I am a seller.I am a receiver of RFPsI have literally seen well over 1,000 RFPs in the past decade.All different types and flavors.From a single page with 10 bullet points to a 100 page document with drawings, pictures and results from focus groupsSome have literally said “present to us what you think is the best way to present yourself” to “If your proposal does not follow our detailed instructions then you will be disqualified”I once vowed to never answer another RFP for as long as I live. In fact, in a blog post I called the RFP process the Rationalization For Procurement process.Why?Because most buyers already know who/what they want before they issue an RFP.They have sellers/vendors already in mind and their internal process forces them to “get bids”.It actually helps them justify the decision they already made…..I recently read a blog post where it was said:The RFP is not about vendor choice or price.It is about learning how to make a decision.I liked that – made a lot of sense to me.The RFP process is here to stay – it is not going anywhereIn all honesty, Sellers dislike the process. So it is up to the buyers to make it better….As a seller I will give my point of view on the whole process and what I think works to make it better….
Tools & Tips - Stakeholders are KEY! They must be involved from the very beginning!More on this later. BUDGET – I will be very vocal about this later.
Wish lists! This is another area where we will spend some time.How to choose a vendor – this is more about hiring service based companies and not so much about product.Again – as a vendor – I have a lot to say about this….
How to keep control…..both internally and externally.
The RFP process forces you to set your vision.If you do not take the time to do this, then it is a waste of time.To set your vision you have to talk with your internal team and stakeholdersPeace of mind? Maybe…..that is up to you….we can talk more about this…So many people believe that an RFP process allows them to compare apples to apples?And why not? We clearly state what we want and how we want you to respond. We should get 5, 10, 12, 15 proposals and be able to hold them up to the light and they Should be basically the same – right?NOPEIf you have been in the produce section of a Whole Foods lately you may be as amazed As I am that there are so many different kinds of apples!
The more work you do before you write the RFP will the better the whole process will be.No matter what vendor you choose they are going to ask you a lot of questions – and you will need answers.Why not take the time before you begin with a vendor and ask yourself these questions. You do not have To put it all into the RFP – in fact that would not be worth it. By taking the time to meet internally you will uncover things that no one thought of before. This is where stakeholders come into play. By having people from different departments involvedYou will get many different perspectives. New ideas will come up. Bad ideas will come up. Good ideasWill come up. As a team you can begin to allow the project to take shape. AND this is all before you even write the RFP let alone choose a vendor. Get your ducks in a row.Your vendor will LOVE you! See them hugging? That’s a seller and a buyer.The buyer just showed the seller all the work they have done to date. See How happy they are?
You have to look within.Set up a committee – just 2-3 people – nothing huge. Someone MUST own this process. There must be a Ringleader – a point person – a project manager – I don’t careWhat you call them – just have one.It is okay – in fact it is imperative – to blue sky in the beginning.Get all the BIG ideas up on the whiteboard. It’s okay to dream.Stop thinking about time and budget….forget about being Practical or even realistic. Let the ideas flow. Let the guys from ITSpeak. Let the Marketing people dream…..THEN let reality set in…..time and budget – those pesky things!Take your big ideas and begin bringing them down to sea level.Remember, sometimes you need to be careful what you ask for – do youHave the internal resources to even handle your biggest idea?Begin to focus on objectives – attainable goalsWhat do you really need?And begin a list of priorities.The only way to do this is to talk to your people.Include ALL departments – IT, Purchasing, Development, Marketing, Sales, etc.If they were not in the BIG IDEA meetings you need to get their input – now is betterThan later. Then decide if they need to be part of the process…..do you really need them?Too many cooks – well you know the saying….Once you meet with everyone….decide who should be involved.Set up roles and expectations…..this is key – will they be writingThe RFP? Reading responses? Meeting sellers? What is their time Commitment. Set this up at the beginning….
Now that you have done the internal work, you can write the RFP.List your objectives. What do you want? What do you need?It can be as simple as We need a new Website, BUT then you Will get oranges, apples and grapes. It’s okay to get specific – later In fact it is betterMake this a quick overview - This should be one of the first thing a seller reads….this way they Can determine if they have the skills and talent to meet your needs.
Next – and very important - tell your storyWho are you? What are you all about?Tell a brief – and I mean brief – history of your companyRemember all of this info can be found on your website and Believe me as soon as anyone receives the RFP they are going to google you.Talk about what you have done – in regards to what the RFP is about.If you are looking for new furniture – tell your history on buying furniture.Maybe you have never done it before. Maybe you got burned by another vendor.It’s okay to be honest.What are your current challenges?Budget?Timeline?You have a mandate to be vegan when it comes to furniture?You cannot have any red chairs.This is all important.Let me rephrase this another way. This is not a poker game – you can and should show all of your cards.This is not a time to let sellers guess.I know a marketing consultant who will not enter into a proposal process unless he knowsThe competition….The Packers knew they were playing the Steelers. Therefore both teams Could prepare for the competition and put their best game plan together.I think this is a great idea. If each seller is aware of each other they know how to Pitch their best solution…..hmmmmm
This is also very important.Who is going to be using or are the beneficiaries of this project? Is it customers? Do you know who they are, what they want and what they expect?Can you put that down on paper? Can you identify if there are different types of People who will benefit?Is it for internal staff? Are they aware of this effort?Let’s say this is for a marketing initiative.Who are they now?Who do you want them to be?Meaning – we currently market to females 45+We want to hit a younger market – 18-25.We think we can be younger/hipper/cooler.Adjectives are great. Identifying your tone is also important.We are an older company. We still wear ties.We are young, cool and fun to work with.We are professional but not stuffy – we may be small but we did 300 million in revenues last year.As much information you can give the better. The sellers need to know WHO they are going to be working with.
