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RFPs: Everything You Need to Know About the RFP Process

March 23, 2018

RFP

A request for proposal (RFP) establishes a strong foundation for your organization in a procurement process.

RFP is a document that an organization provides to announce a new project opportunity to interested parties through a bidding process.

Requests for proposals are time-sensitive and subject to change. RFPs make an early submission during the procurement process, especially preliminary study, a vital part of the process.

You may have heard the phrase, "If you build it, they will come," from the 1989 baseball movie “Field of Dreams.” The story’s crux was that if Kevin Costner's character blew his small farmer's budget building a backyard baseball field, famous deceased players would return and play a "ghost game," allowing fans to see the greats play one last time.

Costner had no idea what he was doing. His town thought he was crazy, and even his family started to question his judgment. But he formulated a plan for developing this field, followed through, and eventually reaped a great reward.

A request for proposal is like your company's own field of dreams. Your request for proposal is the field you build. Interested vendors are the historic players who come to check out what you created and then offer you something in return.

Suppose your company is frequently contracting outside hires to accomplish projects. In that case, you must understand how to write an RFP, distribute it, and evaluate the RFP responses. An RFP is how your company presents itself to professional contacts. You should take great care that it's done correctly.

RFPs are a worldwide practice, and industry alone may not excuse you from completing or responding to one. They’re relevant documentation whenever you’re ready to contract a team to complete a project.

Creating an RFP is a multi-step process that involves external communication and RFP contract negotiations. From an amateur's perspective, there are countless ways to get this wrong.

Therefore, let’s walk through the RFP process together, making sure you're confident in your ability to compile these important business documents on the go. Also, learn more about the best RFP tools to guide you along the path.

What is an RFP? Definition and meaning

RFP is a mutually beneficial process. The stakeholders create an atmosphere of competition where hopeful candidates can put their best feet forward to win attractive opportunities. RFPs tell invited bidders, "Our door is open, come and make your best case."

For vendors, RFP is an opportunity to look at clients and their project descriptions before any contracts are signed. This gives a vendor greater independence in choosing who to serve. Imagine discovering a client who is lacking guidance or professionalism before deciding to work with them.

You may waste precious time assuming each other's goals and expectations. That’s why having expectations ironed out from the start helps your agency or organization in determining if you're a good fit. While getting paid is great, getting paid for a job your team delivered perfectly is even better.

Who writes the RFP?

A request for proposal is an employee's opportunity to advocate for themselves, their team, and their needs. Thus, an RFP should be written by these primary stakeholders in a project.

For example, you wouldn't ask the head of finance to write an RFP for a new website design. This would be assigned to the team that most often works with the company website, such as the site administrator or the content team.

The person or team writing the RFP should know the project well and be good at decision-making. Part of the RFP process is choosing a vendor to carry out the project, and only those invested in its success can make the best decision.

While CEOs and other higher-level executives may have daily visibility into the process, they’re not often expected to make the request.

Another part of writing an RFP is including questions for vendors to answer or address in their response. These questions can be things such as, "what is your strategy for website design," or "what is your success rate at completing a project during the given timeline?"

A higher-level executive may not have the best insight into what kinds of questions will help determine a good winner, which is why the best person to author an RFP is the one who’s invested in the project and its outcome. 

What is an RFP process?

An RFP process includes various steps included in creating a proposal. An effective RFP process ensures seamless project management for procurement of services.

What is included in an RFP process?

  • Determining needs
  • Writing
  • Distributing
  • Evaluating
  • Reevaluating
  • Decision-making

Determine needs: When writing an RFP, you're essentially writing a "help wanted" ad. You should communicate important information about the project, skills needed, objectives to meet, and the timeline for completing the project. Sharing your needs will help narrow RFP applicants down to the most qualified.

Write the RFP: Like a CV or a resume, an RFP has a format. They'll change from one author to another, but it's wise to follow a common formula so that the vendors or service providers know what to expect from the document. Many online templates can help you correctly piece together your RFP.

Distribute the RFP: Distributing your RFPs is a fine art. You’d want to propose enough to get a decent response but not become overwhelmed.

When coming up with a list of recipients, you should consider the possibilities where neither less nor too many organizations respond.

Evaluate responses: This process is time-consuming but essential. Your team of stakeholders should go through every response carefully to determine the best respondents. The method of narrowing down candidates is called shortlisting.

Once you have your shortlist or a smaller group of applicants who submit proposals, you can begin scrutinizing them more carefully. If your organization submitted a request for information, you might have already created a shortlist and sent it to a previously narrowed list. Either way, the evaluation step will look similar to the distribution step. 

Evaluate further: After shortlisting your options, there are more questions you need to ask. Compare this to the second round of interviews. Vendors should be ready to provide additional details and perhaps even a demo. This is where pricing and the terms of agreement play a crucial role. At this step, the stakeholders should have all the information they need to make a final decision.

