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5 Tips for Writing Better RFP’s

When asked for our elevator pitch, I describe RainCastle first and foremost as business problem solvers, with brand strategies and websites the mediums we happen to use to solve the problems. We’ve been most successful when clients have shared their business problems and we’ve collaborated on the solution. Inherent to this equation is the combination of our strategic value and tactical execution.

While most of our business is referral based, we do receive a fair number of RFP’s. It’s safe to say that most RFP’s I receive are not focused on strategic value but more on keeping costs down. It is more often about the “apples to apples” comparison rather than strategic problem solving, i.e. what we will deliver rather than what problems need to be solved. This leads me to suggest 5 tips for writing better RFP’s.

Define the business goals of the project.
It may sound obvious, but I receive quite a few RFP’s that run down a laundry list of deliverables with little or no context. Describe the business problem, what has occurred because of the problem and what result you’d like to see from this project.

Define a basic set of services to enable a reasonable comparison
Clarify the format of the response in such a way as to ease your evaluation process. Providing clear instructions about the format of the response will go a long way to making your evaluation easier.

Allow for unique solutions or perspectives in a separate section
Make sure respondents know that unique perspectives are welcome and have their place in the response process. Too many RFP’s are designed to keep vendors at bay and avoid engagement for fear of showing favortism. But the vendors are in the position to help, so engaging with them should be advantageous and not adversarial. Gaining their unique perspective is a critical part of finding the right team that will help you differentiate your business.

Meet the teams and have questions ready
Although technology makes remote communication a regular part of conducting business in 2010, team chemistry can’t be underrated. If possible, RFP writers should meet the vendor teams and engage in a mutual Q&A, which will help ascertain if the chemistry is right between all team members.

Decide the criteria for a winner, before issuing the RFP.
Most RFP’s I’ve seen are written toward identifying the lowest cost bidder. But when asked about criteria, the generic response I’ve heard is, “we’re looking for a combination of cost, approach and thinking.” Be clear in your own mind how you weight vendor responses. Is it 80% price, 20% approach or vice-versa. Also, be cognizant if those percentages change as you meet the different vendors. It’s not uncommon to start with one set of goals and parameters and allow the process to change your priorities. If you maintain awareness of this, you can maintain control of the process thus resulting in the right vendor selection.

For writers and recipients of RFP’s, I would be pleased to hear your thoughts.