Writing a successful RFP is a skill that needs to be crafted and mastered over time. It sounds simple, but many things need to be defined in the right way so that the whole process is successful and able to avoid common pitfalls.
Following the outline of things that need to be listed is a good start, and we have included them in this post, but to be able to jump to that section, let’s start by explaining what is an RFP and why do companies use them in the first place.
Further in the article, you will also see who are all the stakeholders that need to be working on the RFP process, as well as the basic difference between RFI, RFQ, and RFP.
What Is an RFP and Why Do Companies Use Them?
An RFP or Request for Proposal is a business document where one party (usually governmental) is seeking a contractor that is supposed to fulfill the project described in the RFP adhering the selection criteria.
All the specific details and technical requirements are being listed in the RFP, along with the deadline. This shortens the lot of time necessary to find a partner - the potential contractors are the ones who are expressing interest in working on the project.
The most important points to look after are:
RFP will have the project outlined and described in detail;
Details about the investor and requirements for the contractor will also be there;
Deadlines are listed (both for the project and the expiration date for the RFP);
General terms and conditions are listed, as well as payment terms
RFPs are posted publicly and open to every part that meets the requirement and is interested in the project.
Companies will use an RFP as a medium which will help them find the right contractor for the job. Some more complex projects require multiple contractors to be hired, and the easiest way to find them is by RFP.
Since the job scope, timeline and deadlines are transparent, the potential bidders are aware of what their responsibilities will be if they get the job. Very often the bidders are supposed to prepare their offers, following the provided guidelines.
It is important to adhere to these guidelines so the potential client can easily analyze all the received proposals and compare them. Based on that, the winning bid will be awarded. The main goal for the issuer of the RFP is to find the contractor as soon as possible and to ensure they hire the one with the lowest or most competitive proposal.
What Are RFP Requirements?
If the RFP is not written well, then the project itself may be doomed and not completed by the desired deadline. The main issue the prospective clients are having with an RFP is about how detailed it should be.
The thing is that the bidders are supposed to respond to the RFP, but if they have too much or too little information, they may not be able to respond adequately.
A very detailed RFP may act as a barrier for all those projects requiring bidders to come up with an effective solution. Having too many guidelines that need to be followed will limit creativity and narrow down the number of potential bidders who can fulfill the required tasks.
On the other hand, an RFP that does not provide enough information, or the information provided can be interpreted in many different ways, the target bidder group may not recognize themselves as a good fit for this job.
The aim is to provide enough information about the project so that everyone interested has a clear picture of what are the requirements and obligations.
Many governmental institutions are limited to choosing only the bidder with the lowest price because of the budget, especially when they are buying some specific goods. This way they are trying not to spend too much from their limited budgets.
However, many private companies are usually not satisfied with the lowest price bidder, but with the one who offers the most benefits for the price they are asking. This is why the companies are carefully analyzing each offer and making sure to find the best fit, not the cheapest one.
What Should a High-quality RFP Include?
There are several things an RFP needs to have included, but these need to be adjusted and written based on the specifics of the project and the requirements of the company. Each RFP needs to be crafted and customized to reflect the needs of that unique project.
Because each RFP is an independent story, even within the company the issuer may have two RFPs that are completely differently structured. However, in both of them, you would be able to recognize the following information because the structure stays the same, only the content changes. That’s why you need to have excellent content management skills.
Information about the company that’s issuing the RFP needs to be one of the first things that are listed. Basic information about the history of the company, when and where it was founded, what is the primary industry, how big the company is, where it provides its services or has production facilities etc - basically a company overview.
This information should be concise, to help the potential contractors get an image of who you are as a company and what you do. This will help them understand who they will potentially do business with.
This is the most important part of an RFP. Some outlines on how you should write it were already mentioned - you need to keep it detailed, but make sure not to put too much or too little of them. Give just enough details to explain what the project is about, the requirements, and the suggested timeline and deadlines.
Make sure to mention what project goals you want to achieve by completion of the project and if there are any individual tasks or requirements the contractor needs to perform. Also, the criteria for the completion need to be defined.
Scope of Work
Based on the project complexity the scope of work may be included in the project information. When the project is very complex and goes into specific details, the scope of work should be separately described.