Make a decision: The decision-making process will vary between teams and organizations, but stakeholders should look at all options and information presented and decide which vendor can best deliver on their expectations.

When coming up with a list of recipients, you should consider the realities where either not enough or too many organizations respond.

make a decision RFP

In short, you should now be more familiar with what an RFP is and the elements that are included. You've not yet learned enough to draft your own version, but the various sections have been revealed.  

Types of RFP requests

RFPs exist in various industries and can sometimes be classified according to the industry to which they relate. Here are a few examples of the types of RFPs. This can’t be viewed as an exhaustive list. Any given industry can have its genre or RFP style.

What are the types of RFPs?

  • Marketing RFP
  • Social media RFP
  • Branding RFP
  • Design RFP
  • Website RFP
  • Workplace RFP
  • PR RFP
  • Government and non-profit RFP
  • Marketing RFP:  Marketing RFP is for marketing agencies to seek help in creating marketing material such as case studies and eBooks. 
  • Social media RFP: Social Media RFP is intended for social media marketing or management agencies to help showcase and increase brand engagement on social media networks like LinkedIn.
  • Branding RFP: Branding RFP is for branding agencies to help your organization build brand guidelines and expectations. Agencies can also help you create branding content such as logos and customized slide decks.
  • Design RFP: Design RFP is for graphic artists to aid in website enhancement or the development of visual materials 
  • Website RFP:Website RFP is for web developers to lead website development or enhancement.
  • Workplace RFP: Workplace RFP is for senior leadership to bring in technology to help offices operate more efficiently on behalf of employees.
  • Public relations RFP: PR RFP is for a PR firm with the distribution strategy of press releases and trademark protection.
  • Government and non-profits RFP: Government and non-profit RFP is for government agencies or non-profits looking to contract external organizations to carry out projects such as domestic social improvement or international gender relations.

75%

of proposal teams with fully-adopted technology in place always finish their bids on time.

Source: RFP 360

There are also other types of requests either before or after the proposal process. It’s not mandatory to complete each of the following steps, but these can widely help organizations in their overall decision-making process.

Types of RFx - request for x

RFx is an industry acronym that covers all documents that fall under the "request for" category. 

What is RFx?

RFx is an acronym (a collective term) used for "request" documents in a procurement process: Request for proposal (RFP), request for information (RFI), request for quotation (RFQ), request for tender (RFT), and so on. It stands for request for x.

Request for information

A request for information or an RFI helps organizations or teams that need additional information on a proposal before they are sure what to look for. It’s also referred to as an expression of interest (EOI).

An RFI sometimes indicates that stakeholders are on the verge of buying these external services and need more details or information before deciding. For this reason, vendors may not put as much effort into providing the information as they would into drafting a proposal.

While information can be critical to your business in determining which direction a project should go, you may also want vendors to feel that their time is being used wisely. Consider beginning with your research and issuing an RFI for something you just can't figure out on your own.

Request for proposal

Sounds familiar? A request for proposal is what we've been talking about the whole time. After receiving the information you needed, it's time to send out those RFPs. These are also often referred to as RFOs or requests for offers. Don't be confused if you see the two swapped during your research or solicitation process.

RFPs indicate that you're looking for submissions to find a solution to your business problem. Because RFPs are more actionable than RFIs, vendors may feel more incentive to respond to the RFPs. When you are ready to send out an RFP, be sure that you are willing and able to invest money in the project as an organization.

Request for quote

If numbers are the only thing keeping you from hiring a vendor, submit a request for quotation (RFQ). This is a document stating, "I know what I want. I'm committed to investing in this project. All I need to know is how much you would charge for it."  

Request for tender

request for tender, also referred to as a request for invitation, is more common about government projects or proposals. An RFT serves the same purpose as an RFQ and indicates that a stakeholder is confident in their decision to purchase their goods and services. 

RFP vs RFQ vs RFI

How to prepare to write an RFP?

Writing is not everyone's forte, and some people can get lost or overwhelmed with the words. For this reason, it's essential to start making plans before the writing process even begins. 

Drafting the proposal can be easier with effective strategies. Being unprepared can lead to a great deal of scrutiny and the need to review or reevaluate parts of the proposal. You have to remember that the quality of your request could affect a potential candidate's interest. 

If you want to receive positive attention and feedback, follow these six crucial steps before submitting the RFP. During this process, take plenty of notes, share ideas, and develop a group mind for what your RFP should include.

Select the right team

We discussed briefly that a big part of writing a quality RFP has the right people in your team. What's worse than knowing that someone unaware of your needs is in control of documenting project expectations and guidelines?

An RFP can be created by one person or led by a team. This depends on the nature of your business, project, and budget. If your company has ten employees, you probably don't want seven of them to spend days on this document. However, if you have a larger company, you may use a whole team to handle your RFP quality.

You may also want employees across departments to participate in document creation. Although the marketing team might lead a project, it can also impact sales or development.

If a marketing team is outsourcing new marketing material, that content can enhance sales pitches. Your company can also benefit from assigning employees with different roles to process the RFP.

