Paving the road to a great RFP-process

In November I am running a workshop on RFP-processes at the The Digital Experience Summit in Chicago. I am currently preparing my presentation which is a nice opportunity to look back on my recent experiences within this area.

This year I’ve had the privilege to advice a couple of different organizations looking for an Agency to implement a new CMS. Many of those are subjected to follow the Public Procurement Directive for EU. This influences the selection process and has led me to think in depth about the selection criteria that are relevant to most organizations looking for a new partner and solution.

The purpose of Public Procurement directives are mainly to make sure that public organization gets the highest possible value for the money the spend and that the selection process is fair to the bidders. There can’t be favoritism and winner has to win on equal terms with the losers. This all sounds logical, but often you will have to prioritise between your own requirements again before you can decide who is the right pick to build the solution. Meanwhile it is rare that proposals are that easily comparable, even on the “standard” stuff.

This means that you have to think carefully about how you can follow the rules, be fair and still get to choose the proposal that is the best fit for your project.

Different ways to select a new implementation partner

EU’s Public Procurement Directive allows organisations different possible processes for selection. You can tender with a round where interested bidders can submit an application to pre-qualified or include a round of negotiation after the final proposals have been received. Every method has its strengths and weaknesses but in many cases the choice of approach isn’t governed by the nature of the project as much as the resources available to run the process.

Typical resource factors that influence the choice of methodology:

  • A tight deadline limits the available time to negotiate and back look on questions and follow up information

  • Limited access to legal council restricts the options

  • The team lacks time and/or experience to go a certain way

Prepare well

To get the best result from your RFP and selection process you need to think carefully about how you spend your time and what you will invest in the relationship with a new implementation partner. In most cases you also have a lot of questions in order to be able to write a relevant RFP. 

This is equally important whether you have be compliant with EU’s public sector directives or some other internal standards so I think there will be something for everyone.

If you have a topic you are specifically interested in, let me know and we can add it to the list.

Your intranet business case deserves a proper user study

I have yet to meet an intranet team that doesn’t yearn for their intranet to be for allemployees and have measurable impact on the performance of their organisation. But getting to do the research to be able to have this kind of impact is often impossible.

The lack of user research through observation, contextual inquiry, and participatory design is a true barrier to discovering areas in need of improvement. Such discoveries would form really strong business cases for introducing major changes. A fundamental problem is the inherent reluctance of doing real user studies.

Don’t disturb the work force, just improve their intranet

It is common for intranet projects to start with the intention to rely user driven design processes and focus on the needs of customer facing or production staff. However, most consultants see the scope of their suggested user studies reduced by arguments like:

  • “We don’t want to disturb the shop managers, they are pressured enough as it is so we can’t demand they spend time on our corporate projects.”

  • “We know their priorities anyway so we can guess what they will tell us.”

  • “The sales reps and area managers will be able to give you the same information.”

  • “You can look through the support logs and comment threads on internal discussions and that will give you plenty of data.”

  • “We don’t want to tell them about the project and end up over promising when we don’t know what we are going to deliver in the end.”

In many cases you end up reaching out to a very limited group of users, often those who are already in frequent contact with HQ as reference group members or because they are located close to the intranet team.

If we assume that working in one outlet, for example, is completely comparable to another and that the motivations and contexts of all shop managers are the same, that would all be fine. But this assumption should always be challenged. If research is allowed to extend to those who have never before been involved, we can come to a better understanding of actual needs, and real potential of improving the intranet.

If you reach beyond the commonly surveyed circle of staff and dig deeper into the work experiences of others, you may find:

  • compliance with corporate standards and processes is lower the farther away from headquarters that you travel;

  • shop managers and team leaders have developed a whole set of tools by themselves to make local staff more efficient, because the intranet isn’t doing much for them;

  • internal systems aren’t accessed as often as you think and by the employees you think; they are not even used in the ways you assume;

  • the intranet is accessed in contexts you didn’t predict that you would benefit from designing and plan for.

If any of the above are true it is likely that an improved intranet can be directly linked to improved efficiency of front line customer-facing staff. The expense and political hassle of getting in touch with shop-floor workers will be nothing in comparison to the measureable benefits.

Break the organisational barrier

Most intranet teams are close to and familiar with the work processes of their colleagues in business supporting functions. They work in mid management and are heavily invested in internal communications and IT. They are very far from the big bulk of employees who are close to the customers. This picture gets worse the bigger, and more retail or production oriented, the organisation is.

For instance, the distance between the intranet manager in a large retail organisation and the local store manager and their employees is huge. The same would go for the intranet manager in relation to factory workers of a large manufacturer or the intranet team at a large bank and the employees of each individual branch.

A first step is to insist on proper user studies and make the compelling argument for the use of methodologies such as observational studies, contextual inquiry and participatory design.


Relevance is personal - not personalised

Marketing automation… No digital project is kicked off without a mention of it. The same goes for ‘personalised customer experience’ and ‘retargeting’. Almost as often, we talk about big data and how it is supposed to change everything - once we have geared our organisations to use it, that is. They are all set to help us drive business and generate revenue like never before..!

The great crew at J. Boye asked me to speak first at their Personalisation and Relevance track at their AArhus 15 conference in November.  That brought me to think a lot about the topic and and I started paying attention to the personalised, automated and retargeted experiences I am offered across the web. 

Consensus seems to be that a personalised user experience is one of the cornerstones of turning our digital efforts into real revenue and we spend a lot of time talking about how to become relevant to our target groups so that they will engage with us.

We need to look carefully at the data and insights we have (big or small) and learn from it in order to be as relevant as we can - at the very least avoid being irrelevant.

