Requests for Proposal (RFPs) have been a common practice for engaging vendors and finding new technology solutions for many, many years. However, the traditional approach of bombarding vendors with an extensive list of unrelated questions is increasingly proving ineffective. In this blog post, we'll explore why relying on fewer, but strategic RFP questions can lead to better results for your business.
RFPs are something we know a little bit about. At Viewpoint Analysis, we run RFPs (and RFIs) for companies of all shapes and sizes. What makes us a little different is our decades on the other side of the fence - answering those same RFPs. It gives us a unique perspective on the process from both the buyer and sellers viewpoint.
More RFP questions, more problems
RFPs that are filled with numerous questions often create more problems than solutions. This approach often overwhelms both the vendors and the businesses issuing the RFP.
Problems for the business:
The first challenge of writing an RFP is gathering sample questions. This can be a nightmare and invariably we see that they are usually copied and pasted from old RFPs or those borrowed from friends and acquaintances.
How many questions are 'enough' questions? We see so many RFPs that have hundreds and in some cases thousands of questions. Why? Nobody really knows but it looks good!
If the vendors do respond - does your team have enough time to read them all? If you issue the RFP to 10 vendors and get 10 responses - with 1000 questions that have been answered, it will take a saint to read them all - and multiple days!
Problems for the vendors:
With lots of questions, comes lots of admin. The only way that they can be answered is by farming them out to various internal departments.
In 80% of cases, the respondent will simply copy answers from other RFPs - which doesn't really add to the quality of the RFP or (in some cases) provide the right answer.
Because it is difficult - maybe a third of the vendors will qualify out of the process completely - which isn't ideal if you really want them to be a part of the selection. The more questions that are added to the RFP, the higher the percentage of vendor dropouts.
A better way: problem statement RFPs
To overcome these challenges, a problem statement approach to RFPs can be far more effective. By providing a concise problem statement that outlines the issue your business is facing, you allow vendors to focus on providing creative and targeted solutions. This approach reduces the number of questions but encourages vendors to think critically and tailor their responses to your specific needs.
It's important to think about who the real expert is. Does the business needing the technology really know the subject in the same depth as the vendor? It would be highly unlikely for this to be the case. By writing a problem statement-based RFP, we are posing the question to the experts - and asking them to showcase what they do and how they can help us.
So where do sample RFP questions come in? Well, they are still important - there will be some questions that you really want to make sure are covered. Maybe they are security-related or are key pieces of functionality that you really need to make sure are not missed. If this is the case, you will likely find this information by interviewing your team, not from the internet. Also, this list should now be fairly small compared to the mega list that you might have issued in the traditional RFP approach.
How to write a problem statement for your RFP
If you're ready to implement this problem statement approach to your RFPs, follow these steps:
Identify the core problem: Clearly define the problem your business is trying to solve through the RFP. Make sure that your team agrees on this - if it's the core of your RFP, it better be right!
Craft a concise problem statement: Summarize the problem in a clear and concise manner, providing relevant context for vendors.
Select strategic RFP questions: Instead of overwhelming vendors with multiple questions, carefully select a handful of questions that directly address the problem statement.
Encourage unique solutions: Ask vendors to provide innovative approaches to solving the problem, demonstrating their expertise and creativity.
Example problem statement RFP questions
To help you get started, here are a few sample problem statement RFP questions:
How can your solution address our pressing need for improved customer engagement and retention?
In what ways can your product/service address our problem of inefficiency in supply chain management?
Share your approach to addressing our high employee turnover rate and improving employee satisfaction.
It's time to move away from the conventional RFP approach that bombards vendors with countless questions. Shifting to a problem statement approach with fewer, but strategic RFP questions can yield better results for your business. By focusing on the problem at hand, you invite vendors to provide targeted and creative solutions. Use the provided sample RFP questions as a starting point to revamp your RFP process and maximize the value you derive from it.
Remember, it's not about the quantity of questions; it's about the quality and relevance of the suggestions from the vendors. Embrace the problem statement approach, and watch your RFPs lead to more successful partnerships and innovative solutions!
We run a 'Rapid RFP' service which uses this approach - focusing on problem statements and dramatically scaling back the size and shape of the RFP. Take a look at our Vendor Selection area for more information.
If an RFP template might be helpful, we have one that ready to go - just download it, build your RFP, and get it out to market ASAP.