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Narrowing RFP Candidates Into a Shortlist

March 26, 2018

You know when you walk up to the club on the weekend, bypass the entire line, and the bouncer lets you in before everyone else because your name’s “on the list?”

Me neither. But I hear it happens! Many prominent night clubs prioritize certain guests based on their celebrity influence or affluent status. And while nightclub culture can be particularly exclusive and elite, it has a point in that lists help officials quickly determine who’s in and who’s out.

Tip: Read up on RFP response.

When evaluating proposals that were submitted in response to your request for proposal (RFP), you become the bouncer who gets to decide which applicants are a go. Many organizations do this with something called a shortlist.

The timeline of shortlist creation may vary, but the process is the same: a period of narrowing down candidates to create a smaller pool for further consideration. Some organizations will send out a request for information (RFI) and use that to create a shortlist before sending out the RFPs. Others send their RFP to a larger scope of candidates and create a shortlist from that after evaluations.

Either way, the process requires you to critically and collaboratively agree on certain documentation as a team.

How to narrow down RFP proposal candidates

In this article, we’ll discuss various strategies that will help your organization evaluate proposals and create a strong shortlist, taking more than just budget into consideration.

1. Create a RFP Evaluation/Scoring Sheet

We discussed this in the original document detailing the RFP process, but a scoring sheet or other form of written standards helps a team cohesively understand what to look for. Using a checklist of sorts ensures all proposals are evaluated according to the same features and quality of response.

A scoring sheet helps you create your shortlist because it makes the deciding process quantitative. Your team can assign points to certain sections or features of a proposal and only shortlist the bidders whose points accumulate the most. Creating your own scoring sheet gives you the option of weighting certain sections according to what matters most. If doing the job well is more important than the cost, be sure to give experience more weight than budget.

If your organization would like to shortlist before sending out the RFP, that’s not a problem. Simply evaluate the requests for information in a similar manner, and use the points they earn to determine who qualifies for the shortlist.

2. Scope of proposal

Say, for example, your organization wants to outsource event marketing planning for an upcoming company party. The hope is to see a guest list of 1,000 business professionals and their significant others, and you wish to wine them and dine them, as well as facilitate awards and some business-appropriate dancing. Would you trust an event planning organization that has only ever put on small weddings? It’s unlikely.

When you’re looking through bidders, see if the scope of their experience lines up with the project you’re wanting to hire for. Although they may have experience in your industry, it’s possible they’re less familiar with the scale of your needs. Before deciding on your shortlist, evaluate whether the organizations you’re considering have proven their ability to take on a similar project.

3. Efficiency

What strategies did the proposal writers use in their RFP response? Do you feel as though they provided a lot of valuable information in an efficient way? Proposals require a tricky balance. Bidders should put their best foot forward, but also understand the fact that you have anywhere from two to twenty more of these packets to evaluate.

When going through proposals, ask yourself if the bidders wrote them with respect to your time. If a bidder is superfluous in their initial communication, will that continue throughout the project? Will they go over time on meetings due to idle conversation, or breeze past deadlines? There’s no guarantee these attributes will correlate, but it’s important to consider.

A bidder’s proposal is their first impression and a chance to show you what kind of communicator and business professional they are. If you find yourself skimming over proposal paragraphs that seem irrelevant to your needs, take that into consideration with all other aspects of their submission.

4. Candidates Followed Instructions

Your request for proposal was filled with information about your organization and questions for bidders that would help you determine if they’re a good fit – not only for the job or project, but also for your company as a whole.

One easy way to eliminate candidates is by determining whether they did what you asked them to. Did they answer the questions you wanted answered, or go off on their own agenda? Ignoring your requests or instructions is not only a sign of disrespect, but also a waste of time. It could also serve as a signal that they know they don’t have what you’re looking for, and went off course to try and compensate.

Following instructions is a basic rule that is drilled into our heads before we reach puberty. It is a simple way to show you’re listening and respect the other party. If a proposal comes back to you and the authors have glossed over all or some of your important distinctions, they may continue to ignore your requests in other parts of the process. Instead, give higher consideration to a bidder who listens to you from the beginning.

5. Network

This step should by no means make the decision for you, but it can play a huge influencing role. Knowing someone who works at the bidding company could help you decide if this is an opportunity worth pursuing.

Say you’re trying to contract some engineers, and you happen to know an engineering technician at one of the bidding companies. Considering your relationship with them, is that something you could confidently evolve into a professional setting? Perhaps your relationship to them is already professional, and you know that connection would only improve relations and encourage them to meet deadlines.

Oppositely, perhaps you have a relationship with someone at the company that makes you positive they’d be a difficult contact. Leverage your network to determine if the people you know will have an effect on your team’s final decision.

Making the RFP proposal shortlist decision

There are a lot of good candidates out there, but you can only choose a few great candidates to make your shortlist. Think of it like that line to get into the club: there could be some wildly uncelebrated yet talented dancers waiting outside, but getting in takes a certain star quality. Choosing a candidate’s proposal has very few other parallels to clubbing culture, but remember that star quality. Try and find that star quality.

For those in the RFP process, be sure to understand how to negotiate a RFP contract and leverage the best proposal software.

Narrowing RFP Candidates Into a Shortlist Being overwhelmed with options is easy, but reading this list on how to narrow down your RFP candidates into a shortlist is easier.
Grace Pinegar Grace Pinegar is a lifelong storyteller with an extensive background in various forms such as acting, journalism, improv, research, and content marketing. She was raised in Texas, educated in Missouri, worked in Chicago, and is now a proud New Yorker. (she/her/hers)

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