Determine goals and measurements of success

What does your team want from this project? Perhaps you're hoping to contract a successful marketing agency to help you build an effective Facebook ad campaign. 

How will your team determine your definition of an effective campaign? Through developed leads, clicks that drive traffic back to your main website, or through total return on investment (ROI)?

Don't write an RFP unless you know how to measure the project's success. Approaching business ventures without clear expectations or goals is an excellent way to waste your money and effort. 

Even a seemingly insignificant project as restoring your office's floors should have clearly defined goals, such as completing the project within a strict timeline and under a specific budget.

Determine project requirements

A project's requirements are the specific steps or expectations that’ll help your organization meet its goals. 

Suppose you hire an agency to redesign your website. Do you have a platform to design the website on, or do they need to find one for you? Will you provide them with the design equipment, or will they have to use their gear?

These are just a few examples of things to consider when setting expectations. This ensures that you get the most qualified candidates in response. 

Build a timeline

Planning, writing, and sending RFPs can endlessly unless you have a realistic and strict timeline. Building a timeline involves communication between two separate entities. 

The stakeholders prepare the RFP, and the vendors are expected to respond with their suggestions. Failure to provide clear expectations about the due date of proposals will unnecessarily prolong the process.

Here are ten steps in the RFP process that should be considered when creating a timeline:

Important steps in the RFP process

Outlining a clear RFP can be a challenging process. Follow these ten steps to simplify the RFP process: 

  1. Request for information if necessary
  2. Determine and finalize requirements and authors
  3. Write the first and final drafts of the RFP
  4. Issue the RFP to desired candidates
  5. Wait for candidates to express their intention to respond if interested
  6. Set the deadline for completed submissions
  7. Compare and rate the completed RFPs
  8. Negotiate demos or issues of an inquiry
  9. Make a final decision and communicate it to your team
  10. Record the project timeline for future reference

Know your budget  

People don't want to work for free, and they don't want to work for less than what their time is worth. You may be submitting an RFP for something that you have no previous experience with.

For example, maybe you're submitting an RFP to PR firms, but you've never had any dealings with press releases up until now. A few of your options are doing independent research or submitting a request for information that might include financial details.

While budget may not be the first aspect of your communication with a provider, it will show up at some point. It’s your job to be well informed about industry standards and what your company can offer. This will ensure you are neither under nor overpaid and can seal the deal with the perfect candidate.

Determine your wants vs. needs

This step plays a huge role in setting your budget. Let's revisit the example of an office renovating its floor. The company has carpet floored for years but is now considering hardwood. They want hardwood flooring because of its sleeker look and ability to impress visitors. However, this company constantly moves furniture, rolls around marketing materials, and receives heavy packages on dollies.

With this in mind, hardwood floors can be damaged faster than carpets or tiles. In this case, wooden floors are a shortcoming while carpeting or tiles are a need. Assessing wants and needs not only ensures that you are paying for the right product or service, but it’s also a great way to ensure that you’re making the best long-term decision.

Although you haven't started working on the actual RFP yet, you now have a pretty good idea of what you're trying to explain. You shared your thoughts on your goals and requirements and what you're looking for in a winning candidate. The pre-RFP phase’s goal is to get everyone on the same page and have a clear vision of where you're going.

“Project management can be defined as a way of developing structure in a complex project, where the independent variables of time, cost, resources, and human behavior come together.”

Rory Burke
Founder, Burke Publishing

How to write an RFP

To make a strong case for why a vendor wants to work with you, you need to write the RFP in a compelling format.

The steps to writing an RFP might sound similar to writing a resume or a CV. While no two RFPs look precisely alike, vendors must recognize your document as an RFP and easily understand how to navigate it.

Elements of an RFP

RFP elements form the core of RFP. Together, these basic elements make up a comprehensive and effective proposal. Let's discuss these important elements of RFP in detail.

Project overview

Your RFP must start with a project outline, also known as a summary or background. It’s an introduction to your problem and a request for qualified help. The project overview briefly states what your company is looking for and why. If you so choose, the project overview may also include some facts about your company.

When seeking creative help, an agency needs to understand a little about your company's history, the general sentiment, and the clientele. A project overview will help agencies determine if they’re the best fit for the job.

Proposal length

Sources say your proposal should be as brief as possible and include all the relevant information. There is no reason to waste your contacts' time getting poetic or absorbing excessive narration.

Although it can be a few more pages long, be prepared that these pages only contain information that you need to know. These elements should be listed and numbered as headers. All the information under these headers should be in paragraph format.

Fact: On average, a public sector RFP is 116 pages long and a resulting proposal is 144 pages.

Proposal guidelines

Here you explain to the vendors what you’re looking for. Would you like to see examples of their work? Would you like to see case studies in which they helped organizations like you achieve their goals? Or would you want them to include the forecast cost in their proposal?

