If you’re looking to understand the ins and outs of the Request for Proposal (RFP) process for a new ticketing system, talk to Ron Reid, ticketing operations manager at Eastern Michigan University (EMU). Throughout his career, Reid has gone through the RFP process three times – once at the University of Michigan for its performing arts center and two separate exercises at EMU, one for the athletics program followed by a search for a university-wide system that would merge all campus ticketing activity into one, centralized solution. And while Reid admits that issuing and evaluating an RFP for a new ticketing system is no simple undertaking, the end result is well worth the effort – as long as you approach the process strategically.
Reid sheds some light on his new ticketing system RFP experiences and offers his take on how to approach the process to ensure the final decision aligns with what really matters – the organization’s needs.
You’ve been through the RFP process three times. How would you compare your first two RFP processes to the most recent one?
Ron Reid: Each RFP process that I’ve gone through has been pretty unique. At the University of Michigan, I was solely focused on performing arts and needed a system that could support small venues and assigned seating. On the other hand, my first RFP for EMU’s athletics program required me to identify a solution that would support large venues, multiple sports and general admission. For both RFPs, I was very cost-conscious and didn’t want to overspend on a solution. However, I came to realize that cheaper wasn’t always better.
Not until the most recent and third RFP for a university-wide system did my previous two experiences come together. In this case, EMU needed a centralized ticketing system that would be versatile enough to serve the entire university while also meeting our demands for quality technical support and user-friendly training. We also wanted to work with a vendor that had a proven track record in supporting both small and large clients. EMU has about 20,000 students, so we are by no means a large school. However, we wanted a system that was capable of supporting us now and in the future as we continue to grow.
For your recent university-wide ticketing RFP, what departments were involved in the process?
RR: The RFP process was much more formal because it involved various stakeholders throughout the university, including athletics, performing arts, university events, the purchasing department, IT, finance, etc. It was predominantly led by EMU’s purchasing department, which coordinated all meetings and communications, and asked a lot of questions on the front end to ensure the process was compliant with university protocol. We also had a new athletic director who wanted to keep EMU forward-thinking and innovative, so we narrowed down the list of potential partners that we felt were the strongest candidates to help us grow.
Earlier, you mentioned that cheaper wasn’t always better when it comes to a new ticketing system. What criteria should you use to evaluate potential vendors?
RR: We were very aware of price when I went through the RFP process for EMU’s athletics program. But systems with a low cost always come with a price – limited service and support, and no growth opportunities.
For the recent university-wide system RFP, we evaluated partners based on the following criteria: 1.) What was going right for us, 2.) What could be improved and 3.) What we needed to be successful. When we made our final decision, we didn’t choose a ticketing system with the lowest cost. Instead, we chose a vendor that would partner with us in innovation and provide a state-of-the art experience for our fans, donors and event attendees.
If you were talking to another ticketing professional, what advice would you give to help him or her manage a successful RFP process?
RR: My first piece of advice would be to do your homework. Understand the solutions that are available by talking to your colleagues and peers in the industry. Next, don’t be fooled by the bells and whistles that many vendors pull out – they aren’t necessarily a true representation of their offerings or how they will work for you. You need to ask the tough questions to understand if the system truly fits your needs and solves your biggest challenges.
Lastly, take notes! It sounds so simple, but you will likely go through the RFP process every 3-5 years throughout your career. It doesn’t happen very often, therefore it’s important to pay close attention to each selection process so you’ll know what to expect and be prepared to lead the next time.
Any final words of wisdom?
RR: Look at your needs not just of today, but those of tomorrow. And keep your university at the front end of innovation – you want a ticketing partner that will grow with you, not one you will outgrow. [hs_action]