Request for Proposals may be dreaded by all, but they're not dead. And the day will come when you'll need to decide if one should be issued.
When the time does come it doesn't have to be a giant headache. Consult this checklist of 5 questions to ask before you issue an RFP, so you don't end up cursing yourself halfway through.
#1. Issuing an RFI or RFP?
One of the most common mistakes we see procurement professionals make is issuing RFPs, when what they really need is an RFI. It's a misconception worth correcting because sending the wrong one can be a big turn-off to potential vendors.
So before you do anything else, ask yourself: how specific are my questions?
If your questions are precise, and you have detailed product/solution requirements, you're probably ready to send an RFP.
But, if your team's questions are general - "what's out there?" "what might this entail?" kind of questions, an RFI is a better first step. Because the whole point of an RFI, is to get general, big picture information. You issue one when you have an idea of what you're looking for, but your requirements aren't quite defined. RFI questions should be holistic and open-opened. The responses should help you clarify what you need, so you can then create a targeted RFP event.
They're important, because the next step, the RFP, only works when there's a defined concept of what's being sourced.
Remember, issuing an RFP implies you're ready to buy. So if you issue one when you're not ready - when you're "just looking," it will likely frustrate your vendors. The inherently specific RFP questions won't match the general nature of your inquiry, which will make responding very difficult.
So bottom line, if you want great responses, take the time to really understand the difference between issuing an RFP vs. RFI.
And bear in mind if you're window shopping, an RFI is the appropriate first step.
#2. Should I use a template?
There's no reason you should be rewriting the same questions over and over. If you frequently find yourself in the market for similar offerings, consider implementing master RFI/RFP templates to use as a starting point for your next event. You'll still want to tweak and customize each time, but it'll help you avoid redundancy. And the faster you can send those requests, the faster you can receive your responses and start evaluating.
#ProTip: right-click to save infographic for easy reference later.
#3. How am I going to score?
Weighting the scoring for your RFP can be intimidating. But it doesn't have to be (get easy weighted scoring directions). One way to make it less daunting is to lay out your scoring criteria before any questions are written. Take a moment to brainstorm with you team, defining method and metrics: What kind of scale are you using? Should scores be based solely on pricing or on quality, or a mix of both?
This might mean more work on the front end, but it ensures you get the information you need to effectively evaluate your options.
#4. Are my questions tailored?
Sending irrelevant or ambiguous questions not only wastes your vendors' time, but it doesn't equip you to make sound sourcing decisions (which of course, is the point of sending the RFP in the first place).
Anyone making a substantial acquisition has specific expectations because they're making a significant investment. The key is communicating that criteria sooner rather than later. So even if you're using RFP/RFI templates, use them as a starting point, not an end-all. Still customize your questions, and make sure they're specific and relevant to each set of vendors.
Resist the urge to issue "Generic RFPs," because they're just not effective, take the time to make your questions tailored.
Focus on quality over quantity.
#5. Is responding easy for vendors?
Vendors are humans. If it's too much of a hassle to respond then they probably won't. If you want top suppliers to partner with you, give them access to tools that make responding easy. Sending an RFI or RFP that's generic or unnecessarily voluminous (300 pg. PDFs anyone?), is setting them up for frustration, and even apathy.
Making responding too difficult, drives away vendors, and limits your options.
Instead, make vendors look forward to working with you by making their jobs easier. When you shop for new systems consider their needs as well throughout the process. For instance, if you're shopping for RFP software, look for features that address some common vendor pain points like content management (reusing past responses), streamlining communication, and easy team collaboration. Making their life easier is a win for you too because it results in higher engagement and better responses.
Remember, effective supplier relationship management begins when procurement owns the process.
Stop hating RFPs
Hopefully, these guidelines help you feel a bit more prepared for the next time you have to consider issuing an RFP. Because as we know, they're inevitable. But they don't have to make you cringe. There is a better way.
Discover a better RFP process.
**Image credit: Anna Spady