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Getting More From Your RFP Process

February 23, 2024

Turning Your Goals into Gold

Whether you’re a public official or business owner, finding the right partner for your organization is crucial to its success. However, with the variety of offerings and vendors available today, comparing options apples-to-apples can be difficult. Enter the Request for Proposal (RFP) process. When done well, the RFP process is highly effective at identifying qualified vendors in an organized way. However, even the most well-intended RFPs can yield unsatisfactory results without proper development. Here are some tips for getting better results from your RFP process.

Clearly Define Your Goals and Expectations

Defining your goals and expectations is important because it forces you to prioritize what you want to achieve from the RFP. Ask yourself questions like, what is my ultimate goal for this RFP? What requirements are absolute must-haves? Are there some “nice to have, but not a dealbreaker” requirements? Clearly defining your goals and expectations now will help you to develop an RFP that delivers the results you’re looking for.

Choose Your Scoring System

Once you’ve prioritized your goals and expectations, score proposals based on them. Before you publish the RFP, generate a scoring system with the highest priorities carrying the most weight. You may also publish your scoring criteria, which can help vendors tailor their responses to your priorities. Using a scoring system helps you objectively compare and contrast each vendor’s proposal and enables you to make an informed decision. It may also save you from your own blind spots – or the allure of a “shiny new toy” that doesn’t necessarily align with your actual goals.

Do Your Research

I know what you’re thinking – but that’s what the RFP is for! Believe it or not, it’s essential to take the time to research potential vendors before sending out an RFP. You don’t want the RFP to be your first introduction to every vendor. This process will help you identify potential partners that are a good fit for your business and reduce the number of unsuitable responses you receive. For those in the public sector, you may not be able to reduce the number of unsuitable responses you get, but you can ensure that the vendors you are interested in are aware of your upcoming RFP.

While researching potential vendors, you should also investigate what information they will need to generate an accurate quote for you. Research will also give you an idea of how much you should budget for the initiative. Knowing the relevant information and including it in your RFP will help vendors appropriately scope their responses and reduce the number of questions you receive during the Q&A period.

Organize, Organize, Organize

If you’ve read enough RFPs, you recognize “Frankenstein’s monster” when you see it. The various stakeholders or departments individually came up with their own requirements, and someone copied and pasted them into a document without taking the time to proofread the final RFP. The result is a disjointed document with redundant questions, contradicting information, and confusing proposal formatting expectations.

When developing your RFP, create a section that specifically lays out how you want proposals formatted, with each item that you want to be addressed in your RFP. The goal of the RFP process is to make a clear comparison of potential partners. The more ways your RFP instructions can be interpreted, the more likely you’ll get a variety of response formats. If a vendor completely ignores your requested format, that may reflect other aspects of their business.

Ask for References

Getting feedback from industry peers is valuable input for making your decision. References will help you to get a sense of a vendor’s experience, working style, and reputation, and determine whether they are a good fit for your organization. A lack of references can also expose the vendors that are a greater risk to your organization.

Set Realistic Timelines

Seasoned proposal professionals share this frustrating scenario: a week before common vacation periods like the week between Christmas and New Year or the week of the 4th of July, a potential client releases an RFP with responses due back a day or two after the break. The potential client is probably thinking, “This will be so convenient. I’ll come back from vacation rested and ready to evaluate proposals.”

Here’s the problem – everyone, including your potential partners,is taking vacations then. Generating an RFP response takes a team, and chances are some key members will be unavailable. In addition, before the proposal can be submitted, they need to get sign-off through a review process that typically involves senior decision-makers, who almost always vacation during these times. All these factors work against the goal of getting the best proposals possible.

A short or unrealistic response timeline can have other unintended consequences, as it may indicate to potential vendors that the RFP was written with a specific vendor in mind. One month from release to submission is typically a good timeframe to get strong responses.

Closing Thoughts

The RFP process can seem daunting at times, but with thorough preparation, research, and organization,  you’ll receive the high-quality proposals you’re looking for.

Dewpoint, an award-winning, Michigan-based technology firm, has been helping businesses prepare for, stay ahead of, and respond to IT challenges for over 27 years. From IT security to infrastructure management to automation, cloud migration, and beyond, Dewpoint has long been a trusted technology resource for businesses.

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