What makes a good RFP?

Feb 07, 2018 • FeaturesManagementAlastair Clifford-JonesLeadentRFP

Leadent CEO, Alastair Clifford-Jones discusses the fundamental elements that should come together when building a strong request for proposal document...

The purpose of an RFP is to join two or more parties together. One has a need, and the other a product or service to fulfil this need; it’s imperative that companies must never lose sight this objective. To be successful this needs to be met with the right commercial structure.

With a technology requirement, there are many ways of approaching this.

On the one hand, companies can draw up detailed requirements and the vendor can determine how their solution can meet these on a point by point basis. On the other hand, companies can simply put forward a business problem, and the RFP allows maximum flexibility for the vendors to determine how the problem can be solved.

Both have their pros and cons, but with the right approach solution seeking companies can be successful.

Considerations for Success

To produce a successful RFP process there are several things to be considered:

1. The End Goal

Many organisations lose sight of the fact that the RFP is a process, not a document. Many companies, particularly when the RFP is procurement led, focus their efforts on the document and build a very rigid structure. This will work for simple point solutions where the only challenge is a functional fit. As the requirements become more complex organisations must never lose sight of what they are trying to achieve, and not be driven by the initial document. You can never do enough planning.

2. Include Credible Suppliers

It is vital that credible suppliers are included. The process is inevitably very time consuming, and you don’t want to waste time sitting through demos and presentations with suppliers that are not credible.

To determine credible suppliers, it is worth doing your desk research and running an RFI process. There are a number of companies that produce research about the industry’s best suppliers etc. Given that time is limited, it is better to spend this time researching a handful of suppliers than a vast array.

3. Remind Yourself; You’re Buying a Solution, Not a System

Systems need to be implemented to deliver a solution and this part is often forgotten by organisations, namely because it is much easier to evaluate on functional fit rather than implementation skills.

Often organisations will look to split the responsibilities of implementation and software between two vendors. This has its own pros and cons, but if split needs to happen at the same time. Selecting software and then an implementation partner is very disjointed, and whilst you might select the best technical solution it may be the hardest to implement.

4. You’re Building a Partnership

You are building a partnership, and not producing a test or a framework for procurement. Whilst these are important they are not the reason for talking to suppliers. When producing an RFP you’ll want vendors to want to work with you, and the RFP document is a critical window into your organisation. For this reason, it is important that neither procurement or IT write the document.

Their input is, of course, important, but it’s a business challenge you are trying to solve through technology so it’s the business requirements that are critical. A badly written ITT will stop vendors from responding and will be very hard to evaluate.

5. Consider the Evaluation Criteria

The evaluation criteria should not be an afterthought, it must be considered in the planning stage.

Many organisations revisit their evaluation criteria during the processes and this impacts every aspect. This evaluation criteria need to be agreed by all the stakeholders who will be carrying out the evaluation.

Organisations must be very clear about any show stoppers early on and communicate these, with the full criteria to the vendors. There is nothing worse than taking a vendor through the process to realise that their cloud solution is hosted in a country that is not acceptable. The more transparent an organisation can be the more successful the process will be.

6. Make it an Easy Decision

Making a decision is hard but it needn’t be if you have done your planning right, agreed on what you want (evaluation criteria) and have the right level and expertise from the stakeholders. The problems occur when all the vendors meet your requirements, their references are good and you can’t differentiate. This is the point where relationships and cultural fit come into play. These can be determined by the bid team, but often this team is different to the client team and presentations have been led by the sales team and not the people doing the work. If needed, this is the time to do more work. Meet reference clients, insist on meeting the delivery team, understand the vendor strategy and how they will work with you in the future.

Trusting Relationships Will Win Out

Often the RFP process fails due to its transactional nature. This is the start of a partnership between two businesses and as mentioned at the start, you need vendors to think about how this will progress. It is true that in today’s world the start of a relationship is often transactional (meeting a partner via Tinder) but for it to be successful as the relationship progresses there needs to be transparency and honesty, and this no different in business.

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