Jun 26, 2020

Read Time 7 min

6 Most Common RFP Mistakes for Customer Success Software


Writing anything from scratch can be intimidating, much less a request for proposal (RFP). It’s easy to get overwhelmed or stumped when you’re not sure where to start, especially when purchasing a newer product, such as Customer Success software, for the first time. Even with pre-purchase research, you simply don’t know what you don’t know when it comes to determining must-have criteria. Poorly phrased or missing questions and unclear instructions lead to communication friction and subpar responses from vendors.

That’s why we created this Customer Success RFP template that outlines and organizes the RFP essentials, so you attract stronger, more effective vendor proposals.  

Now that we’ve made compiling your RFP questions a breeze, let’s look at the most common Customer Success RFP mistakes. Avoid these solicitation blunders to make your purchasing process as smooth, simple, and snafu-free as possible.

1. Having too many cooks in the decision kitchen

“Ultimately, a company’s value is no more (and no less) than the sum of the decisions it makes and executes,” explains HBR in their article on decision-driven organizations. “Its assets, capabilities, and structure are useless unless executives and managers throughout the organization make the essential decisions and get those decisions right more often than not.”

Making decisions becomes harder as you add more stakeholders and opinions into the mix. HBR explains that in our desire to not offend others by leaving them out, we overextend and include everyone. We all know that meeting invite lists carry a certain political connotation, which often leads to participant pandering, bloated meetings, and counterproductive conversations.

So, what’s the magic number of invitees?

According to research shared by HBR, the most productive meetings include five to eight people, while other studies claim five as the ideal max. Researchers from Princeton University cite similar findings: “[S]maller groups actually tend to make more accurate decisions, while larger assemblies may become excessively focused on only certain pieces of information.”

So, make sure you involve only essential participants in the decision-making process. Based on our own experience, we recommend including relevant C-level executives, vice presidents, directors, and one or two individual contributors who can help describe your current processes.

Tip: Don’t get distracted by meeting scope creep. Set and maintain meeting boundaries by separating information-sharing meetings from decision meetings. As Slack explains, “Organizations frequently intend to have decision meetings but then the group gets sidetracked by information sharing: too many questions, discussions, and clarifications. To accelerate the decision-making process, provide key information in advance and ask everyone to come prepared with ideas and proposed solutions.”

2. Using ambiguous instructions and poor questions

If you’ve ever had to follow vague assembly instructions that invite myriad interpretations—whether it be furniture installation or a written assignment—then you know the maddening frustration that inevitably follows. Intentions get lost in or led astray by their imprecise articulation. Double meanings cause the double work when you’re forced to redo what’ve you done due to misunderstandings.

Small directional oversights can easily send your respondent down the wrong path and result in a substantial waste of time and effort. Plus, you end up with murky answers that miss significant details.

So, give your instructions and questions the same TLC you’d want a respondent to give their answer. Clear guidance and organization provide context to your questions, improve your process efficiency, and ensure you receive high quality responses. Follow these helpful tips to write more effective instructions and questions:

  • Avoid lengthy, multipart questions if a yes-no response is adequate
  • Decide if highly specific questions can wait to be answered during the demo to avoid probable question misinterpretation
  • Reduce redundant responses by considering if a question can be answered by asking for details to a single broader question
  • Indicate how you’d interpret a “yes” or “no” response when asking an “either/or” question (e.g. do you integrate with Salesforce Lightening or Classic?)
  • Give specific guidance for how vendors should submit questions, including:
    • Point(s) of contact, and how they should be contacted
    • Deadlines for question submissions (will there be multiple rounds of questions?)
    • How to format questions (e.g. reference the related RFP section when asking a question)

Tip: Consider sharing Q&A responses anonymously amongst all respondents instead of only providing a direct response to a vendor who asked the question. This affords additional clarifications to other respondents who may not have realized they needed it.

3. Asking for too much (or not enough) detail in responses

As you advance further in your selection process and begin to narrow your options, you may need more thorough responses to specific questions. To cut down on the back-and-forth clarifications and follow-up questions with prospective vendors, indicate from the start if:

  • More detail beyond a yes-no answer is needed (e.g. when you collect information before scheduling a demo, decide if yes-no answers will suffice for your exploratory questioning/qualifying and if the vendor can expound upon their responses during the demo)
  • Partially met criteria is a response choice
  • A product’s future roadmap features, or only its currently available features, should be included in a response (consider adding that as a response choice as well)

Tip: To keep responses clear, don’t be afraid to break a question into multiple parts and refer back to an earlier part later on (e.g. per row 23, if you answered yes, can you explain [specific detail]?) Or, if necessary, you can start with a Request for Information (RFI) to ask your deal-breaker questions before diving into the nitty-gritty details. By the end, you’ll have a small subset of serious candidates that meet your initial criteria to advance to the final round(s).