This is also an excellent time to set a deadline, so vendors know when to submit this information. Your policy scope allows you to communicate expectations so that the vendors can come up with a proposal based on your needs.

Project description and requirements

This section allows you to detail your project's purpose and the problems you’d like a vendor to solve. Think of this as a consultation with a doctor. This is where you can outline your negative symptoms and discuss how you’d feel better.

As in any medical field, it’s much easier to find a solution when patients can communicate their symptoms. Similarly, here you tell the vendors, "This is what you need to do."

If we look again at the new flooring example, one phrase might be: "The finished wood floors will be sanded, sealed, and stained before completing this project." If a flooring company doesn't have the right equipment to perform all of these steps, they know they don't need to apply for the project.

Project deliverables and scope

This part of the RFP lets you write in a list or bullet point anything you want to achieve with this partnership. This section explains what you’re paying the provider for and what they are expected to deliver.  Here are the criteria that a winner must consider when working on your project. 

Suppose you’re writing an RFP for tenders to a public relations agency, hoping they will help you distribute press releases for a recent round of funding.

The expected RFP deliverables should be as follows:

  • Developing branded, engaging press releases announcing and detailing our company's latest Series C funding
  • Distributing press releases to news sources and our list of corporate contacts
  • Obtaining interviews and other news opportunities related to this announcement

Naming these results is important as candidates need to be confident that they can deliver well. If you’re a press release agency that distributes the documents and then moves on, you’re not suitable for an organization that needs help attracting long-term media attention.

This is also a good place to include quantifiable expectations. For example, if you hire a marketing agency to create an advertising campaign, you have goals outside of the campaign’s creation. You may want a specific click-through rate or the number of leads converted, or a return on investment.

While the agency may not have complete control over these goals, it’s essential to include them in the RFP. This way, if these goals are entirely missed after the project is completed, the agency has a clear understanding of why they should not be used again. By outlining these quantifiable goals, your vendor can develop strategies that are more likely to help you achieve those goals.

RFP timeline

The RFP process can easily drag on if you don't communicate your timeline carefully. Do you remember that long list of steps involved in the RFP process? Imagine each of these steps exceeding the intended timeline. What you were hoping to be completed in one to three months would turn into a six-month process.

Your RFP should contain a few different deadlines. Here are some important RFP dates to pre-share with vendors:

  • Proposal deadline: The final date for vendors to consider and respond to proposals.
  • Evaluation window: Usually an evaluation process time window between which the stakeholders evaluate proposals. Vendors should know that no decision has been made during this period. This is also a timeline where stakeholders can still reach out to vendors for additional information if they don't have what they need to decide.
  • Selection deadline: The selection deadline is when providers are informed of their success in acquiring the desired project’s responsibility.
  • Negotiation deadline: Negotiations may take some time to go back and forth. Set a deadline instead of a day. Send your first draft contract to the selected provider as soon as possible and let them know the date by which you must have it concluded.

    Avoid using language that implies your timeline is fixed. You and your chosen vendor have done a lot of work to get this far. Ensure the ball is going fast by safely telling them how long you'll be willing to negotiate the details.
  • Deadline for notifying unselected bidders: This is a deadline that stakeholders should meet. If you don't let the vendors know of your decision on the day you promised, you might be bombarded with phone calls and emails asking for your final decision.

    Furthermore, missing your deadlines is a breach of trust that starts your project off on a bad note. If you fail to meet your deadlines, send the okay for others not to meet them either. This corresponds to the selection period. Winners and unselected bidders should receive responses on the days they were promised as this shows respect for their time and energy put into the project.
  • Timeline for project completion: These are the dates on which the stakeholders hope to see the project’s activities. This timeline can include different phases: Setup, initiation, planning, and completion.

    If you’re unsure of how long it should take a professional team to complete your project, you have the flexibility to extend the deadline for completion. In the early stages of the project, ask your supplier or bidder for their estimates and set the intended deadlines accordingly.

It's easy to get overwhelmed when you think about this process. The details of the above timeline seem as detailed as a newborn's feeding schedule and almost as essential to get right. But with a competent and knowledgeable team at the helm of this ship, it won't be as difficult to formulate a reasonable schedule and take less time to complete a project.

Start at the very beginning. After determining a start date, you can take it a step at a time, reasonably considering how long each part of the process should take.

The good news is that you won't be the first organization to complete an RFP. If you're struggling to set a timeline, reach out to other teams or organizations and see how they put their dates and whether their timelines were actionable. Every process will be different, but asking around can't hurt!

RFP budget

This is not a mandatory item to include right away, but it can help speed up processes. You shouldn't necessarily indicate your budget for the project but rather ask bidders to provide a detailed estimate of their services cost. For which services would the bidder expect payment? Is the price a one-time payment, or is it repeated every week, two weeks, or every month?

Since budget is a massive factor in the bidder, your team or organization selects, make it clear that you want to understand every part of the cost. If price is important to you, then communicate the first time you need to know all of the costs involved.

