Requests for Proposals are tedious.
Think about it. By nature, an RFP is challenging because your team is requesting information about an area that’s not your specialty. You don’t know what you don’t know, so how do you know what to ask? Or not to ask?
We’ve seen the very best and worst of RFPs. Really, the most important thing to remember is simple — you have the power to decide, but be reasonable. Don’t ask ridiculous scenario questions that have no bearing, like “In the event the Internet is hacked, and you can only reach our server via a series of flaming hoops while wearing a suit made of firecrackers, how would you proceed?” That’s a slippery slope no one wants to get caught sliding down.
You don’t want to be “that” client, so we’ve compiled a few recommendations for this process to help you keep your name off an agency’s unwritten “do not respond” RFP list. These six tips will ensure your request is efficient and productive.
1) General Requirements - RFQ
First things first, make sure the company submitting an RFP response is qualified for the job. Reviewing a proposal from a company that is not technically capable of completing your project within your timeline, budget and scope is a huge waste of internal time. Think about what your deal breakers are and make them known. Drawing a line early can cut down the number of applicants and increase the quality of response. Also consider these questions: What kind of process will be used? What does the team infrastructure look like at company X? How much of the work will be outsourced? Find these red flags early and toss the responses that don’t fit the bill.
2) Problem(s) to be Addressed
It may seem intuitive, but it’s surprising how often formal RFPs dive right into desired functionality or technical specifications without explaining the challenges that inspired it. Answer some internal questions: What happened to make this project a priority? What are your goals for the project’s outcome? The end result of the RFP will be a partnership, so providing your knowledge can help you see how responders used the information you provided.
3) Functional Requirements
Creating the parameters on what you need to accomplish your goals is tough work. In order to solve for that old cliche – you don’t know what you don’t know – you have two choices: fake it or ask an expert. Hint: Don’t fake it.
This is the part that agencies hate. Choosing an agency that will partner with you on your initiative and that you like is equally important. Creating pricing parameters without scaring off the most qualified partner for the project is a delicate balance that can be achieved in a couple of ways.
1) Conduct some extensive research on blended rates. How much does the vendor’s industry usually charge per hour and how long will a project like yours take to complete?
2) Consult an expert on the approximate number of hours your project will require to protect the scope of your project. This cannot be underestimated. Without reasonable barriers around the scope of any project, vendors will supply you with a huge range of cost and timeline considerations, making your decision that much more difficult.
Additionally troubling is that without scope protection, you run the risk of a project going out of scope and receiving invoices from your vendor that you did not foresee in your initial budgeting. This creates obvious problems in the partnership and slows your project development.
5) Timeline and expectations
This is the one aspect that is very consistently included in RFPs. Look, everyone wants it done yesterday and expects a project to be completed in a given amount of time without exception. Ideally, the steps you’ve gone through to get to this point have created a realistic understanding of what your project will entail. If it hasn’t, make sure the partner you choose can provide you with a good idea of how much time your project will require and what might delay or impede progress. It’s also critical to understand how long you will have to review the assets and how that affects the timeline.
6) Get Personal
It’s unbelievable how many RFPs don’t consider the significance of the relationship with your chosen vendor/partner. The kind of magic produced when two companies have great rapport must be authentic and it is imperative that you go beyond paper and meet the people you’re going to work with. Visit their space. Go out to lunch with them. See how they interact with each other and your team. While it’s paramount to ensure the chosen agency can meet your technical qualifications, good old-fashioned team chemistry should have some say, too.
When you submit an RFP, you know you’re getting ready to spend some money. Make sure you get the most of out of that investment by creating a reasonable, clear, and goal-oriented request.