The foundation of an innovative and engaging employee benefits program is the benefits administration or HRIS technology partner.
Friend of Informed Consulting, Courtney Proffitt, shares her thoughts with employers and brokers regarding how to run an effective RFP process this buying season. Courtney has led over 500 benefit technology RFPs throughout her career.
Download the Become a Well-Informed Buyer PDF for free.
Summary of Insights
Buying complexity has increased.
In benefit technology RFPs, enrollment is the starting point with other capabilities being evaluated more often.
But there's room to streamline.
Using a phased approach, you can start with a more brief RFI to eliminate outliers. Think more strategically about your RFP questions and be clear about your priorities.
Keep the employee front and center.
By focusing on employee needs, vendors can tailor their responses to highlight how they can best meet those needs. Benefit programs have grown in complexity, and employers are well-positioned to ask vendors to demonstrate how they can create a more cohesive experience across your health, ancillary, and point-solution offerings.
RFP complexity has increased.
Since 2021, the number of questions per project has increased by 25% each year. Today, a ‘short’ RFP is upwards of 125-150 questions.
Employers are evaluating more and more products in a single procurement exercise.
For example, a typical benefit technology RFP in 2015 may have solely focused on enrollment software. In 2023, the enrollment software is the starting point with several more sections dedicated to complementary solutions including call center, COBRA, CDH, dependent audits, content development, ACA, billing services, etc.
Getting the most out of an RFP.
Employers get the most out of the RFP when they’re open about their priorities and clear about how they want a vendor to structure the response.
For example, if an employer shares that benefit program modernization is the primary goal for their team, a vendor should be able to provide details on their track record in innovation while continuing to tie that theme into their responses when applicable.
Structuring the RFP
By setting rules, employers can compare apples to apples faster and more accurately.
To allow reviewers at an employer to have a uniform experience, it is best practice to provide guardrails for vendor responses.
An example of rules to help structure the vendor's RFP responses are:
Limit the summary to two pages.
Answer yes/no questions without further explanation.
Include a plan that includes X, Y, and Z.
Order the documents being submitted in a specific order
Improving the RFP assessment process for employers
Ease your burden with a two-phase process.
Reading an RFP is hard work, and total rewards and benefits leaders are often surprised at the length of responses that they get back.
With many essay-style questions, even a 10-page document can return 100 pages. If you're evaluating 10 vendors at 100 pages each, that's incredibly challenging for any team performing the evaluation.
To read 1,000 pages in a week to stay on their procurement schedule, on top of their normal job duties, is nearly impossible.
That’s why a multi-phased approach is recommended. Follow the process outlined on the subsequent page to narrow down the field to two or three best-fit vendors.
A multi-phased approach to the assessment process
In Phase 1, conduct a 30-minute meeting with your vendor participants first, followed by a short RFI with no more than 30 questions.
For example, an employer might have a security requirement that would preclude some vendors. Parting with vendors early saves everyone a tremendous amount of work.
This phase should consist of a larger RFP and a customized product presentation.
For the RFP, the number of questions will depend on how many products the employer is considering, but the RFP will be longer than the RFI.
An employer will dig into the requirement details. Again, each vendor’s response may be hundreds of pages long, so the hard work an employer does in the beginning to limit the RFP to the top candidates will pay off in days of reading time saved.
Once this phase is complete, an employer should be ready to make an informed, confident vendor-of-choice decision.
Download the Become a Well-Informed Buyer PDF for free.
Questions to consider for your RFP
How will you help our employees?
This tells us who has taken the time to understand the employee population's unique needs and tailor their response accordingly. A good response includes information on individual employee health and financial outcomes. The answer will indicate who can help employees learn something, get healthier, and optimize their hard-earned income.
Are there any questions we have not asked that you wish to answer?
This question provides an opportunity for vendors to highlight additional features and gives employers a more complete picture of their offerings. Vendors may respond with ideas on new partnerships, point solutions, etc. This can also be a signal to vendors that the employer buyer is going to be a strong partner.
We currently have these X solutions. How will you incorporate these into your delivery?
This is a great way to incorporate point solutions being evaluated or already purchased. To achieve the ROI and clinical outcomes employers need from their point solutions, tight integrations are imperative.
Considerations around service
With service-related questions, there's less of a need to focus on who the service team is, and more on when and how they interact with an employer.
A vendor can put together the best team in the industry to support a client, but it doesn't matter if they only interact on tickets or at a quarterly meeting to review service issues.
An employer should also ask:
How often they can expect to meet with their service team?
Who’s present in these meetings, and why they’re in attendance?
What topics are typically covered?
Can you provide a sample agenda?
Pay close attention to the time devoted to each topic in meetings. Is the vendor focused on reviewing past outcomes, tackling present issues, or more importantly, setting up the employer for a more successful future?
Call your references, and especially ask questions about service.
Considerations around security
Many RFPs have a long, detailed cybersecurity section. In most cases this requirement can be eliminated with the question, “Please list your third-party audit certifications, years these audits have been in place, and any exceptions found in your most recent assessments.”
A vendor’s answer to this will tell you nearly everything you need to know about their commitment to cybersecurity. Some audits are so thorough that passing them speaks more to vendor security than a 200-question section of the RFP ever could.
However, if your cybersecurity team maintains that they need their questionnaire done, save that for the final stages of the engagement and only have the top one or two vendors go through that exercise.
Generally, an employer can rest assured that these security controls have been verified and commented upon by an impartial third party, rather than answered directly by an employee at that vendor.
Considerations around point solutions
There are point solutions that can significantly impact an employee's life.
For self-insured employers looking to evaluate technology vendors in 2023, it's critical to understand the value of point solutions along with their ability to integrate with existing solutions.
Start by looking into the point solutions your benefit administration vendors that you’re evaluating already work with.
It's not an exaggeration to say there are point solutions out there with ROI that can significantly impact a benefits budget. Even more importantly, there are point solutions out there that can significantly impact an employee’s life.
To extract that type of value, it is better to purchase point solutions that can be well integrated. Focusing on how the point solution is delivered can greatly improve adoption and clinical outcomes.