If you have never created and issued an RFP before, or if this is your first time putting one together for a while, we look at 9 tips for writing and issuing an RFP. In this case, we are looking at a technology RFP but the rules and themes are common for most RFP processes.
First of all, a bit about us and why we know what we are talking about on this subject. Viewpoint Analysis act as a 'Technology Matchmaker' - helping businesses of all shapes and sizes to find and select enterprise technology. We run 'Rapid RFPs' and technology market assessments through our Technology Matchmaker Service. Our team is also a little bit different, in that we have spent decades working for some of the world's largest and most respected IT vendors and have seen what a good RFP looks like - and what really should not have gone out of the door. So, here are 9 tips for writing and issuing your RFP:
Tip 1: Only issue the RFP to your shortlist.
The RFP stage should come after an extensive market assessment or RFI phase. In our language, this is the 'Technology Matchmaker Service' - the opportunity to issue a problem statement to a wide variety of potential vendors and see what they suggest and how they might tackle your problem. This work will bring a 'shortlist' of potential vendors who you might want to issue your RFP to.
Why is it important to limit the number of companies that you issue an RFP to? Well, there are two key reasons. Firstly, the more companies you issue the RFP to, the more complicated and longwinded the process will be - leading to lots of meetings, lots of reading, and lots of deliberating. Secondly, the more vendors you include at this stage, the less likely the vendors are to bid. Think about it from their perspective. The more competitors they have, the less likely it is that they will win, and the longer the potential process and investment. An RFP should go to a shortlist - maybe four or five vendors.
Tip 2: Keep the document short and to the point.
The aim of the RFP document is to convey what you are looking to achieve, how you are going to run the process, and what you need back from the potential suppliers. We see so many customers overcomplicate the process.
Writing a long RFP takes time - and it often leads to an array of contributors. As well as slowing the process, it can also be pretty intimidating for the suppliers. Nobody wants to receive an overly long document with an assortment of attachments that need to be completed. Try to fit in the key elements, but deliver a focused document that will be welcomed by all concerned.
Tip 3: Give plenty of notice.
Ahead of issuing the RFP, please make sure that you have given all the shortlisted vendors notice of your intention to include them in the process. Why is this important? IT vendors often decline to bid when a cold RFP is sent to them. It may be that you can convince them to rejoin the process, but it starts the relationship on the wrong foot.
Tip 4: Sell to the vendor.
This may seem an unusual suggestion - but you should sell your project to the vendors. They will be looking for reasons not to bid. Make sure that the opportunity is clear to them and that there is a good project that is worth the time investment from their team.
Tip 5: Be clear on what you are looking for.
There are various ways to achieve this goal - but however you approach it, make sure to write the RFP document in such a way that the vendors know what you are looking for. This should have been driven out through the RFI / initial market assessment. If that was done correctly, you should know roughly what you are looking to buy and the RFP should be about the vendors responding to that need.
Tip 6: Open the communication lines.
Make sure to open the lines of communication. Allocate a time in the process for the vendors to speak to you and your executive/decision team. It's a great way to demonstrate trust and friendship - and will help the vendor to get a feel for the challenge. IT also means that the suppliers will not be worrying that they haven't had a chance to speak to the decision-making team.
Tip 7: Own the document but circulate it amongst your team before issuing it.
This is an obvious one - but it is worth mentioning. Someone has to 'own' the document and take the bold decisions, but make sure that those bold decisions and the content in the RFP document is shared ahead of it being released. You want your team to be happy and on the same page ahead of time. If not, it can become a little messy!
Tip 8: A clear timeline.
Timelines are so important in any RFP and they are one of the first elements that the vendors will be looking to understand. Make sure that you can stand behind any dates that you are putting in the RFP. It's important that the process is a two-way street. Here are the items you expect the vendors to do and by when. But here are the aspects your team will do by a specific date. When one party misses a key date, trust and respect can be damaged.
Tip 9: Write the document in vendor-friendly language.
This is something that we are very hot on at Viewpoint Analysis. We mentioned that you should write the RFP to 'sell' to the vendor. More than this, you should write the document in the language of the people reading it. They will want to know some fundamental elements in order to decide to respond, so let's make it easy for them. We like to use the SCOTSMAN sales qualification criteria as it is commonly used by various sales teams. Try to answer each of the eight criteria - that will save lots of time and effort in the long run.
RFPs can be intimidating - both to write and issue, but also to receive and respond to. Having a clear document - with expectations set for both parties and a direct, friendly approach, is a great start and will make life easier down the line.
If the process still seems challenging or if you need some help, this is what we do for a living and we'd be only too happy to work with you. Find out about our technology matchmaker services here or email us at contactus@viewpointanalysis.