what the problem is, potential candidates can respond less formally and more creatively about their solutions.
- Use the technology in a live setting. Trying out a demo is great, but the real test comes during a live event. Ask the vendor to provide you with contact information from a few customers, one of which may allow you behind the scenes at their event or run your own pilot program.
- Keep an open mind. Ask potential vendors for their recommendations or alternatives rather than dictating the features and functions they are required to have.
- Schedule an interview. Rather than rely only on a proposal prepared by the sales department, schedule a series of online meetings with vendor representatives from multiple departments—operations, customer support, programming or project management, for example—before you make a decision.
With new event technologies emerging and converging daily, it’s becoming more difficult for buyers to rely on RFPs to help them narrow down a field of contenders. By being more flexible during the discovery and evaluation process, event organizers may be able to find better, more suitable solutions from the growing field of event-technology innovators that don’t always have the time or inclination to respond to an RFP.