To start writing an RFP, you need to know the basic steps you need to follow and the best way to structure your document. If you are new to this RFP writing process world, it might be difficult to find the starting point.
That’s why we have identified this issue, and here we bring you the five most important tips you should apply if you want to complete the writing process. But first, let’s start by explaining what the RFP is.
What Is RFP?
To write an RFP, first, you need to know what RFP is. RFP or a request for proposal is a type of business document where one company (the issuer) states the problem they are facing and uses the RFP to request the vendors to send their information on how the problem can be solved.
This problem can be regarding finishing a certain project, or maybe the issuer needs to purchase concrete equipment which is very expensive or unique. Nevertheless, the vendors can identify the company's issue and offer their solution based on that.
RFP is a very comprehensive document, meaning that it does contain information about the company and the project itself in detail. The details are necessary because the goal is to explain everything so that the vendor can have a clear image of what is going on.
If the information from the RFP is very vague, the vendor will not be able to understand all the circumstances, and his solution may not be viable.
Every RFP needs to have at least the following:
Introduction - this section is all about explaining what has led to the situation the company is now in
Project description - the most important part, where you are explaining the core of the project and what are you going, and what you want to achieve
Timeline - the pace you’d like the project to move forward
Criteria - based on what you will evaluate and score the submitted proposals - it is important to mention them because that way, you will avoid low-quality vendors from applying
Budget - it is also good to mention what is your budget for that project so that the vendor can see whether he can fit in
Proposal elements - list all the details you’d like to see in the proposals
Submission deadline - what is the last date the proposals can be sent
Of course, this is not a definite list. Different experts have different ideas of what should be included in the project, and there is no one ultimate you need to follow. You need to listen to the requirements of your own companies, and that is why you should abide by them.
The whole process of writing and finishing the RFP can be summarized into the following steps:
Research and collection of all necessary information and data - in this stage, you need to collect every data that is going to be relevant later on when you start writing the RFP.
Drafting the document and publishing it - here, you need to finish writing the RFP and publish it on your website or via any other channel of communication that you are using.
The first round of evaluation will check which vendors are meeting the general requirements you have predetermined as your evaluation criteria.
Shortlisted candidates - after the first round of evaluation, you should be left with 2-4 candidates. To make the final judgment, you should invite the shortlisted vendors to hold a presentation of their proposal, so you can have a better image of what they had in mind, and you can also create an impression of their way of communication (if they seem rather very closed and not cooperative, you will likely have problems with them in the future, once you start working on the project).
The second round of evaluation and final decision - here, you will need to compare the vendors and their proposals based on some in-depth analysis, meaning that you will need to analyze tiny details and determine each vendor’s competitive advantage. Again, this will make it easier for you to make the final decision.
Signing the contract - after the decision is made, all that is left is to complete the formalities, and sign the contract, so you can officially begin to cooperate on the project.
How to Write a Good RFP?
The quality of the responses you will receive from potential vendors depends on the quality of the RFP. When the RFP is well-written, where everything is nicely explained so that the vendors are left without any doubts, you can expect to receive some good responses.
On the contrary, if you leave many vague areas in the RFP, being afraid of revealing too much information, then the quality of the RFPs will be lower since the vendors will not understand the issue you are facing.
To write the best possible RFP, here we bring you a list of five tips that can help you craft a better RFP that will have a much higher success rate.
Tip no 1 - Collaboration
Writing an RFP is a very time-consuming process, and it is not meant to be completed by one person only. Of course, a project manager or a procurement manager will be in charge of the whole process. Still, the actual drafting and writing are done in collaboration with many different stakeholders.
The first team you’ll need to include in the whole process is the team that will actually use the equipment you want to buy or is facing the challenge you aim to solve. The RFP is problem-solving oriented, but
Collaborating with the sector directly involved in the challenge will help you determine the features the solutions must contain and the features that are nice to have. The difference between these two is that you cannot make compromises with the first one, while with the second one, you can drop some of the requirements from the list.
Besides this, you will need to include people from all other sectors that will benefit or impact this solution. For example, if you’re planning to implement a new automation process system in the warehouse, you will need to include the sales team, purchasing team, and the warehouse team primarily because they will be in direct contact with the software every day.
Besides them, you will need to include the IT department because they will be in maintenance. The legal department may also be included because the implementation of such software usually requires the company to obtain licenses and pay several legal fees. In the end, you’d have to include the finance department and the CFO, who will have the final word on the ROI (return on investment) of such a project.
It might seem that involving all these departments at such an early stage is unnecessary, but it is essential to do it like this because then you will have set a solid ground of what to look for and what everyone can expect for the future.
Tip no 2 - Questions
An RFP is just like a living being - there are all different and unique. However, each RFP has some traits that are common for all RFPs. For example, the structure will be more or less the same; the evaluation process will be done in a similar matter, etc.
To clear some doubts you might have and to get more information from your vendors, it is a good idea to draft a list of questions and include them in the RFP itself. Of course, these questions can be individually crafted and adjusted to the specifics of your projects, but here are some of the standard questions, and you can see them repeated in every RFP:
Will there be a trial period? - This information is precious if you are purchasing something you cannot physically try and see before purchasing, like software, for example. Even if you are buying some specialized equipment, you want to know if there is a try-out period.