Work examples

This step is pretty self-explanatory. Before deciding which team or company to choose to achieve your goals, it’s essential to know what work they’ve done in the past. 

While this section of the RFP is optional, it provides an opportunity to request examples and success stories in submitted proposals. By looking at different instances, you can determine whether a particular company can deliver your work’s style or quality.

Tip: Examples are not the same as specified work that the vendors will do for you. In many artistic or digital service industries, asking someone to work for free is frowned upon.

If a vendor’s examples aren't enough to get an idea of the work they can do, consider paying for samples rather than expecting the work to be free.

Selection criteria

Finally, bidders should know what you’re evaluating their proposals for. Think of this as your rubric, something for them to follow to the letter if they expect your serious consideration. Will you rate bidders based on their experience or previous work? Is the cost a significant factor? Would you like bidders to be experts in their industry with a lot of technical knowledge and skills?

Like the qualifications, the selection process and criteria should also be bulleted. This doesn't have to be a word-for-word repetition of the things you've already said, but a reminder that the requirements you list play a huge role in your decision-making process.

For example, a selection criterion for a marketing agency could include:

Work Experience: The time a bidder has spent in the marketing industry influences our evaluation of the right candidate.

The selection criteria section is an excellent time to set the deadline again. This underlines your prioritization of punctuality and the desire to get the ball rolling quickly.

Contact information

There's no point doing any of your work if you don't provide information to submit. Ensure that the end of your RFP offers a way for bidders to send you their proposals, whether it's an email for digital copies or an address for hard copies.

Sample RFP questions

We've talked a lot about setting your goals and choosing a knowledgeable team that knows what questions to ask in the RFP. But what do we mean by that? What questions should you ask the bidders?

While the answer will vary from genre to genre or from industry to industry - think marketing, PR, and government RFPs - there are still some questions that can be used regardless of the industry. Below are some examples of questions that you can include on your RFP that, when answered, will provide a broader view of the bidders you are looking to hire.

Why should I choose you, and what would you bring to the table?

Is there anything more frustrating than holding the hand of someone you thought was qualified to get started on a project of their own?

When you've decided to outsource a project or business, you want someone else to take on much of the responsibility and the burden of creativity. It could be very beneficial for your team to inquire about a bidder's motivation and how they intend to think critically about your project.

You shouldn't expect from a bidder that they have your entire project planned in their response to your tender. Until you pay someone for their work, they’re under no obligation to create plans or products for you.

This question is more of an interview-style question aimed at searching your brain for general skills and a willingness to go beyond the standard "This is my resume” answer.

What qualifies you for work in this industry, for our company?

Before submitting an RFP to any agency, you should already be reasonably confident that they’re qualified to complete your project. With this question, you’re not asking them to show you a certificate or their master’s degree. They don't have to prove themselves to be professionals.

Moreso, you want to be sure that they understand the type of project you’re hiring them for and that they’re a good fit for your culture and expectations. A bidder can have all of the world awards and still not really "get" what you ask of them because of a difference in vision or personality.

Just like when interviewing an applicant, the winning agency or organization should match a good culture. Ask about their strategies or philosophy about design (if your project is design-driven) and other questions that positively impact how they’ll work with you.

Which employees or team members would help us on this project?

Everyone knows that projects are often about people. Who you have on your side could make or break the project. In your RFP, ask who meets your requirements and influences your goals.

It's like going to a new salon and choosing a stylist. Do you want a beginner whose price is slightly reduced, or do you want a master stylist for a higher price? 

This is not necessarily the strategy companies use when making proposals. Still, the idea is the same: Will you be able to work with more knowledgeable people, or will they assign you someone new and not as experienced? 

Sometimes highly talented people are overlooked because they’re just starting. That’s why requesting samples is an effective way to determine skills. Rather than judging a team or employee by their tenure in a company, check to see if they've done work that you respect and admire.

Writing an RFP is a multi-faceted process that feels like writing your thesis. It shouldn’t be complex, especially when you have a competent team to manage it with you.

Just take it one step at a time and delegate the work to a place where it’s evenly distributed among team members. In this way, nothing is left out or forgotten, and no employee feels burdened with the weight of the entire document.

If you work alone, that's fine too. Develop your timeline early on, and then take it one step and one day at a time.

“Collaboration is the best way to work. It’s the only way to work, really. Everyone’s there because they have a set of skills to offer across the board.”

Antony Starr
Actor, The Boys

Distributing your RFP

So you've come this far. A dedicated team has identified your company's project requirements, and you have shared your RFP goals. You later decide on a schedule for several project elements and reevaluate your proposal before distributing it. What now?

An essential step in distributing your RFP is creating a recipient list. You should carefully compile this list to get the "sweet spot" number of responses. Some people believe that sending an RFP to too many recipients is detrimental to the process because few teams have the time or resources to sort through numerous responses. 

According to Computerworld, it's much better to do independent research and reach out to contacts who are likely to send back the best answers or companies that you already believe will be a good fit for you.

