To RFP or Not to RFP, That Is the Question

Marlo Hertling

To RFP or not to RFP

We'll guide you through the entire process of how to successfully find, evaluate, and work with a Merchant of Software for People Management, let's get started.

Act I - Starting Your Search for a Merchant of Software

Are you considering looking for a new people management solution? If so you may be wondering if you should start by creating an RFP. Following that thought you probably started to worry about how you will ever find time to complete an RFP as it has a reputation for being a very involved and time consuming process.

Once you have decided you need a solution the challenge is how best to communicate this to vendors. There are three main approaches that we see companies take when they reach out to us looking for a new people management solution:

  1. Issue an RFI / RFQ / RFP to let us know they are looking for a solution.
  2. Get in touch with vendors and ask for information about our products and services.
  3. Invite vendors to attend a discovery session with their team.

Scene 1. RFI / RFQ / RFP - What's in a Name?


Request for Information (RFI)
An RFI is designed to collect information from a supplier or vendor. RFIs do not usually contain project details. Instead the document would focus on the vendor capabilities, skills and experience.

These requests can be useful when you are still in the research stage and want to understand what kinds of solutions are available in the marketplace.

Request for Quote (RFQ)
An RFQ is commonly used when you understand what you need in a solution but require information on how vendors would meet your requirements and how much it will cost.

These requests can be useful to ensure the solutions you are considering are within your budget.

Request for Proposal (RFP)
An RFP includes background on your company and describes all of your needs (required and nice-to-have) in a new solution and evaluation criteria on how proposals will be graded.

These requests can be useful to ensure the vendors fully understand your business and your needs.

RFPs are often required in government agencies and not-for-profit organizations as a way to ensure their selection process was fair and competitive. However, for many organizations who choose this model there is no requirement, they simply choose this method as a way to put together all of their requirements and add structure to their selection process.


  • Creating an RFP ensures you are capturing and documenting all of the items you need in a solution
  • RFPs provide a standard format for all vendors for easy comparison of how they each meet your requirements
  • RFPs provide a structured process for selecting a new solution
  • RFPs require your company to invest the time required to determine what all of your stakeholders needs are


  • Writing and reviewing comprehensive RFP proposals makes for a longer project timeline and can take up to six months
  • RFPs often describe your needs but not your challenges making it difficult for vendors to show you how they will solve your challenges
  • With RFPs communication is often limited to one global conference call for questions and therefore the vendors have to make assumptions, resulting in proposals that are not nearly as specific as they could be and can result in missing key issues or details
  • When creating RFPs planners sometimes believe they have it all figured out, leaving very little room for vendors to show the best way to solve solutions, they are often left showing you what you have defined rather than a better way

Scene 2. The Information Gathering Process


When a company reaches out and asks for information they are often looking for details on what the solution offers to better understand if it will meet their needs. Recorded demos, product sheets, videos, and feature benefit lists are all materials that vendors will provide you with so that you can better understand their offering.


  • By understanding what the vendors offer, you can be sure their solution will meet your needs
  • You will see the solutions in action early on and can assess user friendliness and ease of use
  • It provides you with materials that can easily be shared with all of your stakeholders so they can review them when it fits their schedule and allows time to formulate questions


  • The one-way collection of data ensures you know the vendor has features and benefits you need but does not allow them to understand where they can most help your organization
  • Information gathering may only result in what's known as a harbour tour demo, where the vendor doesn’t know anything about your current challenges and just shows you everything
  • You often see nice-to-have items which can cloud your ability to make sure all of the must-haves are also there

Scene 3. The Diligent Discovery


When a company requests a Discovery, it’s because they want to start a conversation to explain what they need and what issues they are trying to solve. This process provides a discussion forum for your company to provide insight and direction to the vendor so they can prepare to show you how they will solve your issues and understand where they can help improve your current processes.


  • Provides you and the vendor an opportunity to discuss your existing People Management processes so they can identify problem areas and how they can address them
  • The process can be completed quickly, as opposed to the one to six months it takes to write, request, review, and select a partner from a comprehensive RFP
  • Allows vendors to understand exactly how they can help and allows them to provide a more accurate quote that reflects your requirements


  • As it is an opportunity for conversation it is not as structured so some items may not be uncovered in each discussion
  • It does not always provide you with an exact comparison between solutions
  • Without a pre-defined format the discovery process can feel disorganized or get off track 

In Summary

The decision to purchase a new people management solution will touch every employee in your organization in some way. It is important before you start your search to know what you need and to be able to communicate those needs clearly to vendors.

Extend Your Branches of Learning

In Act II, we’ll look at what you need to know about the next step in your search process – how to make sure you receive a great demo.

About the Author

Marlo Hertling

Marlo Hertling has worked with leading HCM organizations and has been helping Canadian companies implement HCM solutions for more than 15 years. She is the Vice President of People & Culture at Avanti Software Inc and serves as Avanti's HCM subject matter expert.

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