Top RFP Questions to Ask Your Team and Vendors

Whether it's your first RFP or your 101st, sometimes we end up staring blankly at our team, wondering if we've covered all our bases. 

That’s why we’re so excited to partner with the brilliant Onspring team for our upcoming webinar Vendor Risk: Find It Before It Finds YouNot only are they long-term colleagues and friends, but they’re also internal audit, risk management and compliance experts.

Together, we’ll cover practical tips on how to identify and manage sources of vendor risk throughout the RFP and contract review process. We hope you can join us -- even if you can’t, sign up anyway, and we’ll send you the recording.

How to Write Better RFP Responses - eBook

To give you a sneak peek of what we'll cover, below are some of the best questions to ask your team and stakeholders before you start your RFP, as well as key questions to ask vendors. 

The best RFP questions to ask your team

Before you ask your vendors a single question, the absolute first thing that needs to happen in the RFx or RFP process is an internal discussion. Identifying your crucial factors upfront will save you countless miscommunications and setbacks later.

Key questions to ask: 

• Have we selected a Project Manager or Project Lead? This is crucial. Establish who will be the primary external Point of Contact if responders have questions, and who will be internally responsible for making sure the process keeps moving. 

• Ask have we established the key stakeholders/evaluators? Don't forget to include IT, procurement, and legal in those considerations. The earlier you include them, the better. 

• Have we established a clear budget? It's the same advice I was recently given for wedding dress shopping - don't try on anything out of your budget, you risk falling in love with something you can't afford. Remember, it's critical to have both the input and approval from your C-Suite regarding your budget before you start looking for providers. 

• Are we starting with an RFI or RFP? Learn the difference between an RFI and an RFP hereIf you’re just looking to check price and gather information, an RFP is not the way to go! Instead, send an RFI first. 

• What are our crucial "deal breakers?" Ask your team what would immediately eliminate candidates who couldn't deliver? (Learn how to establish these here.) Below are some examples of possible deal breakers you could use. 

See full-sized infographic here (or right-click to save) 

Deal Breaker RFP - Infographic option #1.png

• How are we going to score? A 
common mistake we see is not finalizing supplier evaluation and scoring system before you send your RFI/RFP. This creates a problem, because how will you be able to measure success if you're not sure what you're assessing? (Find out if weighted scoring is worth the work.) 

• Ask what is our end goals(s)? What does success look like? What are our biggest factors in determining success?

• Are we going to use rounds of questions? Here's details on why you should. In brief, rounds are a great way to keep the process easy for everyone. Keeping question rounds brief while you narrow down options both makes it easier for providers to engage, and it also means you have infinitely fewer responses to evaluate. 

Yes, this preparation means more work on the front end, but it ensures you get the information you need to effectively evaluate your options.


The best RFP questions to ask your vendors

Key questions to ask: 

• Ask only a few questions. Use rounds to keep the required effort it takes to respond manageable. Start with an RFI if necessary, ask the deal breaker questions, and then get into the nitty gritty. By the end you should have 4-7 serious candidates.

• Ask open-ended questions. That said, consider combining both open-ended and close-questions. It gives vendors some room to impress and surprise you, but also gives you defined-weighted questions that are easier to score.

• Ask for about trial and warranty. With either a product or service it's always smart to create a backdoor. That way if they don't deliver, or if it's just not a good fit, you can get out before you've committed long-term. 

• Ask about their competitors. Who do they lose business to? Really it's an honesty test. Because if they're not willing to say who their competitors are, or why they lose to them, you might want to question their overall transparency. And bonus, if they are honest, you'll find out what other options you should be considering. 

• Ask about implementation time frame. Depending on your goals and needs, timing could be your determining factor in selecting a vendor. Some products require months of training and onboarding (some even if mandate that it's in-person). You might also find out there are additional fees for data uploads, etc. 

• Ask for their reviews and specific use cases. Read them and watch for red flags and average response time. 

• Ask industry-specific questions. Not sure what yours are? Consider hiring a consultant, posting in industry forums/LinkedIn groups, and/or pinging colleagues for their questions. 

• Ask security-specific questions. Ask your IT team what their requirements are. Are certain accreditations/standards of security required? How are communications processed?  


Bottom line, by taking the time to consider risk management in your RFP, you’ll be one step ahead when the time comes to closely assess your chosen vendor.

Have a question about vendor risk management? At the end of our webinar we’ll take some time to answer your questions, so please join us and tell us about your challenges, we’d love to help. 

How to Write Better RFP Responses - eBook


[Editor's note: this post was originally published 3/3/17 and has been updated for clarity and relevancy.]