How to Turn Your 600-Question RFP Into a 6-Question RFP

How to Turn Your 600-Question Into a 6-Question RFP.pngWhen it comes to RFP questions, more isn't more. 

That's what one of our clients in the HR/Benefits Administration space recently learned. They had been issuing 600 hundred-question RFPs. Creating a veritable mountain of paperwork not only for their suppliers, but for themselves.

But then they discovered something... they realized there were a mere 6 questions that were genuinely essential and would immediately exclude vendors who couldn't deliver. So they started asking those questions first, turning their 600 hundred questions into 6, and saving everyone involved countless hours.  

Jealous? If you're tired of grading a mountain of RFP responses, here's how you can quickly shorten your next RFP and cull down to the critical questions.

(Looking for detailed instructions on how to write a great RFP? Check out this podcast.)

Step 1. The Big Secret of Brief RFPs

Lengthy RFPs can be tempting, they seem like the perfect cover your you-know-what tactic. But in reality, they're actually extremely problematic and even risky. 

Why? Let's do some basic math. If you send a 600-hundred question RFP to just 10 candidates (assuming they all respond) that's 6,000 RFP responses for your team to analyze. At that point there's just too much information for a true apples-to-apples or thorough analysis.   

Moreover, suppliers and vendors hate lengthy RFPs, and the best won't respond to them -- more than that here.   

So how do we keep an RFP brief but effective? Three words: rounds of questions.

Why it works: asking questions in rounds keeps the amount of effort required balanced to the level of interest.

What's so brilliant about asking rounds of questions is they require minimal effort at first, becoming more intensive as they become more targeted; which is more effective for everyone.

Making it a multi-step process means you don't have to stuff every conceivable question into one RFP, it also makes it easier for vendors to engage, and means you can easily ask additional questions.

To start, you'll want to issue a quick high-level RFI, then follow up with brief rounds of questions as you narrow down your list. Your last rounds should have 3, maybe 7, really serious vendors spending quality time on their responses. 

Step 2. Establish Your Deal-breakers

How to Write a Killer RFP podcast

Okay, so now you understand the benefits of rounds, but how do you ensure that you're asking the right questions that will really help you short-list? 

First, make sure you've done the bulk of your market research, and issued a general, high-level RFI if necessary. You need to do this homework on the front end so you have a clear idea of what to ask. Still stuck? Consider hiring an industry consultant to help.  

Second, identify your crucial "deal breakers" that would immediately disqualify a candidate. 

In the example we opened with -- the 600-question RFP client, they realized they had 6 questions that would more quickly disqualify vendors more quickly than anything else. A couple of those questions were related to price range, one implementation time frame, and a couple very specific security requirements.

Whatever you decide is absolutely non-negotiable, ask about it immediately. 

Why it works: identifying your top deal breakers early on enables you to quickly exclude unqualified vendors, and saves everyone a lot of time. 

Not sure what your team's deal breakers are? Initiate a discussion with your key stakeholders asking questions like: 

  • Where do we spend/lose the most time?
  • What “workarounds” have we created?
  • Where can we add value to the process?
  • What are our specific technical requirements? (On-prem vs. off-prem, etc.)
  • What are our security requirements? (Data hosting security, permissioning settings, etc.) 
  • Do our vendors need to work within a specific industry bracket? 
  • Do they need to offer specific services?
  • Do they need to have a certain accreditation?

We also highly recommend asking a couple colleagues what they include in their RFP. Chances are they'll ask a couple of questions you never even considered.  

Need some more inspiration? Here are 7 questions to ask when selecting a vendor. And if it's a technology-related purchase, check out these 11 must-have categories for your tech RFP template.

Step 3. Ask This Key Question

We've talked a lot about identifying specific questions and criteria. Which is really good, especially when you're using weighted scoring.

But you should also include one or two more broad questions that give vendors a chance to prove themselves. 

Case in point, we've actually refused to bid on projects because the RFP questions we were asked were too close-ended questions and outdated. 

Which is why whenever we issue an RFP we always ask: "is there any information we haven’t asked for that you want us to know?’”

Why it works: open-ended questions help set your sellers up for success because it gives them an opportunity to showcase their strengths (and makes it easier for you to get a sense of their style and approach).  

Give vendors room to wow you, even if it's just with one open-ended question.


Turning your 600-hundred question into a 6-question RFP can actually be pretty simple. 

  • Step 1: use question rounds to make your RFPs short and sweet
  • Step 2: identify and ask your most critical questions immediately
  • Step 3: make some room for candidates to impress you  

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