We asked our Proposal Manager, Iesha Jenkins, to share some of her BDPs for developing a first class RFP process - read on to find out more...
Benefits of a Request For Proposal (RFP)
Developing trustworthy relationships with your vendors will ensure a true, mutually beneficial partnership where you both win. Your vendor will support you with the services you need and you’ll pay a fair price for them. But to develop this kind of vested relationship you must go beyond a search purely for the lowest price and instead seek out value. Enter the Request for Proposal (RFP) process...
An RFP is a document that an organization creates to outline the requirements for a specific project, product or service. Companies use RFPs to solicit detailed bids from vendors and to identify which vendor might be the best-qualified to complete the project or provide the product or service.
The RFP needs to be detailed in the guidelines it offers to vendors for how to best fulfill the needs of the organization to ensure a detailed, tailored, and complete response in return. If you’re considering changing vendors, you want to be assured of minimal business interruption, a higher standard of service to the one you’re currently used to, and an overall positive experience during the transition. How potential vendors plan to provide you with these benefits will be outlined in their RFP response. The more effective your RFP is in providing vendors with the right information and guidelines, the more effective your final selection will be in meeting your needs.
Writing an RFP:
Writing an RFP can be an overwhelming task if not managed efficiently. In order to attract the most compatible vendors, you must ensure you give prospective vendors visibility into your company while clearly communicating what you need from them.
The process can be long for a first-timer, but a well-executed RFP can save time and money in the long run, so it’s worth doing and doing properly. Focus on what you need to know about vendors when creating your RFP – include those details and you’re more likely to have responses that address your product or service concerns.
We’ve collected together some best practices that are easy to follow and will get you started on your journey to produce an RFP that uncovers the most suitable vendor for your business:
- Formatting and Structure
Your formatting should be clear and concise. Vendors will appreciate an RFP that’s easy to read and clear to evaluate and a well-organized document can make all the difference. Include cover pages and tables of contents for ease of navigation, and consider categorizing information requests in a format that’s common in your industry. Many RFP responders will assign sections to their subject matter experts in order to provide appropriately detailed feedback, so consider common feedback groupings such as: Business Development; Operations; Health and Safety; Human Resources; Transportation etc. This level of organization will help vendors provide you with the level of detail you’ll need to make the appropriate vendor selection after your review.
- Give a Little History
Offer vendors some company history, your mission or passion statement, and your purpose. Cultural alignment will be important in the ongoing relationship with your chosen vendor.
- Define Your Need
Go into detail when describing the challenges that need solutions. The situations you are trying to fix might be complicated, so it’s important to communicate background concerns, ideal solution scenarios, and everything in between. Vendors will benefit from knowing where gaps exist so they can offer appropriate solutions. Adding context gives vendors so much more clarity. You will have far fewer back and forth communications while they compile the proposal when background information is provided, making the overall proposal process simpler for you.
- Point of Contact
Give vendors an internal contact who can answer questions, and communicate a cutoff date – “send all questions to XXXXX by September 3rd”. No matter how clear you are, vendors will likely have questions. Answering their questions will also ensure the proposal you receive doesn’t miss the mark.
- The Transition
Possibly the most nerve-wracking element of business is transitioning between vendors. There’s no doubt it’s going to be complicated and resource-intense, so be sure to include questions surrounding how a vendor will manage the transition of your business from your current vendor to a new vendor. Get detailed in your questioning and ask about contingencies in case of delays, problems, and issues. Everyone looks great when business is operating as expected; it’s how companies respond in dire times that sets the great apart from the good.
- Project Scope and Desired Timeline
Providing a project scope and desired timeline upfront will help eliminate vendors who cannot meet a deadline or do not have a large enough staff to take on the scope of your project. This will help save time for you and the vendors. Responses from serious vendors focused on providing value are all you should need to review. But be realistic with your timeline too – the purpose of your RFP is to identify your ideal vendor, and a thorough solution highlighting the benefits for your organization will take time to compile. Ultimately, you want your RFP process to be a good use of your time so provide a timeline that allows vendors to submit quality proposals.
- Submission Requirements
Include when and where to return the proposal along with the desired format. A standard format for all vendors to adhere to will make it easier on you as you review multiple proposals. Include this information in your introduction, and reiterate it at the end of your proposal. Make sure to include the date in which you want the proposals returned and your expected timeline for evaluation. If you plan several rounds of reviews, include those details too.
Additional Hints and Tips:
- Include a “Project Overview” section in each RFP
- Ask questions where you can measure and compare answers more easily – ask for metrics
- Categorize and tag questions by department or organization type
- Have a scoring system in mind
- Share your RFP process best practices if you want vendors to adhere to them
- Add your terms to the template
- Ask what you will need to know before they onboard you
- Learn from your peers and look for a sample RFP templates online
- Schedule periodic RFP template reviews as your needs evolve
RFPs are a critical component of the vendor selection process. An effective RFP will help you make the right decision for your company and will ensure you are communicating the same information and directions to all vendors participating in your selection process. Not only does an RFP level the playing field for vendors, but it also helps you, the buyer, to stay on schedule, saving both time and money.