Even once the technology requirements of the RFP are understood, many companies don’t have the technology infrastructure to meet those demands.
For as much opportunity as they represent, they can be three dreaded letters:
While a Request for Proposal presents potentially lucrative opportunities from large prospects and customers, it can also be daunting -- especially in terms of technology requirements. For one, the technological terms, and the technology itself, can be hard to understand. Sales-minded professionals usually aren’t over-versed in technology systems architecture. Everyone knows a good buying experience when they encounter one. But fewer actually know the nuts and bolts of the technology, especially integration, that creates it.
And there’s a second, more important, difficulty when it comes to an RFP and its technology requirements. Even once the technology requirements of the RFP are understood, many companies don’t have the technology infrastructure, or the immediate access to the technology infrastructure, to meet those demands. The comparatively seamless buying experience that consumers experience in B2C environments requires integration between customer management, order management, operations, accounting, ecommerce and more. Often in B2B environments, those responsibilities are managed in separate systems that are not only not integrated but difficult to integrate. Even once the technology requirements are understood, meeting the requirements is either costly, time-consuming, or impossible.
And so when a potentially lucrative situation like a Request for Proposal comes along, RFP can become three dreaded letters.
Technology advances drive RFP expectations
When a person on the weekend buys a television from a B2C retailer and then comes into the office to do business purchasing, it feels clunky.
Trading partners are getting more and more sophisticated to make their operations more efficient and buyers are expecting more in every area.
Technology advances in other industries, specifically in B2C industries – the "Amazon experience,” to use the common phrase – is rapidly evolving buyer expectations. This makes the B2B RFP conundrum more acute. When a person on the weekend buys a television from a B2C retailer and then comes into the office to do business purchasing, the in-office B2B experience feels clunky by comparison.
Beyond the buyer experience, there are back-end technology considerations. Security and privacy demands seem to evolve by the second and an RFP may introduce an alphabet soup of considerations, like compliance with the NIST CSF (National Institute of Standards and Technology -Cybersecurity Framework) and PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) on the security side and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) on the related privacy side.
Another back-end technology consideration is operations. The RFP issuer wants not only a seamless buying experience for the end customer, but for themselves. The RFP may call for trading partner integration like PunchOut, which connects the seller ecommerce website with the buyer eprocurement system for integrated order management. The RFP may also call for Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) integration to automatically convey information like inventory levels and order status as well as documents like invoices and purchase orders.
B2B commerce playing catchup
Many B2B companies are using the same static, dis-integrated software that they’ve used for five years or more.
While consumer experiences drive expectations, however, business experiences and technology seem perpetually a step behind.
Automation is lacking as business technology systems, both in-house and from disparate other parties, are less likely to be integrated than they would in the B2C world. Since the systems don’t "talk” with one another, visibility is lacking for the buyer and seller alike. The manual data entry and re-entry from the lack of integration stymies the transaction process, lengthens turnaround times, and leaves both buyers and sellers manually seeking information that otherwise might be exchanged automatically and in real-time.
Technology evolves, expectations evolve, and therefore needs evolve. Yet many B2B companies are using the same static, dis-integrated software that they’ve used for five years or more, incapable of meeting the new expectations and needs. The result is that the business purchaser arrives to buy, experiences a halting transaction lifecycle, and is left wondering why it’s not like buying that TV on the weekend.
How do B2B companies, potentially with incompatible, dis-integrated back-office systems, meet the expectations of the rapidly advancing B2C experience? How do they meet the expectations of the large prospects and customers issuing RFPs?
2 ways to meet evolving expectations
It’s hard to get an item to a door in hours if every part of the process requires manual intervention and labor.
There are two ways to meet the advancing expectations.
One is manually. Companies can hire more and more workers to enter and re-enter data, such as from purchase orders and online carts into sales orders; generate operations documents like pick lists and work orders; communicate common business information like inventory counts, order status, and shipment notifications to buyers; populate and update customer portals; generate and send purchase orders, product configurations, and payments to suppliers; perform accounting, job costing, payables, and receivables; and to have it all work seamlessly to create the transaction experience and turnarounds that consumers expect and that big customers and prospects are seeking in their RFPs (with no guarantee that the RFP issuer would even accept a manual solution for some or all of the parts).
Of course, that’s extremely time- and labor-intensive, as well as costly. If the manual efforts even were able to manage considerable order volumes, it’s doubtful that it would translate into an "Amazon-like” experience.
The other solution, which is the only real solution, is improved technology. Talk of the "Amazon-like” experience centers on the customer, namely how quickly they can receive an item without ever leaving their home. Fewer people talk about what makes that customer experience possible, which is technology, namely integration. Integration that allows systems to communicate with one another, and people, automatically and instantaneously is why Amazon can receive an order, process it, pick, pack, and ship it, and have it arrive before some companies can even open an email. Amazon has the order moving on a warehouse floor before some companies even know they received an order. It’s hard to get an item to a door in hours if every part of the process requires manual intervention and labor.
Finding a technology partner
The RFP issuer wants an Amazon-like experience, bleeding-edge security, and seamless operations. It takes a technology partner.
Which brings us back to the three dreaded letters:
The issuer wants an Amazon-like experience, bleeding-edge security, and seamless operations. That requires technology. And not only are the technology requirements hard to understand, but most companies don’t have the technology infrastructure, nor the ability to build it. There’s nothing like being presented a big opportunity only to discover it’s almost impossible to understand and implement. Hence the dread.
Some companies will stop at this point. But this is not the place to stop. The opportunity actually is in reach. It just takes a technology partner who understands the technology requirements and how to implement them. Companies in the business of selling certain products can’t necessarily be expected to master the technology as well, or to have an advanced technology team in house. The technology partner handles the technological RFP requirements for you.
So you can lose the dread and win the opportunity.
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