Selecting the right business partner for customer communications is an important task. Savvy organizations use the Request for Proposals (“RFP”) process to make the best decision. After receiving vendor responses and calling references, an important step before your final selection is to conduct a site visit to the finalists’ production centers.
A well-crafted RFP will help gather information about the prospective vendors. Technology, performance standards and pricing can be compared. Calls with references will reveal how relationships are managed and sustained. Follow-up meetings show how well the vendor responds to special requests and handles tough inquiries.
A site visit adds important insight about the vendor. Seeing the actual equipment, layout and work environment allows one to compare what is written in a bid response to what takes place at the facility. More than one RFP has been won or loss during a visit.
It’s important to bring the right members of the RFP team along for the visit. As a minimum, the project sponsor, sourcing manager and a print/mail subject matter expert (“SME”) should attend. The vendor will have a team of folks on hand to impress the prospect, so multiple attendees helps level the playing field. The SME’s focus will be on the equipment and processes used in production.
A tour of the production floor is mandatory – don’t settle for a view from a conference room or balcony. As you walk through the facility, takes notes on how work is staged, the make and models of equipment used, and the general atmosphere of the workplace. Look for security controls, including cameras. While the vendor has probably taken extra preparations for the visit, the truth is right below the surface. And easily spotted.
Take a moment to talk to the employees. Not just to the people who the vendor has hand-picked for briefings, but any employee you pass. Don’t conduct an interrogation, but just carry on a conversation. “Good morning.” “How are you, today?” “What are you working on?”
At the same time, the SME should be talking with machine operators. Do they understand how the system works? What is their awareness about printing technology and postal regulations? How do they handle jams or misfeeds? As in the example above, don’t just have discussions with the operators at the machines the vendor spotlights, but talk to as many people as possible.
When the visit is finished, the RFP team should discuss what they learned. Specifically:
- Does the processing equipment live up to the description in the RFP response?
- Does the facility have the proper security measures in place to protect personal information?
- Is the work culture at the facility consistent with your company?
- Do the employees reflect the values you’re searching for in a business partner?
- Is this a facility that you would trust to produce critical communications for your company?
The business partner awarded the outsourcing contract will impact the relationship with your customers for the length of the contract. RFP responses will provide a lot of information, but not everything you need to know about the vendors. Site visits take a commitment of time, resources and funding. The investment is minimal when compared to the knowledge gained in helping you make the best possible decision.