How To Develop A 5-Star E-Commerce RFP

A well thought out approach will get you the best responses—and provide you important information for moving your e-commerce business forward.

Many organizations embark on e-commerce request for proposals only to get to the end of the process with a platform that falls short of helping to achieve their business objectives.

Selecting a new e-commerce platform should be guided by a solid understanding of your organization’s needs. This will help you develop an RFP that will ensure you gain the right technology and expertise to move your business forward.

In addition, it will help prospective vendors understand your business, your challenges and what you want to achieve, resulting in better and more relevant responses to your RFP.

Identify Your Goals

The first and fundamental task in the process is to agree on the business goals you want to achieve. If possible, these should be derived from your corporate goals. An example might be keeping up a growth pace of X% year-over-year with a margin no less than Y%.

Goals can be decreasing returns, optimizing your quote-to-cash process or providing customer self-serve channels to reduce reliance on your call center. Focus on what makes your offering unique and differentiated—why do customers choose to do business with you? How can new technology continue to support this differentiation and competitive edge?

Make sure these goals are measurable. Consider including stated goals such as improving conversion by 15%, generating an uplift in e-commerce traffic by 25% or increasing AOV by 10% over a designated timeframe, for example.

Not all goals can be quantified. In some cases, the goal may be solely to modernize the platform to meet future requirements and expand into new markets, add new products or make the organization more effective.

Regardless of your goals, you’ll be able to describe what you want to do and why, your aspirations and timeline. This will enable you to construct an RFP that asks prospective vendors, how will you help me achieve these goals?

Define Your Customer Personas and Channel Strategy

Understanding your customer is quintessential to building out a carefully curated RFP. Organizations are constantly gathering insights from analytics and customer-facing teams on how customers interact with your brand. These insights can be used to develop high-level persona profiles which detail specifics about your customers and how they engage with your brand as well as their expectations. Look into demographics, lifestyle, interests, how they are influenced, their pain points and expectations, and where they go for information, etc. Don’t forget to share any insights on personas you will be targeting in the future and how you envision your customer base evolving over time.

Once you have developed your customer personas, consider your channel strategy—how will you communicate with these different personas? Through interactions in a brick-and-mortar store, customer service, an app, social media, digital displays? A customer journey mapping exercise will help you understand, and be able to communicate, your key touchpoints and how you will purposefully drive traffic between these channels to answer the question, what value does this channel bring to your customer and why?

Outline Your Technical Roadmap and Business Processes

To find an e-commerce platform that can support your growth for the next five or more years, you’ll want to be sure it aligns with your overall technical roadmap. Conduct an inventory of your organization and its related business processes as well as its systems. Provide an overview on how your internal systems landscape may change over the next one to three years.

Compose a high-level document describing how systems are connected, what the main responsibilities are for these systems and what data is exchanged. This will give RFP responders the ability to indicate how they will support your integration strategy, connectors for key systems and other key technology aspects such as micro-service and/or headless architectures, composable commerce, etc.

Avoiding the Lure of the Capability Checklist

A common mistake is to start listing requested features and capabilities but resist the desire to do so. Don’t make vendors respond to a survey as is often found in a formulaic RFP, with responses indicated: i.e. “Yes, No, Can be built/Cannot be built, If can be built—how much?”

It’s more important to ask vendors to provide an overview of what they will provide to meet your business objectives and how they will solve your pain points. This will help you understand how well they understand your business and the level of insights they can bring to the table.

Formulate your RFP questions based on actual scenarios in your organization that relate to strategic goals or objectives and/or issues and challenges. This will allow the prospective vendor/partner to provide their recommended approach to your business challenges and showcase how they will deliver the best outcome based on their experiences, solutions and expertise.

Let’s look at the following examples.

This query is too open ended:

“It should be possible to integrate the e-commerce solution to social media. Do you have this capability? Is it configurable? Can you build it?”

Most e-commerce platforms on the market today offers integrations to social media. However, if we look at this from a requirements perspective, the query is way too open to interpretation. Does this mean Facebook, Instagram, all social media? Do you need to obtain behavioral data from social media traffic coming to the site? Publish campaigns to social media? As a visitor, share content? There are so many ways to respond to this question, that it makes it difficult to objectively evaluate responses from multiple vendors.

You don’t have to specify the exact system/platform requirements; that will be undertaken by your future vendor/partner. But do consider adding the relevant business context to your query.

The following ask is more specific and oriented at understanding the vendor’s experience and expertise in this realm:

“55% of our traffic comes off our main social media channels which today are Facebook and Instagram. It is important for us to be able to adjust content, campaigns and experience depending on what social media channel the traffic comes from.”

The Strategic RFP Payoff

By following these steps, at the end of the RFP process you will have gained some new and valuable insights into how to take your e-commerce business to the next level. Additionally, you will have everything that’s needed documented to share with possible partners and/or platform providers to get up and running quickly on project execution. A well thought out RFP gives potential partners a chance to understand your vision and gives your organization the opportunity to obtain the best possible proposal and partner that will add value to your business.

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