The Primary Goal of an Effective RFP Process is Driving Higher Quality Responses to Your RFP

Recently, we facilitated a meeting of RFP issuers who were seeking to improve the effectiveness of their RFP process. We heard that their primary goals for improving their RFP process were:

1. More responses

2. Higher quality responses

3. Better solutions that actually meet their needs

Feedback from Bidders and Issuers: 7 Tips for Driving More High Quality Responses to Your RFP

In preparation for this session, we polled our clients who respond to RFP’s. Here is their observations and advice on how the RFP process can be improved to meet the goals stated above:

  1. Verify that the RFP selection process is fair. EVERYONE has an example of an important RFP where the outcome seemed pre-determined. The fear or belief that the process is not fair is one of the key reasons organizations cite for not responding to an RFP.
  1. Be clear what you are asking for. Just as many RFP bidder responses are poorly written, so are many RFP’s. In fact, confusion about what the issuer is seeking is a fundamental driver of low quality, high cost RFP’s. Here’s a quote from one of our clients: “I am the incumbent. I had the business for 15 years. Now, it has gone to RFP and I have no idea what they are looking for”.

At the session we facilitated, the advice from issuers on resolving RFP clarity included:

  • Starting earlier and dedicating more time to the internal planning and discovery phase of the RFP (this was the biggie – rushing the release of an RFP due to time constraints is seen as a key contributor to poor RFP quality)
  • Using more and better examples to help demonstrate the kind of response required or to clarify requirements in the RFP
  • Avoiding cutting and pasting previous RFP content that result in every RFP being the same, especially if the original content isn’t that clear
  • Utilizing a professional writer (could be internal or external), who is clearly capable of crafting clear RFP requirements
  1. Provide a reasonable time frame for responding to the RFP. A timeframe that is too short definitely affects both the quality and quantity of RFP’s. In fact, too short time frames are viewed by bidders as a basic tactic issuers use to limit the number of responses and drive some potential bidders away. Defining an appropriate time frame will vary by RFP, but it is MUCH more than ten days – and hopefully it is not dominated by a key holiday period like Thanksgiving or Christmas.
  1. Respond to questions about the RFP in a timely fashion. Nothing takes a response process off the rails faster than waiting for the answer to a key question. A client reported to us that on a recent RFP they waited three weeks for an answer that was provided with four days left before the final submission date. They went ahead anyways but were very dissatisfied with the process and their result.
  1. Clearly state the priorities and scoring that will be used to determine the winning bid. This helps bidders focus on what’s important to the issuer. It has a direct impact on quality. Bidders prefer it, because they would rather work on a quality, not quantity response. If something is necessary down the road (eg, a health and safety plan), but won’t be evaluated as part of the bid, then simply have the bidder verify compliance.
  1. Don’t make a requirement mandatory if it’s not. Mandatory requirements are important and they are very helpful for bidders to understand what the issuer’s requirements are. They are fundamental to a bidders go/no go decision making process. However, unbridled use of mandatory requirements is seen by bidders as a sign of a) an RFP that is too difficult to respond to b) an unfair RFP designed to keep out most bidders c) an issuer who doesn’t know what they want. All of these contribute to diminished quantity and quality of RFP responses.
  1. Don’t issue an RFP if price is the sole criteria. Bidders don’t want to be engaged in a time wasting, information sharing process when an RFQ will suffice.

Clarity and Time To Respond Drive Higher Quality RFP Responses

In summary, what we learned is that issuers interested in improving the quality and quantity of responses need to be clear on their requirements and provide bidders with a fair opportunity to respond. Issuers we talked to told us the biggest opportunity they have is to devote more time up front to defining their needs clearly and crafting a well written RFP.