The RFP Approach to Purchasing Property Management Software

By on December 23, 2011

As someone that has seen and completed quite a few Property Management Software RFPs I can really sympathize with anyone trying to put one of these together.  The point of this exercise is of course to end up with a side by side comparison of competing systems to eventually choose the best solution.

The potential problem with this approach is that it is exceptionally difficult for anyone to author an RFP that encompasses all of the questions that a client should be asking.  Also, to format an RFP in a way that can accommodate the various ways that different vendors price their systems is nearly impossible.  The result is that many unscrupulous vendors will answer “Yes” to most if not all of the questions (many of which are literally impossible to accurately interpret without further consultation with the client) just to proceed to the next step in the sales process.  Oftentimes, the more scrupulous vendor will provide more nuanced answers that are more accurate but nonetheless result in a lower “score” in their response. From a client’s point of view, some of the best and most qualified vendors are eliminated early on in the process because they opted to provide detailed, honest and thoughtful responses.

As someone that has thought long and hard about the RFP approach to purchasing property management software it is very difficult for me to see the benefit in the process as most companies approach it.  This is not to say that someone in the market shouldn’t have a very clear cut, formal approach to the process.

Prior to bringing vendors in for demonstrations, I would highly recommended speaking to each department to determine their requirements- give them at least a week, if not a month, to keep a running list and make sure they take the task seriously.  Compile the results in a master document and be sure to hit each point during initial interviews with possible vendors to help you decide who should actually present their products.

It is also essential to let your prospective vendors bring value to the process.  When I am doing my job properly, I can almost always uncover needs and efficiencies my prospects hadn’t considered.  This combination of a complete list of requirements combined with multiple vendors’ knowledge of the industry should allow you to winnow the field down to the two or three most suited to your operation- the process may even cause you to rethink your list of priorities and requirements.

Bring your two or three most qualified vendors in for an onsite demonstration and invite a key member of each department to participate.  See systems as close together as possible, perhaps even on the same day.  Make sure you see the way each process works with your own eyes.  Two systems may look alike at first glance, but the devil is really in the details when it comes to processing routines and the more subtle aspects of a system. Having actual operators of the system present for a demonstration will often uncover things that are essential to everyday operations but easily missed by upper management that is more focused on reporting and data analysis.  To be sure, reporting and analysis of data is integral to a successful implementation, but efficiencies should also be achieved from the data entry clerk’s point of view.  Most software salespeople reading this will cringe at the thought of having to actually show operators how a specific process works which is all the more reason to ask to see it.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a second, or even a third presentation.

Purchasing property management software is a major, important decision that should not be taken lightly.  If the above sounds like a long process, consider the fact that many of our clients have been with us between 15-25 years.   This is a long time to partner with any single vendor.  The RFP process as many approach it has the danger of missing many of the important and subtle points involved in a software package,  while at the same time pressuring sales people into giving less than honest responses while eliminating  those that were most upfront and perhaps most qualified from the start.  I am always excited when I receive an RFP to work on and do my best to answer all questions with honesty and with nuance.  There have been times where I know this has worked against me as a salesperson, which can be frustrating.  If nothing else, my hope is that an awareness of these possible pitfalls should help you to avoid the danger of eliminating the more scrupulous and qualified vendors early on in the process.