Writing an RFP or request for a proposal can be a very time-consuming process if you don’t know what you are doing. Since drafting an RFP can be very complicated, depending on the type of project in question, you may need a person who will coordinate the process from beginning to end, knowing all the technical requirements.
Sometimes this person is the procurement manager or an external bid consultant. However, no matter who is in charge of the process, there are some things you need to do to create the best possible conditions for creating an RFP. Here we bring you all of them in the form of a checklist, so it’s easier to follow all the steps.
1. Form a Team
Since writing an RFP is a very complicated thing to do on your own, several experts should be included in the process. These experts need the right amount of experience and expertise, including the procurement team, sales team, marketing team, finance team, and project management team.
The procurement team is there to define what are their specific needs and requirements. They will set up a base explaining what they need and why the RFP is being issued in the first place. When it comes to government institutions or government organizations, RFPs are usually issued because they need to purchase something, not solving a more theoretical problem.
The sales team should be included even if you are issuing an RFP because they know the conditions on the market, and they will help create criteria for the vendor selection. After all, the proposals you will get are a sales pitch, and who is better to evaluate those than the sales team?
The finance team, or the CFO, is there to calculate the financial aspect of the RFP - what is the budget, what is expected financial results, how big is the return on investment (ROI). Most of the proposals will have something similar included, and if you define the numbers from your end, it is easy to match expectations.
In the end, there must be one person who will be in charge of the whole project and who will keep track of all things that need to be done, as well as if others are meeting the deadlines, how are they moving forward with their part of the project, etc.
2. Define the Requirements
If you don’t set the requirements clearly and concisely, there will be confusion between the vendors, and the quality of proposals you get will not be great. This is why you need to sit down, make a list of all of your requirements and mention them very briefly.
Make sure not to leave out any important part of the requirement because that could be a possible issue later.
However, sometimes the requirements don’t have to be exactly written, especially if you are issuing an RFI. RFI or request for information is a type of document you will issue when you want to find out the current conditions on the market. In this case, you may not have some tangible requirements, but you will certainly have more descriptive ones.
When you are issuing an RFQ or requesting quotations, the requirements can be easily set and measured since usually. The main requirement would be the price you determine. You can set up a price level for a product above which you don’t want to go. Information gathers from the RFQ can help you in planning and budgeting.
3. Invite the Vendors
This step is only necessary if you have chosen to go with a closed or invited bid. In this type of bidding system, the proposal can be submitted only by the vendor who has received an invitation. These RFPs don’t go public, so you will have to narrow down the list of qualified vendors you want to invite to bid. Sometimes, if you feel a little bit lost in this process, you can use information gathered from the RFI to narrow down companies' choices and invite only those you liked to bid in the new bidding process.
Before any vendor even sees the RFP, it is a good idea to make them sign a non-disclosure agreement or an NDA. This is because in the RFP, you will be revealing some information about your business, and you don’t want that information to be used against you.
4. Ask What You Want to Know
Having good results in the RFP process can be very hard to achieve, especially if you don’t know how to correctly set up the vendors' questions. For example, if you want to find a way to evaluate all the proposals uniquely, make sure that you create a form of a template where you will be asking the vendors to answer certain questions.
Try to keep the answers closed, meaning that you will provide the choices, and the vendor has to choose one of them. However, leaving the questions in an open form sometimes can be very bad because there are no objective criteria to give a final evaluation of the answer.
Make sure to keep the questions short and clear, so you can avoid the vendors giving answers that are too long and that can become very theoretical, and in the end - useless.
5. Create Budget Template
Various stages of the project will require different costs and budgets. This is why it is a good idea to create a project/product/service breakdown list with some blank space for the vendors to fill in their estimation regarding the price or any particular additional fees they charge for their work.
This can be done in an Excel table, so it is easier to gather all the data later and analyze it. Project budget is something that is taken very seriously. However, there are always +/- 10% deviations from that final price, which are normal.
If you have a standardized table, you will save enormous time because all the vendors will enter the price. However, if you let the vendors do this task by their own choice, you will be left with many budget proposals that are not unified, and it will be tough to compare them.
6. Create a Timeline
The timeline you create here has two main purposes - to see how that specific project fits in your company’s schedule and to notify the potential vendors about the set deadlines and that they have to meet.
This project timeline should be a list of the following things:
The issuing date of the RFP is a starting point.
Window time for the vendors is when they can approach the issuer and ask any questions they might have about the RFP.
If the answers to those questions cannot be given on the spot, you need to mention a deadline for the answers.
When the bidding process ends.
How much time you are going to take to evaluate the proposals.
When are you going to announce who was chosen for a presentation of their proposal?
Date of the presentation.
When are you going to announce the winning bid?
Contract signing and the official starting date of the project are described in the RFP.
7. Prepare the Documents
If you are doing business in a particular industry, sometimes the government may have issued some specific rules regarding the RFP process a company needs to follow. This usually includes your business licenses, proof that you are not harming the environment, and other similar documentation.
All these documents need to be a part of the RFP you have issued, so make sure that you also include your legal department on this matter so that they can check and inform you what you need to have before you issue the RFP.
