Creating effective requests for proposals (RFPs) is complicated.
You have to wrangle internal stakeholders, answer questions from vendors, and then find a way to determine who you’re actually selecting.
(Learn how RFP360 takes the headache out of RFP management.)
Fortunately, if you follow the right process, writing, sending, and reviewing an RFP gets much easier.
In fact, you can go from start to finish in just eight steps.
8 steps to successfully write, send, and review an RFP
Every RFP should start with an internal discussion between key stakeholders.
This includes finance, IT, and any other departments who will have to sign off on the final decision.
As a group, go over your organization’s needs, financial limitations, and expectations.
Make sure to identify any potential deal-breakers, too.
Identifying these criteria upfront will prevent countless miscommunications and setbacks down the road.
Organizations often issue RFPs too early.
If you’re just trying to get a feel for your options — and you aren’t quite ready to make a purchase — you should issue a request for information (RFI) instead.
An RFI is often the first step in the procurement process.
It helps you clarify what you’re looking for so you can then follow up with a targeted RFP.
In this stage, you’ll use open-ended questions, and the resulting answers will likely be very general.
Here’s a detailed breakdown of when you should issue an RFI and when you should issue an RFP. (As a bonus, you’ll learn about requests for quotations, too.)
It’s easy to ask hundreds of questions in your RFI or RFP.
After all, you want to be thorough. But lengthy RFPs are a mistake.
If you require a huge investment of time and energy from vendors that aren’t guaranteed to win the project, many will simply refuse to respond to your request.
A lengthy RFP is also difficult to score.
It’s a lot harder to compare vendors based on several criteria than it is a small set of key criteria.
And the more time your internal key stakeholders have to invest in grading responses, the more likely they are to put it off.
Chances are, you have five or six questions that are utterly essential and would immediately exclude vendors who couldn’t deliver.
Make these criteria the main focus of your standard RFP template.
When unqualified vendors see you’re focused on features and benefits they can’t provide, they’ll likely exclude themselves — saving everyone a lot of time.
If you’re still nervous about cutting down length, just remember you can always issue your questions in multiple rounds.
That will keep the amount of effort required by vendors balanced by your level of interest.
It’s important to finalize your supplier evaluation and scoring system before you send your RFI or RFP.
You can’t measure success if you’re not sure what you’re assessing.
Take a moment to discuss with your team what type of scale you should use — defining the method and metrics.
We recommend using a mix of open-ended questions (to give vendors room to impress you) with closed-ended questions (that are easy to score and compare).
Now, we get to the fun part — actually determining which vendors best address your needs.
Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most difficult aspects of the RFP process.
Many organizations use an Excel matrix to score and compare responses side by side … but using Excel is tedious, and entering a single incorrect figure can compromise the entire calculation.
A lesser-known — but infinitely simpler — option is using RFP software to automate vendor scoring .
However you evaluate, the key is to conduct an apples-to-apples comparison.
Assess vendors side by side and question by question to see their individual strengths and weaknesses more clearly.
Communicating with potential providers throughout the process is essential.
Especially when you’re torn between two options, and a slightly lower price — or a little bit faster turnaround — would seal the deal.
If a fine line is keeping you on the fence, tell your providers.
They’re often more than willing to negotiate if they know they’re in the final running.
Now that you’ve evaluated and negotiated with your vendors, it’s time to make and announce your selection.
Obviously, you’ll notify the winner, but another good vendor management best practice is to notify vendors that didn’t win.
Why? Because it’s incredibly frustrating as a vendor or supplier to put countless hours into a bid and not know why you lost.
Any feedback you provide helps them respond to their next RFP with a better offer, be it a lower price or stronger functionality.
This can also help your organization in the future, should you choose to evaluate them for a separate partnership.
It’s easy to think the work is over once you’ve finally selected your partner.
But like any significant investment, it requires ongoing maintenance to make it worthwhile.
To get the most out of your supplier relationship management, it’s wise to continue to build the partnership.
Keep communication open and take their needs into consideration, just like you would with any member of your team.
By investing in the relationship, you will maximize your partnership and increase the benefits for you and your vendor.
How RFP360 can help
RFP360 streamlines the process of creating RFPs, gathering vendor responses, and selecting the best option.
“If you want to make an informed and objective decision, you need something to help you analyze vendors from a quantitative perspective,” said Kelly Ellis, director of administration and operational excellence at Piper Jordan. “RFP360 is the right choice.”
Learn how RFP360 can improve the RFP process at your organization.