Some industries require the use of very specific materials, tools, software, etc, and if the project requires the contractor to provide or use any of those, make sure to list them. A good tip is to create a checklist for the bidder, so they can see if they can meet all the requirements.
Define Deadlines, Milestones, and Other Criteria
To ensure that the project is moving at the desired pace towards the set deadline, the RFP needs to have the timeline precisely defined and stated. If a potential bidder does not have the capacity to meet the deadline, they will not waste their and your time bidding for the project.
When the project is very complex, the RFP should also include milestones that need to be completed and criteria on which will be evaluated whether something is finished or not. If you have some time buffer, you can always state that the deadline and timeline can be renegotiated once the bidder is announced.
General Proposal Guidelines
In the end, an RFP should state several general information on how to create a proposal, which templates to follow and where to download it, what is the deadline for submitting a proposal, to whom it should be sent, etc. Also, an RFP should include a date when the winning bid will be awarded.
A contact person and a number should also be stated, just in case that any potential bidder needs to gather additional information before proceeding with their proposal.
Who Is Involved in Writing an RFP?
Creating an RFP is not a one-person job, so it is normal to have a whole team working on this project. How many people will be included depends on how much the RFP is demanding. However, there are four groups that are always included in this project.
An RFP consultant needs to be hired whenever the company itself doesn’t have the expertise or experience into writing successful RFPs. Consultants are individuals that are trained to be the support in this time-consuming process.
They are aware of the needs of the potential client, and they also understand the capacities and limits of the company. They are key to a perfectly written request for proposal. On the other hand, they can offer their support not only with writing but with bringing the RFP to a positive end.
Sometimes during the process, potential vendors have questions or things that need to be further explained in more detail. This is where the consultant should jump in and remove any unclarities that may have arisen.
Procurement professionals are sometimes confused with RFP consultants. They both do work on the RFP process, but they essentially have different roles in the whole process. The job of the RFP consultant is to provide intel and explain any perplexity.
A procurement officer is supposed to be something similar to a project manager - he is the one who will guide the process of creating an RFP and navigate to the end. He is responsible for coordinating all team members towards the formulation of the problem that the RFP will be about.
The role of procurement officer can be taken by the procurement manager himself, or it can be assigned to a strategic sourcing manager. Either way, both of them are supposed to have enough expertise to bring the RFP process to the end.
Since company funds are highly affected by the RFP, higher management needs to be involved. The chief financial officer (CFO) is the one who will jump in to decide whether the suggested solution or proposed budget is okay and in line with the company’s plans and expectations.
Without a CFO involved, it is practically impossible to make a final decision on anything. If he/she disagrees with the proposed budget for a purchase, the team has to work towards bringing the number down.
Another person who can make decisions like this, and works closely with the CFO is CPO (chief procurement officer). They work as a team to drive the company towards a financially acceptable state.
Another thing they will decide on, besides the overall costs, is ROI or return on investment. This is a very significant financial indicator that will show whether the proposed solution is financially viable or not.
The whole RFP process could not be completed if the vendors were not taking part in it. Sometimes when there are no proposals given (basically no vendor responses were submitted), the company needs to reevaluate the terms and conditions and reissue the RFP. This process goes on until there is a winning bid with an acceptable solution.
A potential vendor or a bidding company can be anyone - the companies that you were previously doing business, or completely new partners. There are usually no limitations when it comes to who can apply to the RFP.
RFI vs RFQ vs RFP
There are several abbreviations tightly connected to this whole process, so it is crucial to be able to differentiate them all before you dive into issuing a formal document. In the table below you will see some of the basic differences between these three documents.
This table will help you paint a bigger picture and to learn some basic stuff around these terms. However, bear in mind that we don’t have enough space to go into too many details here (if that was the case, the table would be longer than the rest of this article).
As you can see from the table, these three documents are very different in content, definition, and purpose. However, they do share some similarities - they all gather some information from potential vendors, the only thing is that they all gather different types of information.
However, using one of these documents doesn’t automatically mean that you cannot use another one. Most commonly these three documents are following each other - you can start by issuing an RFI to gather some information and define a project. Once you complete that you can continue to issue an RFP to gather solutions for the proposed project.
Once you finish that you can issue an RFQ to find the vendor who will offer the best prices for all the items that came out as a result of an RFP. This way you will be making a full circle from issuing the first RF document to reaching your goal.
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