Group of six professionals meeting at long table with tablets to discussing RFP writing mistakes.

In our blog post What is a Request for Proposal?, we defined what an RFP is and why it’s important. In the blog post How to Write an RFP, we went over all the sections in an RFP, along with tips for writing one. For the last blog post in this series, we’re going to talk about RFP writing mistakes.

When organizations write requests for proposals (RFPs) for computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software, there are a number of mistakes that tend to be made. A well-written RFP can make the difference between finding the CMMS software that’s right for you and settling for something that…isn’t. In this blog post, we’ll talk about 7 common RFP mistakes and how avoid making them.

Common CMMS RFP Mistakes

1. Over-specification: The Biggest Mistake in the RFP Process

The biggest mistake when writing an RFP is over-specification about the solution you need. Oftentimes, people take the specification process too far when they should get familiar with the look and feel of multiple products first.

If your requirements are too narrow and specific, you may never find a vendor solution that will meet them. Placing too many requirements into the RFP document bogs it down with unimportant details, and can be a turn-off to potential vendors who might meet your needs.

If there are too many requirements, a choice may need to be made, where if a vendor can meet say, 80% of requirements, you will still consider it.

Solution: Focus on the functional requirements instead of how the functions are performed. Rather than getting caught up in the overly specific, mundane details, focus on whether or not the software does what you need it to do. Every CMMS system will vary on the verbiage of their buttons, prompts, and notifications, for example.

2. Inadequate or Excessive Length

Another common RFP mistake is making it too long or not long enough. You want to include an adequate amount of information to receive the best outcome with each vendor. At the same time, if the RFP is too long, the vendor may decide they don’t have time to read through everything, or fill out a lengthy questionnaire, and move on to another potential customer (or other work).

Solution: Ask yourself how many words or pages it might take to get your point across. Instead of worrying about what the length of your RFP should be, think about what needs to be included to get the point across and cover everything you want to share or find out. Look at a few RFP examples (from your own organization or online templates) for inspiration. As a general rule of thumb, government agencies typically write longer RFPs up to 50 pages to include required legal information, while other organizations usually keep the length at 15-20 pages.

A typical RFP has an introduction, a breakdown of the expected timeline to completion, and documentation on how your maintenance operations currently work. Next in a CMMS request for proposal is a brief summary of how your maintenance process currently works without software, milestones you want to hit throughout the proposed project, product delivery expectations, and detailed product requirements. Towards the end, an RFP will typically include a terms and conditions section.

We outline all of the sections that should be included in an RFP in our blog post, How to Write an RFP for CMMS Software. In addition to the written information you should include in an RFP, you should also provide a form, questionnaire, or survey for the vendor to complete. Some of the information you’ll want to get from the vendor includes pricing, organizational information, primary contact, and who the project manager will be. You should ask how many years they’ve been in business, and state any terms you have for awarding a contract.

3. Writing RFP without Stakeholders Input

When organizations write an RFP for CMMS software without getting input from key stakeholders, they often leave out or misrepresent important details. These include a maximum budget, how soon they want to implement the software, and system and security requirements to name a few.

Solution: Get input from all stakeholders. The stakeholders you should be getting input from include the president or general manager and other executive management responsible for maintenance management. These are the people that will have the final responsibility for the CMMS software purchase. Depending on the organization, other stakeholders may include the maintenance manager, IT manager, project manager, and maintenance technicians.

All stakeholders should ask themselves the following questions as they contribute to the RFP:

  • What does the software need to do for us to get value out of it? What essential functions and technical requirements must it fulfill?
  • Will we get a sufficient return on investment (ROI) for our time and effort?
  • Is there anyone else I need to get feedback from?

4. Delayed Communication

Another problem that can occur in the RFP process is delayed communication. A well-written RFP will include a clear communication channel for all questions. It might also be a good idea to schedule a Q&A session between vendors and stakeholders.

Solution: Specify question and answer format, and keep your vendor list short. To avoid a delay in communication between the writers of the RFP (you and your team) and the CMMS vendor, clearly state where respondents should send their questions and a deadline for when they can be asked. Specify the format in which they can submit questions such as email, phone, web conference, etc. It’s also important to state whether or not the answers will be distributed to all vendors.

