If you have never written an RFP before, it can appear daunting. Not only does the document have to be agreed upon by peers and internal leadership, but it faces the harsh reality of multiple sales teams and their decision to bid or decline the invitation to bid. In this article, we take an inside look at a perfect example of an RFP - what it needs to include and how to architect the process for the very best results.
Before we begin to look at the contents of a perfect example RFP, a little bit of background on the author of this post. My name is Phil Turton and I'm an ex-software salesperson. I've spent nearly 25 years responding to RFPs (fielding them from the very best of the best) and now writing them in my role as owner of Viewpoint Analysis. I've seen the RFP process from both sides of the fence, and this is what I believe to be the perfect example of an RFP. This is what makes this approach an 'inside look'.
To get started, there are two pieces of content that will be really useful to create that example RFP:
Key aspects of an example RFP
If you are going to run the very best RFP process, here are the key aspects that you will want to ensure are included.
Keep it brief
A long RFP is no fun for anyone. It takes the internal team time to construct. It also makes the life of the vendor that much harder as they need to spend time digesting the content. There are no prizes for a long RFP - actually the longer it is, the more of your suppliers will likely decline to bid.
Sell, Sell, Sell
You might think that the RFP is designed for the vendors to sell to you - and you would be right, of course. But, if you don't sell your company and your project to the sales teams, you are missing a trick. The salesperson leading the bid has lots of things to do - and lots of other deals to work on. They have a choice to work on your RFP...or not. Let them know how exciting the project is. Tell them why your business is so interesting. Get them fired up to work with you!
Allow for questions
No RFP is ever perfect - there will be various questions that the vendors will have. Make sure there is a feedback loop. Our approach is to have a 'Vendor Q&A Call' but you might also just let them write in with any questions. When they do have questions, make sure to answer them as quickly as possible.
Set aggressive timescales
Remember that the whole point of issuing an RFP is to buy something. Too many teams spend considerable time designing and running the process - forgetting that the most important aspect is to get the purchase done so that the business can start to see the results of the procurement. We run a 'Rapid RFP' designed to get to the preferred vendor in weeks. If you want to know more, check out our RRFP process.
Limit barriers to entry
If we have asked a vendor to take part in our RFP process, chances are that we want them to respond and believe they could do a great job for us. Try to limit the barriers to entry and remove any hassle from the process. Hold back any complex or time-consuming asks. Often some of the documents (e.g. security questionnaires) are only needed to be completed by the winning bidder - so why have all the vendors respond on the off chance that they might win?
Issue the RFP to a short list of vendors
An RFI (request for information) is for the wide market assessment. The RFP is for the shortlist of good options. It's important to remember this. Our recommendation is to only issue an RFP to maybe 5 vendors. Why so few? The more you include, the more burden falls on the selection committee - do you really want to have your team read through 10 proposals and 10 presentations? Do you want to engage with multiple sales teams? Also, the more vendors that you invite, the more likely some vendors will decide that it is just too hard to win.
Issue what we call a 'problem statement'. Tell the vendors the issue you are looking to solve, and let them (the experts in what they do) tell you what you need to solve the problem. Too many RFPs tie the hands of the vendors and this just means that the customer gets what they asked for. That's good to an extent - but it means that they get something less than the best. They get what they know - not what the future holds.
Limit the number of questions
Linked to the problem statement suggestion, many companies issue spreadsheets with questions that the vendors must answer. There is a place for these, but please limit the questions to only those that are most important to include. Why? If you ask hundreds of questions (which happens often) the vendors will:
Take a long time to respond.
May decide it is too much effort to respond to them - and 'no-bid'.
Likely cut and paste answers from previous RFPs - meaning little thought goes into them.
Let the vendors know the RFP is coming
Always develop a relationship with the vendor community before issuing an RFP. If an RFP is issued without any dialogue or warning, it becomes known as a 'blind RFP'. In other words, the sales lead didn't know that the RFP was coming, and therefore they decide (rightly in most cases) to decline to bid. If the sales team just gets an RFP land on their desk, it is unlikely they will want to invest time and effort to win it.
Bring the vendors together
This might sound crazy, but an important aspect of our Rapid RFP is bringing all the vendors together to solve the RFP requirement. An RFP is usually secretive - the vendors do not know who they are competing against. By bringing all the vendors together, we demonstrate that we want the problem solving and are open to joint input. It also makes the process so much quicker as it means that we don't need to have multiple vendor calls.
All too often the RFP team set aggressive goals for the sales teams, but completely fails to deliver on their own deadlines (e.g. missing key dates for making decisions). This looks unprofessional and loses goodwill. Make sure that the RFP timescales are agreed ahead of time and that the team knows that they have responsibilities too.
Summary - What makes a perfect RFP example
An RFP can be challenging. Lots of people avoid them at all costs - but they are really not too difficult. As mentioned earlier, there are lots of resources available to help the process run with ease. If you are intent on running an RFP - our RFP template will be a great place to start.
If you need more help, Viewpoint Analysis runs RFP processes day in and day out for companies all over the UK. We:
Interview your team to understand the need.
Suggest vendors to include in the process.
Write the RFP for you.
Engage with the sales teams and field all their qualification questions.
Host the vendor Q&A calls.
Host the RFP presentations.
Advise and train the team on the scoring of the RFP.
Write a 'vendor head-to-head' to compare the options.
Support negotiations with your chosen vendors.
Find out more at www.viewpointanalysis.com/vendor-selection