5 Questions To Ask Before Issuing an RFP

Written by
RD Symms
RD Symms
Updated on
  4 min read

5 questions to ask before issuing an RFP

While issuing requests for proposals (RFPs) will probably never be your favorite activity, with the right preparation, you can set yourself up for a much more pleasant experience.

(Learn how RFP360 streamlines the RFP process.)

Before issuing any RFP, ask yourself the questions listed below. Think of them as an RFP checklist.

One of the most common mistakes we see procurement professionals make is issuing RFPs when what they really need is a request for information (RFI) … and sending the wrong one can deter 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 you’re asking general questions, like:

  • “What’s out there?”
  • “What might this entail?”

An RFI is a better first step.

The whole point of an RFI is to get general, big picture information. You issue one when you’re thinking about addressing a problem, but you have no concrete plans.

RFI questions should be holistic and open-ended. The responses should help you clarify what you need, so you can then create a targeted RFP.

This step is important because RFPs only work when they’re supported by a solid plan.

Remember, issuing an RFP implies you’re ready to buy. So if you issue one when you’re just looking, it will likely frustrate potential vendors.

Bottom line: If you want great responses, take the time to really understand the difference between issuing an RFP vs. RFI.

There’s no reason to rewrite 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 templates will help you avoid redundancy. And the faster you can send those requests, the faster you can receive your responses and start evaluating.

Scoring vendors can be intimidating … unless you have a plan.

We recommend laying out your scoring criteria before you write a single question. Take a moment to brainstorm with your team, defining your method and metrics. Determine what kind of scale you will use, and whether you will base scores on pricing, 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.

Sending irrelevant or ambiguous questions wastes your vendors’ time and your own. An RFP that doesn’t ask specific, pointed questions about the criteria that matter most to you won’t equip you to make sound sourcing decisions (which, of course, is the point of sending an 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. Customize your questions, and make sure they’re specific and relevant to each set of vendors.

Resist the urge to issue a generic RFP because it’s just not effective. Take the time to tailor your questions and focus on quality over quantity.

If it’s too much of a hassle to respond to your RFP, then the best vendors (who have plenty of viable prospects) 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 a full-circle solution that address your needs, as well as 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.

Issue well-prepared RFPs

Hopefully, these guidelines help you feel a bit more prepared for the next time you consider issuing an RFP.

Want more help?

Learn how RFP360’s end-to-end RFP management solution supports an efficient and effective RFP process by:

“RFP360 helps us automate and focus on core business. Now, we can categorize, search, and profile providers, which helps us understand who would be the most appropriate vendors to invite to a particular RFP,” said Mark Rieder, SVP of HR technologies and benefits administration at NFP. “We love the automated scoring. We’re shortlisting faster, and we’re being a true partner to our vendors. It’s a win-win.”


RD Symms

RD is a senior copywriter at Responsive. He has more than 15 years of experience in writing, content development, and creative strategy. Connect with RD on LinkedIn.