Commentary | Viewpoint

Taking a Smarter Approach to WMS RFPs

Tags: Logistics I.T., Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), Partnership

Dan Grimm is Vice President, Global Solution Consulting, IBS
Dawn Jones is Proposal Manager, IBS

To understand where request for proposals (RFPs) for warehouse management systems (WMS) often go wrong, imagine for a moment you are being interviewed for admission to your dream college. You try to demonstrate the specific reasons why you would be a great addition to that school. But instead of engaging in a friendly dialog, the interviewer pulls out a list of 100 generic questions and starts interrogating you like you’re a suspect on Law & Order. Worse, most of the questions feel more like they’re being asked so the recruiter can simply check off the box to say he/she did it.

Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Yet that’s the approach many shippers seem to take in preparing RFPs when purchasing a WMS. They feel like the more questions they ask, the better job they’ve done vetting the candidates.

The truth is you can get so caught up in asking a volume of questions that you forget to dig deep on the priorities. Which means at the end of the RFP process, you still don’t really know which WMS products are the best fit for your business.

As individuals who have been on both sides of the RFP equation, we’ve learned a lot about what gives an RFP value. Here are a few suggestions on how to construct an RFP for a WMS solution that will deliver better results.

  • Be willing to meet with potential WMS suppliers first. Often shippers believe the RFP process requires utter detachment from the potential suppliers. Giving the suppliers an opportunity to come in and learn a little bit about your business and how it operates (if they ask) before responding to your RFP will help them develop more meaningful answers to your questions and actually speed the process. It may add a couple of weeks to the process. But considering you’ll be living with your WMS for the next five to 10 years, a couple more weeks is worth the investment.
  • Ask questions that require deeper answers. At the RFP stage, every contender’s goal is not to be eliminated. Providing questions that can be answered yes/no, or with a few words, doesn’t tell you anything, and lets the responding companies give you the answers you want to hear. Take the time to think through what your business actually needs and then ask questions around those topics. Go for depth of answers, not quantity. The deeper the responding companies have to go into a topic, the better you’ll be able to see how their solutions fit your organization.
  • Minimize the number of high-level or functional questions. The more high-level your RFP is, the more platitudes or marketing messages you’re going to get back for answers. This is also true of asking a lot of functional questions. WMS systems have been around for a while, and there are more similarities than differences to their functions. Two areas to focus on instead are implementation and support. WMS solutions can be difficult to implement, so you want to be sure your supplier has the knowledge and available resources to help you get it in place efficiently. You also want to be sure there is a support organization with a proven track record of helping customers derive the full value from their investments. In the long term, those areas will become more significant than any individual feature or feature set.
  • Ensure you have organizational and executive buy-in. Because a WMS will touch many functional areas within the organization, you want to be sure they have input into how the RFP is constructed as well as into the decision-making process. Among the areas to include are Warehouse Management, IT, Operations and business process decision-makers. You want to include Finance to ensure there is a budget. And most of all you want to ensure there is executive buy-in at the C-level so you’re not just going through the motions before the project gets spiked.

The goals of a college interview and an RFP are very similar: learn enough about the candidate to decide if moving ahead is warranted. Take the time to put the RFP for your WMS together with the goal of gaining a deeper understanding of potential suppliers rather than simply checking a box in the process and you’ll be far more likely to find the best fit. It’s the smart way to approach an otherwise difficult process.