Another communication tip is to keep your vendor list short and avoid asking too many open-ended questions. Avoid changes in the vendor selection process unless absolutely necessary, as change will cause delays. Asking for references is optional, but if you do, limit reference requests to a number that you can easily verify. You should be able to gauge whether or not the vendor is credible and will meet your needs through researching those references, but also through direct interaction and their evaluation responses.

5. Making It about You

Another common mistake when writing a request for proposal for CMMS software is making it more about you than the vendor. This happens when your organization feels as though they need to reveal everything about who they are and what they do in the first contact.

You should be focused on what the vendor can potentially do for you. While it is important to inform your potential CMMS vendors about your business, if the focus is in the wrong place, your RFP may get overlooked.

Solution: Start with a list of requirements. Make a list of all the requirements you have, including your must-haves and some things that would be nice to have. Then determine what information the vendor would need to know about your business to complete their response to your RFP. Create a focused outline for your RFP and then get to writing. Have stakeholders review a draft of the RFP before finalizing it and sending it off.

A good RFP will give the vendor just enough information to understand what you do without explaining your entire company history. If the vendor is interested, they will visit your website to learn more. If your RFP does not have enough information, vendors will likely ask follow-up questions.

6. Confusing Response Comparison System

Once you receive responses from all vendors, you need a way to compare information from each of them to determine how well they do or don’t meet your needs. If this response comparison system is confusing, this will hinder the selection process. The method you use to compare and score each vendor needs to be clear and consistent.

Solution: Email your team and schedule 3-5 demos. To keep your comparison system clear and to the point, here are some things to consider. Send a self evaluation to each vendor. This should contain a scoring system or rubric by which vendors will rate themselves on different aspects.  Email each response to the stakeholders in your organization. When you have narrowed your search down to no more than 3-5 vendors that meet an initial set of criteria, schedule demos with them and have each person at the demo use the same evaluation sheet. The following people should attend each demo:

  • President or General Manager
  • Maintenance Manager
  • Maintenance Technicians
  • IT Manager
  • Production Manager

Use a scoring system of 2, 1, or 0, and give different weight to various areas.  A score of 2 means the product fully meets requirements in that area, 1 means it somewhat means the requirements, and 0 means it does not meet the requirements. These areas should include functional, technical, and look and feel elements. Try to keep evaluations as objective as possible.

Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for there to be bias towards or against vendors. It is best to avoid any sort of biased approach when possible, but if it cannot be avoided, the software evaluation team should be aware of it. Stakeholders participating in the vendor demos should know that should account for a higher percentage of the common recommendations for rating software. The features and functionality of each product make up about 60% of the rating or score. 30% of the score is for technical compatibility, and the look and feel of the product interface usually counts for about 10%.

7. Too Many Freeform Answers

While it may seem like a good idea to allow vendors to write all of their answers in freeform in their request for proposal responses, this is actually a common RFP mistake. When they are given a blank space with unlimited characters for every question, this will either result in answers that are way too long, or short phrase answers that don’t give you enough information. However, some freeform answers are important for questions where a multiple choice selection may result in inaccurate or forced responses.

Solution: Pair questions that have room for freeform answers with multiple choice, yes or no, or other questions with limited-option answers. There should be a balance of questions that allow the vendor to write what they want as an answer and questions that require a shorter answer. An example of a freeform question might be, “What key features does your software have that makes your product different from competitors?” An example of a yes or no question might be, “Do you have an application (app) for your product?”

Higher Quality RFPs Lead to Better Responses

When you write a high quality RFP, it will lead to more and better responses from potential vendors. Avoiding the mistakes mentioned here requires researching the RFP writing process such as by reading this and other blog posts, taking your time to complete the RFP, and getting feedback from stakeholders.

Whether your CMMS requirements are simple or complex, consider FTMaintenance CMMS for your maintenance management needs. FTMaintenance is CMMS software that is used by organizations in any industry. FTMaintenance offers features such as work order management, asset management, inventory management, preventive maintenance scheduling, and a maintenance request system. Contact us for more information about where to send your CMMS RFP and to view FTMaintenance in action.

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