RFP Examples: Do You Have to Select the Highest Scored Supplier?

Writing and sending an RFP can be tricky. But reviewing and scoring the resulting proposals can be even trickier. 

What if the supplier you want didn't actually score the highest? Can you select them (and feel good about it) anyway? Keep reading to find out. 


Do You Have to Select the Highest Scored Supplier?

Let's cut to the chase, do you actually have to chose the supplier with the highest score? The short answer is no. 

This exact question came up a few months ago during our How to Do Weighted Scoring webinar. Luckily, Procurement Pro Phil Ideson of Art of Procurement and Palambride gave some expert advice see the clip here. He said:

Recognize that the supplier that you end up selecting may not be the one that scores the best on the weighted scoring algorithm. Because there are things that are a bit more subjective that do play a big role in selecting your final supplier.

When you're looking at commoditized products and services there has to be a reason why you're not selecting the highest scored supplier. I'd suggest that if there is a good reason you don't choose them in that instance your weighting was flawed. You didn't reflect what it was you actually needed in the weighting. Because obviously there was a disconnect between the final scores and who you actually chose. Or it could be that you haven't built the discipline among your team to recognize the importance of doing it this way. So they see it as being a 'check the boxes exercise.' But they still want to go with who they want to go with. 

Simply put, there will be times when you dont't select the highest-scored candidate. But you may also want to revisit your selection criteria. 

We can relate. A couple of years ago when we issued our RFP for a PR consultant, we actually chose the second highest-scored provider. Why? We couldn't swallow the price tag of the top candidate. So we chose the second tiered supplier. Because there wasn't enough of a points difference to overcome the price discrepancy.

When you should probably chose the highest scored provider:

  • When highest score is the key decision makers' explicit selection criteria
  • When your team has thoughtfully prepped and agreed upon your scoring criteria 

When you have to: 

  • If it's a commodity purchase, and the only true consideration is price 
  • Your incumbent was second in line but your history with them tipped the scale 
  • It was difficult to score the project -- it was too high level or open ended 

Of course, as with all RFP examples and guidelines, take it with salt. Each industry, organization, and RFP is unique. 

Also, be careful if it's a high-stakes RFP. Especially if you're a consultant or there is a significant purchase involved. The more money on the table means the more stakeholders to satisfy. And more opinions to consider during the evaluation.

To combat the pressure it helps to have a concrete scoring game plan. As s well as clear records of who was invited, how they were scored, and why they were chosen

Are you scoring suppliers the right way? 

You may to rethink your scoring approach if: 

  • If you're not cognizant of just how much you're actually asking of your suppliers
  • If you're walking into RFPs unprepared (no market research, vague goals, tons of questions)
  • If you're not leveraging technology to make the process efficient as possible
  • If there is a clear bias in your questions
  • If you're consistently not choosing the highest-scored provider 

If this sounds familiar, it may by that your team is not truly understanding how to execute weighted scoring. Or how to prepare, choose selection categories, etc. If that's you, or you want a refresher, check out our eBook.  

Download How to Do Weighted Scoring eBook

Benefits of using RFP weighted scoring correctly: 

  • It helps your team focus on facts
  • Ensures your team agrees on priorities
  • Makes your best fit more obvious
  • Makes comparing and contrasting easy
  • Provides selection justification
  • Supports confident decision making

If that's not what you're getting from your weighted evaluations, do some research. Confer with colleagues. See if there is a flaw in your system. It might be something technical in how you're weighting. Could be putting too much emphasis in a certain category. Or just not having enough buy-in. Regardless, an outside opinion always helps. 


How to effectively score your RFPs

Again, if your weighted scoring is working, it means your team won’t waste time arguing for the best vendor based on individual or unrelated cases. The data will accurately represent the best fit.

The score won't always be the ultimate deciding factor. But it's an important place to start. 




Looking for more detail? No problem, here's A Simple Guide to RFP Weighted Scoring eBook. Or download our webinar here.

What about the stickier topic of how to score more subjective topics? Like "Innovation and Leadership" across bidders? 

You will likely need to ask less rigid questions of the scorers. Phrase them more like “in your experience” or “in your opinion” for example.

One possible approach is to only assign the scoring for these questions to members on your team who are best positioned to answer them.

Another is ask stakeholders to score independently. Then facilitate a group conversation to agree on scores together.

The responses will likely be difficult to tie to a numeric score. But you can look for factors like thoroughness in the answer, creativity, etc. 

At the end of the day, there are cases where subjectivity does play a greater role than numeric apples to apples comparison. In these situations, use weighted scoring to baseline the responses in certain categories.

Use these scores as part of the decision making process. Use them to identify weaknesses in the proposal. Weaknesses that you then mitigate during scoping, contracting and governance.

Other scoring tips (also from the webinar):

  • Make the scoring as simple as possible. Use a 0-5 pt. scale or a 0-10 pt. scale. Larger scales like 0-100 and lines get blurred. It's hard to differentiate between a 63 and 72 points. 

  • Your goal is make scoring as consistent as possible from question to question and person to person.

  • Don't use an RFP to replace an RFI. Don't use it as an excuse to ask all the questions in the world. If you're unsure of the market or have a large number of candidates. First issue an RFI with some basic disqualifiers.

  • Don't determine your scoring matrix in isolation. Procurement while likely prioritize cost and savings while your users/decision makers will likely focus on the functionality. We must determine the scoring criteria together, otherwise, the numbers won't mean anything.

  • One size never fits all. Creative service vs. commoditized products RFPs are VERY different. Are you asking for spec sheet or are you asking providers to give you solutions to challenges? Write and/or tailor the RFP for each project

  • When you have second phase scoring, don't disregard scores from the first round. They build on each other. See the following round as a chance to clarify. Perhaps they have a different level of importance now, but don't discard them completely. 

Another big consideration is avoiding bias. It can be easy to start consciously, or subconsciously favoring a certain candidate in the way you ask questions. You might unknowingly be "gaming" the process. For instance, if you know the supplier you want, supplier X, is very strong in one area that the others aren't, you might ask attach more weight to that area. Which will then reflect on the score totals. So it looks objective even when it's not. 

To avoid this, Ideson recommended challenging question assumptions. 

Whoever is asking the question, why are they asking the question? What are they wanting to get out of it? As the procurement professional we're the arbitrator of making sure everything is fair.

So dig deeper. What's the reason that question is important? As a service provider, you know when there's something in the methodology that favors another supplier for whatever reason. That it's a process for the sake of process, not really someone looking for an effective solution. Which could be a red flag for me as a service provider. As a buyer you want to be as fair as you possibly can and make sure you're asking questions for the right reasons

Is your highest ranking candidate "the one?" Hopefully, you feel a bit more prepared to decide. 


Additional resources  

7 Questions to Ask When Selecting a Supplier

Key steps for objective scoring

 Summary of our How to Do Weighted Scoring webinar