The Biggest Mistake in Your Technology RFP Process

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The Biggest Mistake in Your Technology RFP Process

What is the biggest mistake firms make in their technology RFP process?  The answer: Failing to call references.

The request for references is almost always included when putting-out an RFP, but what’s shocking is that 75% of the time, firms never call them. The excuse is usually something along the lines of, “No one’s going to put down a bad reference, so why bother to call?”

This is a huge mistake. All vendors are going to put a positive spin on their RFP responses. They are all going to describe their technology as industry-leading, mature, stable, and secure.  They are all going to say their professional services teams are the best of the best.

The reference list and a set of well-constructed reference interview questions will give you a chance to find out if they’ve stretched the truth.

In my experience, it’s very rare that a reference will lie if asked these specific questions point-blank:

1) When’s the last time the vendor did a real upgrade that improved your operations at his or her own expense? 

This helps you figure out how much of a “product” it is, and if you’re really buying into a commercial platform or a custom solution.

2) How well do you know the people who support you, and how often do you need to escalate support or problem issues to management? 

This question helps you figure out if the vendor’s claims about their attentiveness and consistency hold water.

3) What’s the one thing you would improve about the vendor if you could? 

Everyone has room for improvement, and no vendor is perfect every day. Get the reference person to open up, and look for patterns that reveal consistent problems.

4) Would you stick with this vendor if you could make a switch to another vendor easily and inexpensively?  

Figure out if they are in bed with this vendor just because it’s too expensive or too big of a hassle to make a change.


Don’t assume that calling references is a waste of time. I am always surprised by how often references are never called. It’s worth taking the extra time to ask specific questions to find out what the company is really made of. It could prevent you from making a huge mistake, only to realize it when it’s too late.


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Here are some related resources that might interest you:
Rethinking the investment marketing tech stack to put clients first by Synthesis Technology
From the Blog:
Put Clients at the Center of Your Business — and Your Tech Stack
From the Blog:
How Smart Investment Marketers Buy Tech
From the Blog:
Why Your Technology RFP Process is Lousy (And 6 Rules for Success)

John Toepfer is CEO and Co-founder of Synthesis Technology. He is a technology entrepreneur, investor and business owner with a 25-year background in building and supporting communication solutions for the financial services industry. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two sons.


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