Another thing to consider is to respect bidders by not luring them with RFPs that you don't want to select them for. While a suggestion is a chance for them to prove themselves and their skills, you should also play fair.

Don't send RFPs to 12 different organizations when you only have four in mind. Some companies want to know in advance their chances of winning and may decline the submission if the odds seem low. 

In that regard, sending RFPs to too many companies has already limited your potential responses. As for deciding who to send your RFP to, there are many ways:

Proposal deadline

You have a network of professionals who’ve likely gone through similar processes of outsourcing website design, marketing campaigns, or documenting press releases. Ask around! When companies have good experiences, they’re happy to share them with their networks.

Likewise, your network can keep you from bidders who notoriously fail to keep their promises. Word of mouth is an effective advertising tool that you don't even have to pay for. 

Use the people you know to determine who they know and decipher whether their previously hired staff might be a good fit for your project and needs.

Research

You have already hired a competent and knowledgeable team or part of this team to oversee the proposal’s creation. Why don't you trust them to investigate where to send the RFPs? 

There is no such thing as a perfect formula. All you need to do is find a few agencies or potential vendors who feel they have already excelled in your project genre and send them a bid.

Additionally, websites like G2.com have a list of service agencies with verified customer reviews that can help you narrow down your options. Service agencies are often limited by location. So make sure you limit your search or options to organizations that can serve your area.

Contacts

Working in your industry has undoubtedly led you to meet people at launch parties, networking events, webinars or professional conferences. Search your pile of collected business cards to see if any of the people who impressed you are in the industry you need help with.

Browsing through contact books can help find options for people you have already met and maybe more comfortable working with. Even if these contacts don't end up working for you, they may have connections of their own, which links back to the "recommendation" genre.

The physical distribution of the RFP is up to your wishes. It's a digital age, and many companies expect communications to fall in that direction. Because of this, it’s acceptable to distribute the RFP via email or some other file storage and sharing solution. You can safely deploy it so the recipient can't make changes, and it's also securely hidden from external viewers.

While your RFP is not the most sensitive documentation you have, it’s confidential information that doesn’t need to be shared with external contacts. Keep your plans private, so there aren't any interruptions, setbacks, or unsolicited proposals.

Snail mail is an acceptable way of distributing RFPs. However, think about the reason it's called "snail mail": it's a slower way of doing business. Sending physical copies increases delivery times and, by default, can delay delivery or other processes.

However, this method has its advantages. Some believe that snail mail is even more personal and that a physical copy of your RFP gets directly into your recipient’s hands. You can also use this method to send your RFPs to candidates. However, you either need to speed up the package or accept a longer process.

RFP deciding factors

A kid in a candy store has no idea where to start. They want Rolos and Smarties, chocolate turtles, and caramel taffy. They were so overwhelmed by the options they’re either cluttered or frozen from indecision.

If you decide on a proposal, you don't want to feel like this kid. You want to have a strategy and feel ready to have several viable options.

Just like when deciding on a candidate, you may have suggestions that make choosing quite tricky. This means that you have delivered a compelling RFP that not only inspired candidates to apply but also sent a quality proposal back to you.

With a bit of preparation and trust in the process, distributing an RFP doesn't have to be a scary process. Here are a few factors that should help you make up the bulk of your RFP assessment process and choose the right bidder.

Compliance

By searching for compliance proposals, you can make decisions quickly. This step asks, "Have you done what I asked? Are you qualified in the manner we requested? Is your budget somewhere within our capabilities?"

This step is precious when you have a large number of proposals to complete. If a large-scale proposal doesn’t meet the requirements, then you have a good idea that this bidder is not suitable for your needs.

Granted, you should show a bidder the same respect they showed you when applying for the position. Don't just skim over their hard work and mark red Xs on each side. Mark it as non-compliant after carefully reviewing the documentation. Also, write down your reasons in case they come up in later conversations.

Evaluation and scoring

Now that you've got rid of some suggestions that don't meet the requirements, it's time to evaluate and rate the rest. 

Assessment is difficult. You want to use your staff or team's time wisely while ensuring that every suggestion is carefully considered. Below are a few assessment strategies that you can use to streamline this process.

The split up

If your team has standard criteria and everyone understands what a good proposal looks like, you can ask them to split the work and accept a few bids at a time.

You can set up a meeting where each employee speaks up for or against the suggestions they've evaluated and gives the entire team an idea of what has been submitted.

 One problem with this is a suggestion that sounds bad to one employee can sound great to another. The aim is to judge according to the standard criteria mentioned above.

When each employee looks at these suggestions objectively, they should communicate their merits in a professional, factual format. 

Standardized training or shadowing is a great way to get your employees on the same page. Trained staff with a detailed rubric will lead to more coherent results.

Share and score

With this strategy, team members are assigned sections of each proposal they read and compare. For example, a team member can be set to rate each "experience" section. If there are five suggestions to be examined, all five experience sections are assessed, and notes are made for each.

