Request For Proposal (RFP): Your Mistakes And How To Fix Them

February 28, 2022

Many are familiar with the Request for Proposal or RFP. This involves a client that publicly seeks for a solution and makes everyone know their request. It includes the creation of a document that enumerates what they are trying to obtain, the management of the response, and the determination of the best solution. Individuals who work in a government agency or a technical product are familiar with RFP. In addition to that, other industries and products also utilize RFP.

Major purchases must adhere to a set of checks and balances. Thus, it is required to have an RFP process. However, there are cases when the whole process defeats its purpose as being meticulous might result to missing the main goal.

Creating an RFP has its own set of obstacles. The question is if a group can conquer these problems and obtain the best solution for a specific situation. Here are the problems.

Proposal Versus Quote

RFP, as the name implies, means proposal. It asks on what can an institution or individual help to solve a problem. One of the main challenges of an RFP is that they are utilized to purchase something instead of asking for solutions. It is a common mistake for companies to use an RFP when they already know what to buy and just need a quote. It is a senseless practice to use an RFP when what you really need is a Request for Quote (RFQ).

An RFP’s purpose is to verbalize one’s needs and to obtain proposals from the target market on how one can solve it the best way. It is a waste of energy and resources to use the RFP for a quote.

Benefits And Needs Versus Features

The error of most RFPs is that these do not explain the core problem. Instead of discussing needs and benefits, they mistakenly talk about features. It is not a good practice for those in marketing to think that this is what a person or a company needs when asking for RFPs.

Dealing with the intricacies of benefits versus features will require a whole book. On its surface, it is enough to say that an RFP is a means of letting product experts know your problem. Product experts must be able to offer a solution that can solve a problem. You should not limit the possible solutions to your problem by listing features as it might decrease the kind of solutions you can obtain.

Number Specific

This is related to the previous problem. A person must be careful in typing a specific number when creating an RFP. Writing an RFP is a tedious process. Including a specific number makes the RFP out of date. Most errors involving this problem are those of hardware specifications.

A real example of two RFPs involved a company asking for a 19-inch monitor and a 250 GB hard drive. The person making the communication probably was not thinking about their actual needs. Rather, that person included a feature. That person did not know that 19 inch monitors were more expensive compared to 21 inch monitors. Moreover, manufacturers no longer produce a 250 GB hard drive.

It is possible that a person should have included a better specification. Unknown to you, there might slower dedicated GPUs that can process data faster compared to your 2.2 GHz that you have specified. Suppliers, most often, just provide you a quote on what you asked for instead of telling you how to save money or buying one that can provide more efficiency.

Limiting Supplier’s Possible Solutions

Suppliers are in a business. Thus, they have to earn money in order to continue their business operations. They hate losing deals. Suppliers sometimes have to bend to the “specifications” of possible clients instead of providing real solutions.

It does not help when a person lists features and numerical specifications. In addition to that, RFPs should not list a preference. Although this may seem as a guidance tool, a preference automatically becomes a requirement.

The danger of obtaining the best solution involves suppliers with great solutions as to not respond to your call. An example would be an RFP that indicates Linux as a preference. If this operation system is important, it is crucial that this will be included. However, take note that there might be better solutions if other platforms are used.

Tips On Avoiding Errors In RFP

Despite the huge inconsistencies that product experts have with making RFPs, there is still hope in asking these experts for the best solutions to problems. Here are some of the best tips on how cut on time and costs and to make sure that there will be one best possible solution.

Define Problems Clearly

A successful RFP is based on identifying and clearly defining the problems and the reasons why it is a problem. Describing the problem requires more than inclusion of a paragraph under Section 1.0 Project Scope. Possible respondents of the RFP will not find it significant to see an RFP regarding a replacement in the current system because of the reason that it is old. Those who draft an RFP has to specify regarding what has not been done.

CONOPS has to be included in the RFP. CONOPS is also known as Concept of Operations. It involves daily work activities, operations, and interactions that occur around this problem. CONOPS involves people who should work with the needed solution and how they should engage with the solution. It is a good idea to describe how the CONOPS works and how it should be done.

