Searching for a new technology system can be an overwhelming task. And who, really, has the time or resources to invest in creating the perfect Request For Proposal (RFP) to send to vendors? (Okay…with the exception of our team…because that’s what we do!). In our consulting role, we have been brought in on dozens of vendor selections, throughout different stages of the RFP process. Fortunately for you, we have compiled a list of “don’ts” when creating and sending out RFPs to vendors.
- Not asking the right questions; not specific, direct or descriptive enough
Using a generic RFP template, although is a good place to start when creating your RFP, might not include the most appropriate questions for your specific request. After all, RFPs are more than just pricing; RFPs should include qualitative and quantitative factors about the vendor, their solution and services. The template might also include questions that are completely irrelevant for your search. Use templates as that, a template. Add the questions that are going to get you the answer you really want to know so you can compare the vendors’ strengths and weakness in line with the expectations of each HR professional on your team. Patty Payroll wants reporting capabilities; Betty Benefits wants electronic feeds and decision support, etc.
It is also important to maintain the perfect balance of descriptive without getting too lengthy when wording RFP questions. You want the questions to be easy to read and not overwhelm your responding vendors, but also clearly convey the message.
We do recommend planning for vendors to have questions about the RFP; it’s almost inevitable that at least one vendor will have at least one question. Make sure to build a little extra time into your RFP schedule so you have plenty of time to clarify any questions your participating respondents might have and still allow them plenty of time to respond.
- Not having a scoring method prepared prior to sending
When you send your RFP to multiple vendors, you need to have a way to compare their answers. Establishing your scoring method prior to sending out the RFP helps with how the questions are created and gives you a better understanding of what is important to you and why you are asking the questions you are asking. It is important when scoring responses to ensure that solutions meet core criteria (“must haves”), which you should already have established prior to sending. You can use the other additional functionality that “would be nice to have, but not necessary” to help differentiate the solutions.
As with most things in life: keep it simple. Your scoring method should be easy enough for even those not involved in the process to understand. Weighting questions and answers can be an easy way to really set the vendor responses apart and confirm your critical decision factors, but again, don’t make it too complicated. Creating a side by side comparison of all vendor responses can also be helpful when comparing responses.
- Issuing/adding last minute questions
Sending out addendums with additional questions after you’ve already sent your RFP out is probably not going to be welcomed with open arms by very many vendors. I mean did you appreciate when your teacher would give you five more problems to your homework assignment as the bell rang? Most vendors have limited resources dedicated to responding to RFPs, so they might need the entire time limit to respond to all of your RFP questions. Or vendors might simply forget about your additional questions.
Double and triple-check your RFP to make sure you are asking all the questions you might want an answer to before sending it out. It is even helpful to bring in people outside of your project team or department to review the proposal before distribution.
- Not asking your project team for input (other decision-makers, influencers)
As we mentioned before, it is recommended to get multiple people’s input prior to sending out your RFP. Not only will they potentially catch any spelling or grammatical errors, but also because they can help determine the clarity and relevance of questions. This is also a way to help project team members feel involved in the project as a contributor to the RFP and the analysis. That way when a decision is made, it’s a team effort not a monarchy. The team members will accept the new vendor openly, instead of grudgingly, as the real work begins during implementation.
- Difficult for responding, format
This is probably the biggest issue with RFPs that we see. The format and timing are so crucial to a successful RFP. Giving vendors enough (but not too much that they forget) time to complete the RFP will help set them up for success. It’s also important to note that if you send your RFP out around holidays, open enrollment or other busy times of the year, you may need to allow for additional time to collect responses.
The format is also helpful for getting responses back. Word versus Excel versus another online tool isn’t as important and how easy it is to read and respond. Too many columns or a lot of free form text answers can lead to unsatisfactory responses. Make it as easy as possible for your vendors to answer so they can focus their efforts on the content of their response not how to actually complete the thing. Not that looks are everything, content is definitely more important, but your RFP should be somewhat aesthetically pleasing.
We’d love to hear your RFP lessons learned too! Or if you have any questions about RFPs, do not hesitate to reach out.