You would then order the sections using a given rating system. Different team members would do this for each section. At the end of the evaluation, each proposal would have multiple ratings that you could add together to determine a total.

35%

of RFP proposal scores lack consensus.

Source: RFP360

This number serves as a grade and shows stakeholders how various suggestions, based on employee reviews, meet their standards. This also allows employers to become experts on the different parts and compare apples to apples on a micro-scale.

Multiple eyes 

This strategy is best for organizations that have limited their choices to a few suggestions. Have each team member review each request and take notes of their impressions for maximum visibility.

This is the most time-consuming option, but it also ensures that everyone with decision-making authority sees every suggestion.

The scoring doesn’t only have to be present in the standard strategy. Creating a scoring system for scoring proposals of any kind can help your team get opinions out of the process and use an objective scoring system instead. Decide what you value most and give these sections the most significant weight.

For example, if someone's experience is paramount to your team, rate them at 30 points, while you might place a bidder's samples or price projections at 10 points. This is just a suggestion and will change depending on what is vital to your organization or business project.

Shortlisting

In the RFP process, a shortlist is a narrowed-down group of bidders that your organization has determined are suitable for further consideration or negotiation.

The shortlist is sometimes created after submitting an RFI, while other organizations create their shortlist after the review or assessment process is complete.

Once your team has carefully worked through the submissions, you can select the candidates you want to review further. These are your contact points or your shortlist.

Negotiations

You may have narrowed your selection down to two bidders, but you’re curious to see if you can negotiate on price or schedule. This will be one of your last windows to do this. Once you have decided on a bidder, it means that you’re happy with many of the details listed in their offer.

Granted, you can negotiate at any time during the contract development process. However, the bidder knows that they have been selected at this point and may not be so willing to change specific terms or agreements. 

While you should never take advantage of the people vying for your business, this is an excellent time to assess their flexibility before deciding.

If determinations prevent you from deciding between your final options, take this time to ask additional questions. Obtaining more clarity about details can only help both business partners.

In some cases, you can invite bidders to submit a Best and Final Offer (BAFO) that includes the details of their technical and financial proposals. This step is optional and precedes the contract negotiation. 

A BAFO can be used as a tiebreaker or as an opportunity for bidders to re-address unclear proposals. Essentially, when the submitted suggestions are insufficient for a stakeholder to make a decision, BAFOs can be requested.

Don't invite every bidder to submit a BAFO unless you’re still considering every bidder. BAFOs are requested late in the decision-making process and are only proposed to further convince you of a bidder's desire and ability to win your project. BAFOs are treated as an additional proposal and are rated and rated similarly.

Responses

It's the moment everyone has been waiting for. You are ready to let your contacts know of the final decision. The original RFP is a blur in the depths of your mind. Your dreams have been filled with suggestions for days.

Every working meeting revolved around bidders and negotiations, as well as quotes and information, but now it's done. You are ready to share the selected winners and thank all other contestants for their hard work.

As discussed in the timeline section, you may want to leave a window of time between informing your winning bidder and sending rejection notifications. 

After picking a winner, you still have contract negotiations and documents to sign before everything is official. Leaving that window of time allows for error and lets you regroup if things fall through with your first choice.

When notifying your winner, you’ll need to provide a schedule and expectations for contract negotiations. If the organization is local, decide whether to negotiate digitally or in person. 

Give them some time to accept or decline the opportunity and, once accepted, start conversations about when to get the ball rolling. You can find the dates in your given timeline.

Out of five, maybe ten proposals, you have narrowed your options to one, which means you have multiple bidders to hear their rejection. You mustn’t slack off for fear of an awkward conversation.

You and your bidders have come a long way together and deserve a respectful and, if possible, personalized rejection! 

Here are some tips on how to easily let down rejected bidders whose services you may want in the future:

  • Send emails individually. This is not the stage to start sending bulk emails. Sending a personalized email would ensure the bidders that you took time to consider their bids.
  • Use names. When you address the email with a company, or better yet, a person's name, your investment in that candidate and process becomes further apparent. While parts of the email can be a template response, it takes a few seconds to add a name or two.

    Provide some explanation while maintaining privacy if necessary. This organization has been fighting for your attention and business, and you may have communicated and negotiated a lot. Now is not the time to say, "We have gone in a different direction." The chances are that the bidder would want to know exactly why they were not selected. So it's okay to address that in this first email.
  • Reiterate your thanks. The bidders have invested hours, or maybe weeks, developing a proposal and communicating it to you. Try not to sound generic or mechanical. Let the bidders know how much you appreciate their hard work and efforts.

Now that you have spent so much time finding the perfect candidate instruct them to get started on the project and deliver what they promised.

After evaluations, decisions, and negotiations, the project is mainly out of your hands. You have hired a qualified candidate to take your vision forward. Your job now is to receive and evaluate updates and to push your winner to stay on schedule.