How will we deal with transition? - If you are making a major change in your company, for example, you are introducing a new ERP solution, the employees would like to know if there will be change management to guide them all through this process. It is important to highlight that there will be support for every employee and that you will also hold training to learn to use the software, etc. Knowing that they will not be left alone to deal with such a big change is vital if you want your employees to adopt the new practices very quickly.
Who will be the contact person? - The RFP process doesn’t end once the product or service has been delivered to you - sometimes, the most important thing is what comes afterward. If the vendor is not ready to offer you support after they sell you the product, or if they don’t let you know how you can in case you are having an issue, that should be a clear sign to avoid that vendor.
How will reclamations be solved? - The vendor should have this process predefined. If they don’t have the way they are dealing with reclamations, that is a red flag. Every well-organized system knows that some customers will come back to report some issue with the product itself. This is completely normal, and because of that, every prospective vendor has a good problem-solving system. Make sure that you are aware of the procedures before you seal the deal with the vendor. Post-sales is also an essential part of the purchasing process that many tend to overlook.
Do you provide training? - As aforementioned, if you are buying something particular, you would naturally require a trial and/or training period so that all your employees can get to know all the features very well.
Tip no 3 - It is not a simple process.
If you think that crafting a solution and sealing a deal with the vendor is a piece of cake, then you are very wrong. Sometimes the whole process can be done by issuing several RFX documents, and each of them has a different purpose. You can look at them like at a revere pyramid - you start from the top where the base is extensive, and you gradually proceed to the bottom where your one vendor and the solution will be found.
Here are some of the RFX documents you can use in this process, alongside their purpose:
RFI or request for information - this document is used first when you have an idea of a project, but you still haven’t had a chance to go into details - mostly because you don’t have the right information. For example, if you are entering a new market, you would use an RFI to see the current conditions on the market, how many competitors you have, their competitive advantages, etc.
RFP or request for proposal - you will use it once you have an objective you’d like to achieve, but you are unsure about the path you are supposed to take. That’s where the vendors come in handy because they are there to offer their solutions to your problem.
RFQ or request for qualifications - you will use it when you are unsure about several vendors and need further information before eliminating some of them.
RFQ or request for quotation - this document is supposed to be used at the end, when you have every single detail defined, so know you can look for the vendor who can provide the best price. RFQ is supposed to ask the vendors to provide their prices based on the described product and the requested quantities. However, the criteria for choosing the vendor should not be the lowest price but the best overall package - price, payment terms, and other terms and conditions.
If you are unsure what type of document you should issue, it is best to list every requirement you have, what you want to achieve, and what information you can offer to the vendors.
If this list is vague, you are probably just searching for the right information, and you should issue RFI. On the other hand, if you have a very detailed list of products alongside the quantities you need, then the RFQ is the document you should issue.
Tip no 4 - Transparency
If you want to get a clear answer from your vendors and receive high-quality proposals, you must be 100% open and transparent in the RFP. If you tend to hide certain information, then the vendors will not have a good image of the situation in your company and will not be able to offer the best solution.
Hiding information in the RFP may seem like something you should do - after all, most of the RFPs are public, and that means that even your competition can have an insight into what you are doing, what type of goods you need, in what quantity, how urgent is that for you, or what issue you are facing, etc.
However, if you hide information in the RFP that is crucial for the vendor to create a comprehensive image of the problem, they will not be able to craft the ideal solution. Also, if they estimate that you are hiding too much information, they may even drop from sending proposals.
Here are some crucial things about what you should be fully transparent:
General information and background - of course, you need to explain who you are, what do you do, what is your history, and what circumstances have led to the challenge you are facing now, so the vendor can have a good understanding of all the factors that have influenced the current situation.
Expected outcome and goals - you need to be fully transparent and clear about what you want to achieve with that project, when you expect it to be finished, etc.
Evaluation and scoring - you need to define and explain the key metrics and how the vendors’ proposals will be evaluated and scored. You need to be clear with this because the vendor can estimate whether he can or cannot win and decide on writing the proposal accordingly.
Tip no 5 - Customization
Many companies that issue many RFPs tend to create their own template to save some time on drafting the RFP. Unfortunately, this can easily lead you to the trap of forgetting to change something from the template, which can be confusing for the vendors.
The best is to create and draft each of the proposals individually. Still, if you cannot do that, you need to pay extra attention to making sure that you have changed and customized everything according to the current RFP requirements.
Also, these templates need to be updated from time to time, so make sure that every 4-6 months, you reevaluate the success rate of the RFPs and the templates as well. If there are things that need to be changed or updated - do so. However, don’t leave them outdated because that as well can mislead the vendors.
If the vendor finds the RFP too confusing due to the many parts that haven’t been customized and changed, he will not waste time drafting the proposal for you. That’s why you need to ensure that you double-check everything before you publish the RFP.
Once you evaluate the things that need to be changed, removed, or added to the RFP template, you can test it to see how it works. This is the only way to optimize your RFP template, so make sure to do it as often as the time allows you.
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