8. Ready, Set, Go!
Now that you have gathered all the necessary documents, comprised the requirements, and written the RFP, it is time to start the aforementioned timeline by publishing the RFP. However, as already said, the start date of the RFP doesn’t have to mean that the RFP needs to go public.
You can also choose the date you have sent the emails to your potential vendors as a start date. Either way, the most important thing is that now you can start tracking the progress of your project.
The first thing that will happen after this is that the vendors will approach you with questions regarding the RFP. This part needs to be public, meaning that the questions and answers need to be transparent and available to everyone included in the bidding process.
This is because the vendors are asking questions that are helping them to understand the specifics and the requirements better. Giving an answer to one vendor and hiding it from the others would mean that you are favoring sides and not providing fair competition terms to every one of them.
Sharing the answers will also help you reduce your efforts - if one vendor has a question about something, another one will be very likely. So to reduce the time you spend explaining the details, make the answers public so that each vendor can see whether his question has been already asked.
You can implement a good idea to organize a conference call or a meeting after the question and answers period has been done. This is to give the vendors one final chance before they submit their proposals to ask any questions that might have popped up in the meantime.
9. Decide How You Evaluate the Proposals
This evaluation chart should help you decide which vendors should be shortlisted. Unfortunately, there is not a universal template for this list - all you have to do is take the RFP requirements and make a table that will help you score the vendors.
Take into consideration all the requirements and give them a mark on a scale of 1-5, where 1 means that the vendor doesn’t meet the requirement, while 5 means that they fit it perfectly (or you can set a scale which works the best for you).
After you have prepared this, you can call it a day, saying that now is the time for the vendors to send their final proposals for the RFP. How you are going to do this also influences how long this process is going to take.
If you chose to collect the responses via email or through a website, you could collect all the responses within a day. However, if you choose to have a hard copy, then consider that this takes time, and some responses may arrive sooner and others later.
10. Review and Shortlist
This can sometimes be the most time-consuming part of the whole RFP process, mostly because there is no way you can make it automatic. Since there is no technology invented that can help you evaluate the quality of the bid and the vendor, this has to be done manually, one proposal at a time.
There is one trick to save time and includes using a digital platform to help you with the scoring. If you reevaluate the weight of each question, this platform is capable of auto-assigning scores based on the vendors’ answers.
However, even this has to be reviewed by a person later, but it will save you a significant amount of time at the start of the evaluation stage. Once you’ve seen all the proposals, read them carefully, checked the vendor’s background, you can finally proceed and shortlist a few of them for more thorough consideration.
This means that there should not be more than 3-4 vendors in the second round. More than this would be ineffective, and it loses the whole purpose of shortlisting in the first place.
11. Hold a Meeting
All shortlisted candidates should be invited for a meeting where they will present their solutions. However, it is always best if you can hear the vendor explaining their proposal in person. That’s how you can get the best insights on what the vendor’s idea is.
This is also a chance for you to ask the vendors if you have any doubts about their proposal, or if something is not clear, and you would like it to be further explained in more detail, etc. Communication should be a two-way street, so make sure to ask everything that can influence your final decision.
That is also a great chance for companies to see how the vendors communicate and meet their potential clients. Sometimes the vendor may drop from the process if they don’t feel like doing business with you after you have officially met.
You need to pay attention to how the vendor is talking to you, how detailed they are in explaining the proposal, or giving you answers, how they plan to meet the deadlines, are they having the capacity for that, etc.
After this meeting, you should cut your choices by half, meaning that you should have 2 vendors still in the game.
12. Review, Review, Review
Now that you narrowed down your choices to the final two vendors, it is time to do some more reviewing of the RFP and their proposal, just as a sort of a double control that will help you choose the right match.
Contract and Scope of work - The first step is to review the contract and the scope of work that the vendor submitted. This is necessary because you need to make sure that everything you listed in the RFP as a requirement for the project is listed in the vendor’s RFP. If there is something extra - it could be a problem because it is not included in the contract, and if something is missing - that could be a problem because the project cannot be completed without it.
Prices - Of course, in the end, you have to check the prices and make sure they match your budget. If you feel like the vendor is good, but the prices are slightly higher, try to negotiate better terms before sealing the deal.
Top management confirmation - Sometimes, the top management can require you to present them with the final two proposals before taking the final decision. Make a comparison between the two vendors and be very concise. Don’t go too much into the details, and if further clarification is required, you can proceed to explain.
13. Seal the Deal
When the final choice of the vendor has been made and approved by all the persons in charge, it is time to end the bidding process by awarding the winning bid. Next, contact the vendor you have selected to inform them about further steps that need to be taken.
Before you proceed to sign the contract, ensure that you also receive a signed and stamped copy of their proposal, which will be included in the contract itself. Then, after you sign the contract, all that is left to do is begin with the project realization.
The process of drafting an RFP is anything but simple and requires a lot of time and effort. If you and your team want to focus on your core business but want to take advantage of the RFPs process's opportunities, Tendi is your ideal support to take charge of the whole process, from A to Z or even just a part. Contact us today for an absolutely free first consultation.