RFP software

Forms automation

Perhaps you are endlessly writing these long documents, wondering if there’s any way to speed things up and stop focusing on the mechanical parts of the RFP process. An excellent tool to help you in this process is a forms automation solution. 

You can customize built-in templates to create robust RFPs. A forms automation solution is also helpful in contract negotiation as it can help you develop contracts or other documentation for sales.

Proposal software 

Proposal software is aimed at the bidders who respond to your RFPs. Many bid management tools can generate automated RFP responses by reading your document and gathering the necessary pieces, usually taken from the company's portfolio.

Using proposal software doesn’t necessarily mean that a company hasn’t made an effort in its submissions. While the tool formats a proposal, your team will often review it to ensure everything looks good.

Investing in proposal software is a testament to a company's commitment to delivering instead of submissions.

RFP expert tips and best practices

Putting together your first RFP can be daunting, but everyone has to start somewhere. Even the most seasoned RFP professionals face the same challenge as you.

Fortunately, we can use these expert tips and best practices to help beginners tackle their first RFP. Here are five RFP expert tips and best practices for beginners:

1. Don't forget to build relationships

“At the end of the day, my one piece of advice is work to try and form a relationship as opposed to spending hours on strategy for the RFP.

The very first account we ever landed took nearly four months of reviews, meetings, presentations, and back-and-forth dialogue before we secured the account. And while it seemed like a massive win for the company, we wound up barely breaking even after we accounted for all the hours put into the project.

Admittedly this is easier said than done, and you can't always avoid the RFP process, but I started sending handwritten notes to the folks involved when we were lucky enough to be included in the RFP process. 

The note would typically further introduce them to our firm, invite them for coffee or a quick meeting to discuss their needs, and thank them for thinking of the firm. 

I found that our most successful accounts started with this process as opposed to completing a formal RFP as we had the opportunity to meet two to three times and form a relationship as opposed to the relatively cold RFP that every firm can create."

2. Be prepared to define RFP objectives accurately

"I remember being in charge of my first RFP. It was a nightmare. Even when I didn't think I was fully prepared, and looking back, I realize I wasn't prepared AT ALL.

My number one tip for an RFP is that you're doing it to achieve something - and the better you can describe what you're trying to reach, the more likely you are to make an apples-to-apples comparison between vendors or partners.

If you leave things too broad, it becomes almost impossible to compare options equally, and you're almost certainly going to make a less informed choice. 

It's the number one reason we see projects have budget or scope issues, is because the objective gets refined throughout the engagement rather than being defined adequately from the start."

3. Review the RFP requirements

"Review the RFP requirements and instructions with a fine-tooth comb and review it often. Frequently, people have their RFP rejected or disqualified for missing one minor condition. Remember that the entity releasing the RFP will receive a lot of responses.

One of the first things they will do is scan to make sure all requirements are met. This is a way to help them eliminate and reduce the number of RFPs they have to review. You don't want all of those hours of hard work to be for not."

4. Know the difference between RFP, RFQ, and RFI

"Before getting started, make sure you are clear on the purpose of the RFP and if it is needed versus an RFQ or RFI:

  • An RFP is a more formal approach when sourcing a specific spend category (service or product) to gain insight into qualitative and quantitative aspects of what the market has to offer and who is offering it.
  • An RFQ is used when pricing is the driver of your decision versus the supplier service offering (although still an important factor).
  • An RFI helps with fact-finding about which suppliers may be viable to fulfill your requirement and should be considered during other sourcing activities, such as an RFP.

When developing an RFP, the documentation should not be over complicated; it should provide enough detail on who the customer is, what the need is, and provide specific instructions and participants’ expectations. If the request is explicit and to the point, responses should allow for more informed decisions to be made."

5. Communicate and automate RFP

"Communication is key. To have a successful RFP, it is important to share honest, relevant vendor information regarding your priorities with potential clients. Establishing open lines of communication will improve efficiency and foster fruitful, long-term relationships.

Automating the RFP process saves time for everyone involved. With automated RFPs instead of manual RFPs, you can send vendors’ requests and receive bids within just a few clicks. When you're ready to evaluate your bids, they are automatically collected and organized in real-time."

RFP templates

You are not the only organization writing an RFP, and you’re not alone if you need help understanding its functionalities! There are resources designed to help you better understand and carry out this process. Download our free RFP template to streamline your RFP process and build a successful RFP.

Download RFP Template

You can also learn from some online RFP samples, like this one created by the New York State Urban Development Corporation.

You're ready for your first RFP!

We've covered a lot together until now. You learned the basics of RFPs, types of RFPs, writing an RFP, distributing an RFP, and scoring a response to an RFP.

You built your field, distributed your area, and evaluated your domain’s responses. You did more than Kevin Costner dreamed of. You should be proud of everything you have achieved and learned.

A daunting RFP process now feels manageable and accessible. There’s no reason why it should be scary or challenging anymore. So go ahead and get started with your first RFP.

Gain a new perspective on your team and clients during the RFP process with CRM analytics.

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