4. Treating all features and functionality the same

All features are not created equal and shouldn’t be evaluated as such. Most products excel in a few functional areas and adequately perform in others. These areas will differ by vendor. Their performance variability should be evaluated in relation to your prioritized needs and goals. If a product is outstanding at email automation, but meaningfully lacks in customer health scoring, you need to know which feature is better suited to achieving your team’s top objectives; then rank based on that as well as feature quality.

First, establish your internal priorities. Next, create a scale and assign a weight to each section and question. When assessing the importance of each criteria, ask your RFP stakeholders:

  • What value would this feature provide us?

If a feature doesn’t serve a requirement, remove it from your RFP to ensure you’re only considering criteria that’s relevant to your needs. This will help offset the “quantity over quality” sales approach that vendors sometimes push with ancillary features that don’t have a strong use case or value, and rank your priorities from a price perspective. 

  • If a feature were an additional expense, would we be willing to pay for it?

For advice on how to best prioritize your needs, follow these recommendations from the proposal expert (and ChurnZero client) RFP360:

  • Features and functionality – Define the must-have’s and nice-to-have’s
  • Price – What’s our budget? Are we willing to pay extra to get the right fit?
  • Implementation – What time constraints is our team working against to launch the product?
  • Customer Service – What level of support and consulting do we need?
  • Innovation – Does the vendor prioritize product innovation and new feature releases and upgrades? What’s their future product roadmap?

5. Jumping straight into a product demo

Before moving full speed ahead into creating your RFP or enduring an hour-long, run-of-the-mill product demo that’s not customized to your specific goals and needs, schedule a discovery call with your prospective vendors. This introductory meeting gives vendors the opportunity to better understand your top challenges, priorities, and use cases so they can optimize your time together by focusing on the functionality that matters most to you. And, if you discover a vendor is not a good fit, then you save time by eliminating them earlier in the sales process. Prior to your discussion, be prepared to talk about your organization and answer questions such as:

  • What’s your Customer Success team’s recent history?
  • What challenges is your Customer Success team facing?
  • Why are you interested in a Customer Success platform now?
  • What’s the size and structure of your Customer Success team?
  • What software/tools does your Customer Success team currently use?
  • What are you looking for in a Customer Success platform?
  • What are your deal breakers?

Tip: Asking for a brief demo can provide useful context but expect it to be kept to a very high-level overview at this stage.

6. Miscalculating the total product cost

With different pricing models and tiers, it’s not always easy to do a straightforward, side-by-side cost comparison of Customer Success software. Additional fees for license types, implementation, training, and technical support can lead to unintentional price mix-ups and underestimates. To uncover extra costs and calculate accurate price comparisons, answer these questions:

  • What is the total number of licenses we need?
    • Do they support lite or read-only licenses? If so, how many do we need?
  • What is the amount of active accounts we expect to manage in our Customer Success platform?
    • Are those full-paying accounts, or are “trial accounts” included in that number?

Also, ask these pricing questions to cover supplementary costs:

  • How much is implementation?
  • Is there a cost for integrations? If so, how much?
  • Which features are included in the base product, and which are add-ons?
  • Is there a charge for ongoing support (technical or customer support)? If so, how much?
    • Are there any limitations at the current level?
  • Is there a cost for custom work options?
  • Is onsite training provided? If so, is there an extra cost?

Tip: To get a true, long-term cost comparison across vendors, distinguish between your getting-started costs and your ongoing operational expenses. First, add the upfront, non-recurring costs for each solution to determine your costs to launch in year one. Then, calculate the future expenses of each solution over the next few years. Combine the upfront costs and future expenses to see the total investment required for each vendor. Consider questions such as:

  • Is additional headcount needed to support this solution, like a full-time admin or developer?
  • What are the potential hidden costs?

Ready to create your own Customer Success RFP?

Use this Customer Success RFP template to outline and organize the key questions you should always include in your RFP. Strategically structuring your RFP ensures you solicit quality vendor responses that are relevant, useful, and clear while improving overall process efficiency. Plus, to make compiling your Customer Success RFP painless, we also included an editable Excel template for easy RFP customization.

Get RFP Template


Customer Success Around the Web

Fighting Churn is a newsletter of inspiration, ideas and news on customer success, churn, renewal and other stuff and is curated by ChurnZero.


Subscribe to the newsletter   

How often should customer success meet with customers face-to-face?

There’s an old United Airlines television commercial from 1989 that underscores the importance of meeting customers face-to-face. A boss is telling a roomful of employees that their company’s oldest customer fired them that morning. Why? Because business had become...