The Department of Homeland Security has created one of the best examples of an RFP. The initial step involved describing the general condition regarding how the system must work and the daily interactions and data that are desired from the system. Four different scenarios were presented. These scenarios include the action of the officer, the action of the command center, the action of the suspect, and the kind of data and support that are needed at various phases of each scenario. The said agency is honest that they were not technology experts, but they know the information required at every stage.

The first thing a person needs to do in creating a successful RFP is to explain the problem and why it is a problem.

To have an in-depth RFP, the 5W’s and one H of a news story can also be included. With so many inquiries, the real core of the problem will be understood.

Think Like A Supplier

It is normal for an individual to think of needs and benefits when creating an RFP. However, in order to have a successful RFP, a person must also think like a supplier. What do suppliers need when they read and obtain an RFP? Suppliers must spend their time solving the problem and not trying to decipher words that are specific to the administration. Here are some things that waste the time of a supplier.

PDFs: PDFs ensure that everyone sees the content it was created for. However, these are not the easiest document formats to work with. People who create an RFP must provide an Excel or a Word Version of the documents. Suppliers find it easier to obtain the data from the original file in order to give the best response. Moreover, PDFs must never be locked. There are special methods on how to unlock the information but suppliers must not waste their time unlocking documents. They should be able to spend their time addressing the problem.

T&Cs: Time is truly wasted when suppliers see an RFP that does not separate from the terms and conditions. When a supplier receives an RFP, the problem statement proceeds to the marketing folks and to the engineers while Terms and Conditions proceed to operations, accounting, and the legal team. Although terms and conditions are significant, they should not overshadow the problem statement.

Restricting Discussion: One of the most important phases of the RFP process is discussion as it opens the lines of communication with field experts. However, the RFP process stops communication. It might seem that there is a significant communication process with all the contact details, pre-meetings, dates, and formal rules. The reality is that the discussion only ends with referring to the specifications.

Reversed Timeline: Similar to restricting communication, RFP timelines are often reversed. Instead of giving ample time with the experts trying to reach the core of the problem and finding a solution to the problem, RFPs have documents with tight schedules.

Think Long-Term. There will be numerous responses to the RFPS. The question is, “How does a company determine the best replies?” The easiest manner in doing this is to create a compliance matrix. This can be done by creating a simple excel sheet with a column for needs identified, plus a column for the responder to answer on how to solve that need. Reviewers will find it easier to check the best solution.

Understanding When To Hire Or Not Hire A Consultant

Consultants can either be effective or ineffective in the RFP process. Consultants are hired based on the premise that the RFP maker needs to complete a task that they are not knowledgeable or they do not do often.

The problem in hiring consultants is that these people are generalists and not specialists. They are very knowledgeable about actual markets and the solutions, but they do not have specialized knowledge of the actual problem.

Consultants must not write the RFP. Rather, he should help in articulating the problem statement like stating the 5 Whys. Make sure that he writes down needs and not features.

Consultants should expand the problem statement. It might seem that adding technical terms seem to be appropriate in enhancing the process. The end user’s voice should be used in the RFP. The supplier is the expert. The task of a consultant is to guide, but not reinterpret the whole problem.

Consultants can be asked to assist in making the big decision. Consultants are very efficient in choosing the best responses and aligning the supplier’s proposals to the needs. Consultants often are neutral. Thus, their choices can be the best one.

Stop Analysis Paralysis

The RFP process faces risk when the team gets soaked up in solving minute details instead of seeing the overall solution. It is difficult once a team member enters into this mindset as it can be contagious to other team members.

There are words that signal this line of thinking. These include shall, and, or. In the technical world, it means pure black and white areas, and no grey areas. Adding the word “shall” increases its specificity exponentially. In addition, being number specific can also make RFPs less helpful.

Hiring a consultant has a risk of increasing the possibility of this condition. Consultants are fond of using shall and must. They also love specifying numbers. Instead of consultants helping customers simplify things, consultants sometimes make things more complex.

Include The Value Proposition

Marketing people are trained to verbalize the value proposition that their product offers to their clients. By adding the value statement within the RFP, this will eliminate doubts and clarify issues. Responders will be able to reply with a clear solution to the problems.

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