Setting Up a Successful RFP
Managing a Request for Proposal (RFP) process can be daunting. Prequalify respondents, then keep things focused for the best results.
Q: How do I extend invitations to the most qualified providers?
A: The most qualified providers will reveal themselves through a Request for Information (RFI) process or reference. Preceding the Request for Proposal with an RFI allows you to gather information on providers and screen out the less qualified applicants.
References from peer or partner companies are also a great source for qualification. While this can seem to seed competition, good experiences at one firm can translate to growth, partnerships, and prosperity for the whole industry.
Q: How do you clearly define the scope of the RFP? Is there a benefit to being restrictive or instead allowing alternative responses?
A: A well-defined scope is critical to a successful RFP event. The scope needs to be clearly laid out early in the RFP document and should include a company's background, the purpose of the RFP, specific service parameters, and your quantified goals.
Unclear scope can lead to inaccurate responses that require you to issue a clarification document or potentially causes you to select a provider that lacks expertise or one that leads to an unexpected increase in cost.
Q: What question structure reveals the best answers?
A: The most important section of a great RFP is the open response section. A strong RFP always includes primary response items such as price, operational plan, and references; however, it is the open response area that allows the respondents to positively differentiate themselves.
A section for a cover letter or supplemental material is the ideal place for this and offers respondents a chance to convey their culture, history, business approach, and innovative ideas.
Q: What is the best way to evaluate the responses?
A: The RFP host should expect responses that are as accurate as possible, but accuracy does not always equal importance.
There are two methods of determining how to ultimately make your provider selection. Using a rubric with values assigned to responses is the formal method. A more informal approach can be taken where the host weighs the submissions and makes a decision based on thoroughness of response, creativity, and overall impression of the respondent's solution.
Either way, the categories considered should be an accumulation of metrics that are carefully vetted to provide the RFP host the most value. Most often the best value isn't in price alone, but is a compilation of capabilities, price, innovation/continuous improvement ideas, proof of savings, adherence to metrics, and quality of work.