Stop collecting - all the data

Customer insights and analysis of online behaviour is at the very heart of this. Yet every digital project team I know still starts every project debating how much effort to spend on user and customer insights. And end up doing less than they should, despite the fact that they know better.

Basically you should start by treating your customers like you want to be treated yourself.

Think about your own experiences and then put yourself in the place of your customers and try to imagine what they experience when they meet you online.

Anecdote: What Spotify knew about me but didn’t acknowledge

I didn’t connect my Spotify account with my Facebook profile and I am using the free version.

But I am not particularly diligent with protecting my digital footprint from being followed as I cruise the web. I guess I am a lot like many other online users.

This means that I am frequently exposed to advertising via Spotify and of course in most other places on the web. Let me start with my personalised experience from Spotify:

For a long period of time I listened to Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams on my way back and forth to work. I also listen to Swedish progressive rock from the 70’ies, the soundtracks from different musicals, Meghan Trainor, the soundtrack from the movie “Frozen” (yes I have a young daughter) and some jazz.

After a while Spotify started exposing me to advertisements, presumably based on my musical tastes and general profile.

So I was frequently presented with the opportunity to educate myself for work in the maritime industry. They have really great educational programmes for people who wish to work on large container ships, oil rigs and such. I bet they are not really looking to recruit 41 year old females who secured their masters degrees long ago...

Then later on during my bout of listening to different versions of Les Misérables I was targeted with advertisements from a company asking me whether I was pleased with my retirement…

I don’t think they wanted to target someone like me either. Again, if they had looked beyond the music I was listening to at that particular time they probably wouldn’t have handed me that ad either.

Don’t be irrelevant

Maybe we don’t have to know more about our customers, but just become better at interacting with them. To be relevant the first and most important step is to avoid being absolutely and obviously irrelevant.

This is actually because those opposing proper user studies by claiming that “users don’t know what they want/need” are right. Users don’t know ahead about everything they will end up purchasing. They will be tempted by special offers and sales, by new shiny products and interesting topics they hadn’t thought about initially, if they are relevant to them.

The most important thing the advertisers on Spotify failed to do was guessing my approximate age. I am not retired, and I am not in my early twenties. I think a more sophisticated algorithm would have divined as much had it analysed more than my immediate behaviour. And I gave Spotify access to know everything about what I like to listen to when I created my profile and used my login the first time.

Retarget and engage

The other thing we are doing is retargeting. It is based on the notion that we can be enticed to buy something that we have looked at in an online store if we are exposed to it again.

This is often true, but sometimes also complete utopia. When a customer engages with us, we need to let the engagement tell us something about what he or she is trying to achieve, a knowledge that ought to equip us for better and more relevant engagement with our brand afterwards.

All digital users are exposed to retargeting and increasingly I think we accept this. So what if your approach to retargeting was more like a dialogue and less like repeat messages of things we already talked about?

I will share one more experience with you:

Anecdote: How fast can a customer lose a dress size & how many hotel rooms does one person need for one night?

I was shopping for a hotel in London in October and then booked one… Of course I had been through Airbnb,, and several others before I booked. The result is predictable. Here, several weeks later my Facebook stream is still cluttered with offers on hotels in London.

I don’t mind that someone out there knows I am going to London and uses that information to sell me something. But when they place the add on social media and pretend that they know me, why don’t they let me interact with the advertisement. Given the opportunity I would probably tell them that I already booked and they could spend their marketing money on someone else.

Similarly I went online shopping for a new halterneck swimsuit. I sieved through the sales on a few websites, among those one of the biggest department stores in Denmark. They actually had a great halterneck on sale and I probably would have placed an order had it not been for the fact that the coveted garment didn’t come in my size…Of course the too small swimsuit is now grinning at me from an ad every time I open up a website with content financed by commercial content.

Wouldn’t it be great if the online retailer had better analysis behind their algorithm so they would avoid pushing too small swimwear at me? If on the other hand you let me know that the swimsuit is now available in more sizes that might convert me.

Relevance is engaging

As a user and potential customer I have accepted that you stalk me. It is the price I pay for free music, access to tv shows on Youtube and updates about the people I care about. I even come from a generation who is into AI and have loads of friendly robots in our memory. I don’t particularly mind being targeted and segmented.

But as opposed to the offers a store can get away with exposing to me when I enter voluntarily, the offers I get thrown at me based on my online behaviour have to be relevant in order for them not to annoy me and give me a poor impression of the retailer behind it.

For instance, I know why you are pushing swimwear we have already established isn’t available in my size but I wish you were smarter. I wish you would save your information about me and use it to give me some offers that are relevant to me. Clothing in my size, other swimsuits or just general beach apparel. And the retailer would if they had invested a bit more in understanding their customers and analyse the results of their campaigns.

So ask yourself how we can improve by putting yourself into the place of your target groups:

Imagine if: 

  • The search for a flight invited me to receive favourable offers on the same destination and also encouraged me to let the booking engine know when I had settled on a hotel booking.
  • The retailer remembered my sizes so they would only show me deals that I could actually benefit from?
  • The music provider placed advertisements based on the compiled list of songs I had listened to, not just the one artist I am currently into.

You can be relevant without knowing your customer

Relevance isn’t about knowing exactly what people want, for the simple reason that they don’t know. They think they know but a good deal, a beautiful garment or a great gadget can sway most of us.

In many cases a retailer only needs to know one or two things about a customer to be able to avoid being irrelevant. It can be age, gender, travel plans, dress sizes, postcode or something else.

But it doesn’t take many crazy suggestions for a customer to lose faith in your ability. Then they will be annoyed at you for cluttering their digital experience across their favourite digital touchpoints.