Buying Business Software? Include this in your RFP.

How often do you ask a person for something, and they come back with something that is different from what you had in mind?


This isn’t a blog post about love.  But it is about communication.  It’s about one party communicating their needs, and the other party communicating their ability to fulfill those needs.


More specifically, it’s about better buying and selling of business software.

The Beloved RFP Process

When a company determines that they need new software, they document their needs as a series of questions or requirements in a single document called a Request for Proposal, or RFP.  They send the RFP to several potential bidders.


The intent is for the bidders to respond to each question/requirement, indicating their product’s ability to fulfill that requirement.  The buyer then reads all the bidders’ responses, and selects a “short list” of those whose responses best meet the requirements in the RFP (at an acceptable cost).


The Four Points of Potential Failure in RFP Communication

A successful purchasing process is highly dependent on four stages of clear communication.  Each of these is a potential point of failure.


  1. The buyer writes the requirements.
  2. The seller reads the requirements.
  3. The seller writes a response to each requirement.
  4. The buyer reads the seller's response.


Each of those four steps is an opportunity for miscommunication.  And after nearly two decades of participating in RFP’s, I’ve learned that miscommunication can and does often occur within one or more of these four steps, particularly steps 1 and 3.


Introducing the Use Case Scenario

An effective method to avoid miscommunication, or misunderstanding, is by describing requirements using Use Case Scenarios.


Use case scenarios provide a clear context – a sort of verbal picture – that helps the seller to understand the requirements of the buyer.  Common use-case scenarios are those events which occur frequently within the buyer’s business environment.  And since they occur frequently, they’re events and processes that qualified sellers will understand.


Any common business process  (relevant to the solution being purchased) can be a Use Case Scenario.  For HR Service Delivery, these can range from Onboarding, to a salary increase requiring approval, to an employee from a certain country searching the knowledge base for information on maternity leave.


Why Use Case Scenarios Work

When buyers ask sellers to describe in detail how their solution can support one of these processes (Use Case Scenarios), the HR-savvy seller will have a more concrete understanding of the needed system requirements.  This concrete understanding will drive the seller to describe their capabilities in more concrete terms for the buyer.


A response that’s written in concrete terms, within the context of a specific Use Case Scenario, will be more clear to the buyer.  As a result, the communication will be more effective for both parties.


Avoid communicating with abstract descriptions that require mental translation.  A Use Case Scenarios is like a communication bridge.  It translates the needs of the buyer, and the features the seller’s product into a solution language that both parties will understand.


And this common understanding – built on the foundation of common, concrete industry processes – leads to better results for all parties.

Apples to Apples Understanding