Welcome to part two of my three-part series on choosing an admissions recruitment CRM!

In this post, I’ll talk about the advantages of sending vendors a Request for Information (RFI) instead of – or prior to – sending a Request for Proposal (RFP). Then, I’ll tell you three things you should do before drafting your RFI. Finally, I’ll provide you with a list of questions to include in your RFI, and most importantly, I’ll tell you why these questions matter.

First, let’s define a couple of important terms.

  • A Request for Information (RFI) is used to collect high-level information about a vendor’s culture and values, as well as their product’s core features and pricing structure. It may be followed by a Request for Proposal. In other words, an RFI is about discovery and learning.
  • A Request for Proposal (RFP) is a formal document used to determine if a vendor’s solution is able to meet a detailed, and often lengthy, list of requirements.

So what are the advantages of sending an RFI?

An RFI will help you understand:

  • A vendor’s “story” – their philosophy, culture, and values in their own words.
  • A vendor’s commitment to the user experience, implementation, and client support.
  • The problem(s) the CRM was originally created to solve (e.g., recruitment or application reading).
  • What makes the CRM different from the competition.
  • The CRM’s core features and functionality, and how they work.
  • The pricing structure, and what’s included.
  • … And much more.

Even if your school requires you to send an RFP, I still recommend that you consider sending an RFI first. An RFI can help you narrow your pool of vendors to a more manageable shortlist of those that best align with your priorities, staffing resources, and budget. (Remember, the more vendors on your shortlist, the more responses you’ll need to review and score.)

Prior to drafting your RFI, I recommend you do three things:

1. Talk to your colleagues at other institutions and get recommendations.

Ask them what was on their “must-have” list, and see if their must-haves align with yours. Ask them how closely the sales process aligned with the reality of the CRM. Ask them what they wish they’d asked during the sales process that would have helped them to avoid surprises down the road. Finally, be sure to ask if they are satisfied with their vendor’s support service, including the vendor’s response time.

2. Have a preliminary discussion with each vendor.

Talk with the vendor about their company’s philosophy, culture, and values. Do they value the same things that are important to you? Ask the vendor why a school wouldn’t choose them. What doesn’t their CRM do? If they tell you their CRM does it all, it’s probably not a good sign, because no software does “everything.” Ask them about the implementation process and client support. Remember, after the sales process, you’ll mostly be working with the company’s implementation and support teams – so you need to be confident you’ll get the help you need, when you need it.

At the end of each conversation, ask yourself, “Is this a company I would want to work with for the next decade or more?”

3. Schedule a demo.

At this stage, a demo providing a high-level understanding of the CRM should take about 90 minutes. Does the interface make sense to you? Use the demo to get a feel for what your day-to-day experience would be like with the system. Ask yourself whether the CRM’s functionality meets your core requirements.

Once you’ve completed the three steps above, use the information you’ve gathered to narrow your original pool of vendors to a shortlist of no more than four. Each of the remaining vendors should be aligned with your priorities, staffing resources, and budget. That way, reading through each vendor’s RFI response will be a valuable exercise, not just a drain on resources.

So what should you ask in your RFI? Great news: My team at Fire Engine RED and I have done most of the work for you! Check out this valuable resource: 21 Crucial Questions to Ask in Your Admissions Recruitment CRM RFI. It includes the essential questions you should include in your RFI … and tells you why it’s so important to ask them. Think of it as a behind-the-scenes guide from a team of insiders.

One more thing: Ask your vendors to keep their RFI responses relatively brief – they should be able to tell their story and answer your questions in 25 pages or less.

After you’ve gone through the RFI process, you should have enough information to make a decision. However, if your school requires you to do an RFP, I’ve got you covered there as well.

Check out the third and final blog post in this series: Six Tips to Help You Avoid the Pitfalls & Unpleasant Surprises Often Associated With RFPs (Assuming You’re Required to Use One)!

Shelly J. Spiegel has nearly 35 years of experience in the education market – including 19 years as CEO & Chief Creative Officer of the company she founded, Fire Engine RED.