To understand where RFPs for WMS solutions often go wrong, imagine for a moment you are on a first date set up by a friend. The friend has told you a little bit about your date for the evening — enough to get you to the meeting place — and you’re thinking this could be the start of something good. 

You meet up, sit down and try to strike up a casual conversation that demonstrates your warmth, charm and cleverness. But instead of engaging in a friendly dialog, your date pulls out a list of 100 generic questions off a dating advice website and starts interrogating you like you’re a suspect on The Glades. Worse, most of the questions really seem to have nothing to do with getting to know you as a person — they feel more like they’re being asked so your date can simply check off the box to say he/she did it. 

Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Or at least like an episode of Seinfeld. Yet that’s the approach many companies seem to take in preparing RFPs when purchasing a WMS. They feel like the more questions they ask — whether the questions are relevant or not — the better job they’ve done with vetting the candidates. 
The truth is more is not more. In fact often times more is too much. You can get so caught up in asking a lot of questions that you forget to dig deep on the priorities. Which means at the end of the RFP process you still don’t really have a good understanding of which WMS products are the best fit for your business. Just as peppering your date with a list of generic questions that generate non-committal answers doesn’t really give you insight into his/her character. 

As individuals who have been on both sides of the RFP equation, we’ve learned a lot about what gives an RFP real value. Here are a few suggestions on how to construct an RFP for a WMS solution that will give you information on which you can take action. 

• Be willing to meet with potential WMS suppliers first – We’re not sure why, but often companies believe the RFP development process requires utter detachment from the potential suppliers. That’s like trying to decide who to ask out on a dating site that doesn’t require personal profiles. Giving the suppliers an opportunity to come in and learn a little bit about your business and how it operates (if they ask) before responding to your RFP will help them develop more meaningful answers to your questions and actually speed the process. You never know — a couple might even self-select out if there isn’t a good fit, saving you the time and effort of going through their answers only to come to the same conclusion. Sure, it may add a couple of weeks to the process. But when you consider you’ll be living with your WMS for the next five to 10 years, a couple more weeks on the front end is worth the investment. 
• Ask questions that require deeper answers – At the RFP stage, every contender’s main goal is not to be eliminated from consideration. Providing a list of questions that can be answered yes/no, or with a few words, really doesn’t tell you anything, and gives the responding companies the ability to give you the answers you want to hear. How does that help you narrow down your choices? Instead of developing generic questions (or pulling them from a general RFP template), take the time to think through what your business actually needs and then ask questions around those topics. Go for depth of answers, not quantity. The deeper the responding companies have to go into a topic, the more they’ll differentiate themselves — and the better you’ll be able to see how they think and how their solutions fit your organization. 
• Minimize the number of high-level or functional questions — The more high-level your RFP is, the more platitudes or marketing messages you’re going to get back for answers. Those don’t tell you anything; at the high levels, everything sounds the same. This is also true of asking a lot of functional questions. WMS systems have been around for a while, and although there are some differences between them, there are a great many similarities as well. It isn’t until you get past the core functionality that you can really start to differentiate. Two areas to focus on instead are implementation and support. Even at its most basic, WMS solutions are very complex beasts with a lot of moving parts. They can be difficult to implement, especially if you’re not deeply familiar with the technology, so you want to be sure the supplier you’re choosing has the knowledge and available resources to help you get it in place quickly and efficiently. And once it’s installed the complexities don’t stop, so you want to know there is a support organization with a proven track record of helping customers derive the full value from their investments. In the long term, both of those areas will become more significant than any individual feature or feature set. You want a solution provider who will take the complexity out of the process and allow you to focus on improving your business.
• Ensure you have organizational and executive buy-in — By definition, a WMS will touch many functional areas within the organization. Because of this fact you want to be sure those areas have input into how the RFP is constructed as well as into the decision-making process. Among the areas to include are Warehouse Management (who has to live with it every day), IT (who has to implement and maintain it unless you go with a fully managed solution), Operations (who is responsible for how the WMS fits into the rest of the business) and business process decision-makers (who determine the workflows that the WMS is supposed to improve). You want to include Finance to ensure there is a budget before going through the process. And most of all you want to ensure there is executive buy-in at the C-level so you’re not just going through the motions before the project gets spiked. Building that team and getting the proper support ahead of time will help you avoid false starts and wrong turns, and ensure the WMS solution you’re aiming for is the one that does the best job of supporting the business at all levels. 

The goals of a first date and an RFP are very similar — learn enough about the other party to decide if moving ahead is warranted. On a date you’re looking for quality versus quantity in terms of answers to questions. The same should be true of your RFP. Take the time to put the RFP for your WMS together with the goal of gaining a deeper understanding of potential suppliers rather than simply checking a box in the process and you’ll be far more likely to find the best fit. It’s your best shot at living happily ever after. 

Dawn Jones and Dan Grimm are with International Business Systems. Contact, 414. 308.3258 or for more information.