You're nearing the end of the line in your quest for a phone system for your company. You've done your homework and you know what your company needs and what you want to get out of a phone system. You've looked at products and narrowed your choices. In regards to vendors, you've got your field down to a manageable handful. You're at the point in the process where it's time to get serious. You need to ask the vendors you've chosen to put together proposals for you to go over. In regards to a Request for Proposal (RFP), though, exactly how should you do it? If you haven't been through a purchase process before, this step might be new to you. Let's take a few minutes to discuss the items that should make up a Phone System RFP.
Part 1 - Your Existing Telephone System
Begin your RFP by taking the time to lay out your existing telephone system. Talk about the system that you have, how it's configured, what you like about it, what you don't like about it. Include any network information related to the phone system that would be helpful to the vendor. If possible, a diagram of the existing system would go a long way here. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Part 2 - What You're Looking for in a New System and Vendor
Having laid out what you have in part 1, take the time in part 2 to talk about the features and functionality you're seeking in a new phone system. Be specific. The more information you provide, the better a proposal the vendor can generate for you. Spend some time in this section outlining what you expect from the vendor you'll be working with.
Part 3 - Vendor Background and History
You'll want to know as much as possible about any vendor you sign a deal with. Request that the vendor take the time to give you information on their background and history. You're looking for information on stability and business practices.
Part 4 - Customer References
Request at least 3 customer references from the vendor. Most reputable vendors won't have an issue giving these to you, and most likely will already have a stable of references ready to hand out. You're going to want to contact each of these customers and discuss their experiences with the vendor. Feedback from the vendor's own customers is one of the best ways to find out what you can expect if you go into business with the vendor.
Part 5 - Description of the Vendor's Proposed Hardware and Software Solutions
You're going to want to know exactly how the vendor plans to address your needs, so make sure you request that they spell it out completely for you. Expect the vendor to give you something as detailed, if not more so, as what you gave regarding your existing setup in part 1.
Part 6 - A Similar Design Completed by the Vendor
Suffice it to say that you'd rather not be a guinea pig for the vendor to experiment with. Whatever solution the vendor is proposing for you, find out if the vendor has done something similar previously.
Part 7 - Detailed Breakdown of All Costs
Request that the vendor provide you with a detailed breakdown of all costs involved in the solution being proposed. This section should include all hardware and software costs, maintenance costs, support costs, as well as costs for expanding the system in the future.
Be Thorough, and Expect Thoroughness
Using the headings described here, an all-inclusive RFP can be requested. Indeed, with a little tweaking, the process can be used for any vendor in regards to any product, not just phone systems. Take the time to be thorough, and make sure that the RFP is specific and makes the requests that you want. If you're concerned that the vendor may not address certain questions, be sure to include them in the RFP. Expect to get a comprehensive proposal in return. If you don't, the RFP has already done part of its job by helping you to eliminate a vendor from your list.