Selecting a Workforce Management Vendor: The Secret Sauce

by | Mar 6, 2018

When it comes time to buy a new workforce management (WFM) system, for the most part, businesses can count on a standard procurement process. There is, however, what I like to refer to as a “secret sauce” that brings all decision-makers together to ensure they’re on the same page and can have confidence in the vendor they select. It includes establishing a set of guiding principles that act as the last stop for the final outcome.

The process behind the process
A typical selection process starts by assembling a cross-functional team, gathering requirements, and asking vendors to complete a request for proposal (RFP) or similar survey. Vendors that meet the requirements best on paper will return to give product demonstrations.

During the demo phase, vendors show solution usability, and client teams get the chance to delve deeper into the product and get clarification into RFP responses. Throughout this process, the buyer completes a scorecard for each vendor and scores are tallied – first, second, third, and so on — ranking the vendors on functional fit, technical merits, corporate strength and, of course, price.

No matter what kind of solution you’re trying to purchase, if you can’t sole source it, you’re most likely going to go through a course of action like this. But, there’s a process behind the process that’s far more important than any other part of the selection. It starts with establishing one or two guiding principles early on which will act as the ultimate defining factor(s) in the final decision. It’s the first thing you need to do to get yourself on the path to success when it comes to selecting a WFM vendor.

Guiding principles may include things like: price – as long as the solution does the basics we’ll go with the cheapest product; vendor stability – we’ve had bad luck in the past when our solution provider was acquired; a good or unique user experience – user demands far outweigh other considerations; or a smaller vendor – one that will really work closely with us. Ultimately, your guiding principles will focus the team on the things that matter most to your organization and, more often than not, become the lens through which you view the vendors to make your final decision.

How to use your guiding principles
The reality of the RFP phase is that most commercial vendors will likely meet more than 90% of your requirements. The real purpose of the RFP is to educate the client team about what the vendors say they can do. It’s difficult to differentiate between vendors at this point since their responses are often too similar to make any real judgement.

The demo phase gives more than just a look into product usability; it also gives insight into what the vendor will be like to work with. Once you engage with the vendor to prepare for the demo, you’re going to get a sense of how you’ll be supported going forward. How solicitous are they? Do they care about understanding and solving your problems? Most vendors will put their best foot forward during the sales cycle. So, if they stumble at this point, you need to ask yourself what they will be like to work with after you are their customer.

As we move to the end of the process, we’ll hold up the final scorecards and often see that scores are surprisingly close. Emotions run high at this stage because client teams have already started to develop relationships with vendors. One person will be partial to one product while someone else has their eyes set on another. It’s at this point, when internal conflict makes it difficult for organizations to make a decision, that their guiding principles become important.

If you can articulate what you’re looking for in simple terms – the guiding principles – then you’re not going to struggle to make a decision at the end. No matter how the team feels, everyone can go back to the table and agree on why they required a WFM solution to begin with. Then they can look at the vendor that best meets these reasons, bringing everyone back around and getting them on the same page. Once you’ve gone through all the mechanics – the RFP, demo and scoring – and focus on the process behind the process, circling back to your guiding principles, you’ll get everyone in line and be able to make a decision that you can stand by and one that everyone is on board with.

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