Questions You Need in Your RFP Template: Lessons from eHarmony

3/17/16 10:56 AM Anna Duin RFP Issuing

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What do RFPs have to do with an online dating site?

Bear with me for just a minute. 

eHarmony, the online dating conglomerate, is known for their advanced matching algorithms. When you join (not that I would know... cough, cough...) you fill out an extensive questionnaire detailing exactly what you're looking for.

Going far beyond the basic demographics of most dating sites, they match you according to advanced personality and value compatibility (based on tests developed by psychologists). 

More to the point, their goal is to ask questions that will you find the perfect romantic partner.

Their systematic search approach can also help us find our perfect business partners (our vendors) faster. 

Chances are, if you're reading this, you're likely one of two kinds of people. 

  1. You might be a vendor, looking for RFP response examples (also known as proposals). If so, you're in luck, check out our tips on proposal formats and free RFP response templates here
  2. And if you're a purchaser (sender of the RFP/RFI), keep reading, we'll cover 3 practical ways to optimize your RFP template.





1. Rounds of questions 

Granted, I might be just a bit biased from working in vendor management software, but the eHarmony communication system reminds me a lot of the RFx process. 

First, you build out your profile, giving a snapshot of who you are and what you bring to the table (very similar to our digital vendor profiles).

Once you see a match you want to connect with, you begin a recommended 3-round "guided" communication process. 

Guided communication steps:

  1. Five "Quick Questions," asking general high-level questions 
  2. "Makes & Breaks," listing your top "deal breakers" and must-haves 
  3. "Dig Deeper," three more personal questions about hopes, fears, etc. 

What's brilliant about the rounds of questions is they require minimal effort at first, becoming more intensive as they become more targeted; a great lesson to apply to our vendor management best practices.

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

Nothing is more frustrating for vendors than a laborious RFP, especially when they have little chance of winning the business. 

Instead, borrow a tip from eHarmony and get to know candidates by starting with a quick high-level RFI, then issue short RFP rounds as you narrow down your list. 

Making it a multi-step process makes it easier for vendors to respond, meaning you're more likely to get engagement.

Your last rounds should have 3, maybe 5, really serious vendors spending quality time on their responses. 




2. Makes & breaks 

We've all been part of a chitchat conversation. Lots of words are exchanged, but you don't walk away feeling you know the person any better.

Too often, RFPs turn out the same way (more on that here); Buyers read responses but don't feel any more equipped to make their selection.

Step two from eHarmony's hat trick can help combat this. They have you list out the specific traits that would "Make" a relationship work for you (conflict-resolver, verbal intimacy, strong character), and the traits that would "Break" it (lying, cheating, arrogance). 

What this forces you to do as a participant is identify the critical things you want, and exactly what you want to avoid. 

It's an approach we've seen work wonders for our clients.

Initially, they start out with a 700 hundred question RFP, but then later realize there were really 5 or 6 questions that were genuinely essential and would have immediately excluded vendors who couldn't deliver. 

Why it works: by identifying your top "makes & breaks" early on, you let unqualified vendors exclude themselves and save everyone a lot of time. 

Finding those 5 or 6 critical questions instantly makes the entire RFP Process more efficient. 





3. What else you want us to know? 

"What else do you want matches to know about you?" 

Was the eHarmony profile question that most surprised me. 

In other words, now that your evaluators have seen the basics, and before they walk away, is there anything else you want them to know? 

But it's actually a brilliant question because too often people (and RFPs) paint candidates into a corner with overly detailed or specific phrasing. 

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. They were written in such a way that we couldn't answer "yes," even though we had the solution they needed.

Really exact questions are great, especially if you're using weighted scoring, but you should also include more broad questions that give vendors a chance to prove themselves. 

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 impress you, even if it's just that one magic question.





Key takeaways  

So, bottom line, what can eHarmony teach us about writing better Request for Proposal templates?

It's pretty simple really.

  • Make your RFP process multi-step, with rounds of questions
  • Identify and ask your most critical questions immediately
  • Make some room for candidates to impress you



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