Writing a winning telecom RFP

If there’s one task that IT executives despise, it’s writing a telecom request for proposal. It’s time-consuming, detailed and starts a process that most IT execs hate: the sales negotiation. Small wonder that many folks try to avoid writing RFPs altogether, or farm them out to consultants.

But it’s really not that difficult to write a winning RFP yourself. Herewith, some tried-and-true techniques:

• Write the RFP. I’m often asked, “Do we really need to issue an RFP?” Yes, you do. Part of the benefit is acquiring an up-to-date understanding of your true telecom environment. It also forces your team to articulate its plans for the next three to five years. Finally, it’s a good opportunity to revisit your expectations and requirements for service-level agreements (SLA).

• Include as many services as possible. The first step in putting together an RFP lies in determining the scope. How many services are you going to request bids on? In general, more is better. That means not only core voice and data services, but also wireless/cellular/mobile services, remote access, managed security services and anything else you’re using (or plan to). Why? It gives providers a clearer picture of your current and planned situation. And the more money you can potentially offer them, the more seriously they’ll treat the request. Of course, you need to make it clear upfront that you reserve the right to award your business as you see fit — after assessing the responses, you may not decide to consider bids on specific services, for example.

• Issue a matrix RFP. If you’re following my advice and throwing as many services as possible into the mix, you may wonder how to keep everything organized, particularly when your network spans multiple geographies. The answer is a matrix RFP. In the matrix, list the services you’re seeking down the side, and the geographies in which you’re seeking them across the top. Then invite providers to bid on services within specific geographies.

• Include current use and planned architecture. Your RFP should include a description of your current telecom use as well as your planned directions for strategic services. In as much detail as possible, describe what you plan to do and when you plan to do it.

• Begin with the end in mind. Describe the caliber of services you’re seeking in detail (including SLAs). Wherever possible, include the preadsheets you’ll use to compare pricing and SLAs and request that the providers complete them. Ask carriers to clearly indicate their ability to conform to your requirements. This approach minimizes the analysis you’ll need to compare responses and come up with a short list for further negotiations.

• Cast a wide net. Once you’ve crafted an RFP, submit it to the widest possible range of providers. Include smaller players, specialty players and even unconventional providers (such as cable companies and possibly even utilities). That gives you the most comprehensive possible snapshot of available service offerings.

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