An in-house print operation at a large insurance organization may have very different requirements for soliciting bids for large equipment purchases than a privately-held, mid-sized printing firm. Still, there are certain concepts that are consistent across all organizations when it comes to shopping for a production inkjet device:
- Time is valuable
- Picking the right one is critical
- You have to “live with” with the company you choose
These concepts go hand in hand. Poorly constructed bidding processes waste everyone’s time, rarely lead to the best decision and damage the on-going working relationship with the selected vendor. Construct your evaluation process in a logical way and use everyone’s time wisely and respectfully.
The process for communicating with vendors should consider where you are on the buying journey. If the technology is new to you or you need help visualizing the final solution, then you should probably start with a Request for Information (RFI).
If you have complete specifications for the solution and feel that you know almost as much about the technology as the seller, then skip directly to a Request for Quote. This makes perfect sense when adding a second inkjet device to an existing, documented workflow with a limited number of qualified respondents.
If you have a limited scope of vendors, a fairly good understanding of the solution but want to keep the door open to new ideas and vendor initiative then you may want to consider a full Request for Proposal.
When contemplating a six to seven figure investment that can make or break your business, getting it right is critical. Having an open dialogue with vendors including presentations, follow up questions and production demonstrations is an effective way to make sure that many options are considered and understood. Doing this in the context of a complex RFP with a wide range of vendors, many of whom may not be able to fully support requirements, is a waste of many people’s time.
The goal should be to gather intelligence with the least amount of work on all sides while also making sure that the basis for the final quotes is well documented. This is where multiple options can work together.
Consider an RFI to quickly limit the field of providers, identify any missing solution components and educate yourself about the market as necessary. At this stage, price may not even be a discussion point (although you may need to elicit some truly ballpark estimates for your budgeting process.) If four or more vendors emerge from the RFI process, you may want to try to narrow the field further through deeper Q&A before moving forward with either an RFP or an RFQ. It is easy for requirements and pricing to get out of synch during the negotiation process, so make sure that all of your key criteria are agreed to in writing as assumptions for the final quote.
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