More on audience…again this is more for marketing and branding efforts.
As I have a said before I have received a lot of RFPs.The ones I cast aside are the one with all the contractual information up front.Now I know that Universities and Government agencies have to have all of that in there…But can you put it in an appendix or at least put it at the end?It’s hard for sellers to sift through 30 pages of legalese – it can be overwhelming and really Distracting and honestly a reason NOT to bid. Also put in there if a seller can team up with another provider.
Now is the time to get specific with your needs and make mention of your Nice To HavesYou can list them outWe need a new design – ours is outdated We need a way to gather data from users and store it in a database for marketing effortsWe need new imagery and content writingWe want a CMS so we can manage our content in houseBe clear with the Must Haves. It must work on Google ChromeIt must be 508 compliantIt must be hosted by the seller – we do not have hosting capabilitesIt must use .NET – we are a microsoft companyThe vendor must migrate the 10,000 pages from our old site to the new site. The seller must train our staff of 10 editorsCan you phase the project? Have phase 1 completed in 2 months and the rest in 6?These are things to think about. Sometimes you may only know what you don’t want…..i am not saying you put that in the RFPBut use it as a catalyst for your internal discussions and brainstorming….
I always think it is a plus when I see an RFP that lists The people who we could be working with. It makes it Real. Adds a bit of personality. If you cannot detail everyone, at least include the Resume or Bio of the main pointperson.If you know who is going to be on the decision making committee Then at least include their titles. It’s always good to know if the C-suite is going to be involved.If anyone on your team is going to be out of the office,On vacation, etc. it is good to know.What if the project kicks off in May – it would be good To know summer plans. This way the seller can include A realistic schedule – if you asked for one.If your team is spread across multiple offices – let it be known.Let me interject a little of my own philosophy.The success of any project between a seller and a buyer is About 10% capabilities and 90% relationship. It’s about Communication, trust and chemistry. The more the sellerKnows about the buyer the more inclined they may be Either submit a proposal or not. But more on chemistry later.
This may be more bent towards service based sellers.If you are buying service - say a marketing service – suchAs logo development or a website – or even buying furnitureMake sure it is clear that you own it. Meaning, if you aRe building a website make sure you own the code. That The seller is a work for hire.
Okay – the big one – BUDGETI can’t tell you how often I am baffled that buyers do not include a Price/budget/dollar range in the RFP. What’s the big secret?By putting in a budget or a range or a “not to exceed #” would be so helpful.Let me be honest here…..my company is expensive. We don’t bid on projectsUnder $50,000. it’s just how we operate. Sometimes we will get an RFP for a Very sophisticated project – lots of design, lots of complex technology – and There is no budget. So we will submit a proposal with a realistic budget. And the Client will come back and say…”woah – we have $7,500 slated for this project.”If I had known that I would have never submitted a proposal!So include a budget – something. How else can a seller propose a Realistic solution. You want to compare fuji apples to delicious apples?Include a budget!Do not use the RFP process to figure out your budget. That is a complete Waste of time and energy – and frankly not fair to anyone. That means you will be making your decision based on price and that Is a HUGE mistake. I have written over 500 proposals in 10 years. That’s a lot of time and energy.Obviously I have not won them all. And often I hear “wow – you guys are greatBut you were just too expensive.” why? Because you didn’t include a budget soWe went for it. But if we were so great why didn’t you call us and talk with us About budget.I know budget is a tough subject, but without it, the seller is just a boat drifting inThe sea….
No budget – no scope.How can a seller propose a scope with no budget?When a buyer walks into a car dealer they know they want to spend 25,000 on a car.When a guitar player walks into a music shop she knows she wants to buy something for $500.when a seller knows how much a buyer wants to pay they can supply a scope for the project.If you really have no idea what you want to spend, then reach out to your network.Ask colleagues what they spent. Post a question on Linkedin or Quora.Even facebook or twitter – if you use them.Be as buttoned up as you can. Go to upper management if you have to and ask – what can we spend on this?It will make your life easier. BID SHEETS – horrible idea.Just because you want to see numbers in a certain way, most sellers have their Own way of bidding a project. Don’t ask them to change the way they bid. They have been doing it for years and it works for themDon’t ask them how much it costs to have each office painted.Or how much each web page costs.It doesn’t work that way.
Time line is critical.Do you have a launch date?Did you already make a promise to your internal teams? To the street?Can the end date be moved?Does it all have to happen at once? Can you phase it?
Ask the sellers to detail their process….how do they do what they do?Chances are most sellers will have the same process….as they are all bidding on the Same thing and are competitors. BUT – it is still helpful to see where they may differ.Do they perform Quality Assurance Testing? Do they provide project management?What is their history?How old is their firm? How long have they been providing the service you are looking for?REFERENCES – like a candidate at a job interview no seller is going to provide a bad reference.That would be silly. Still….ask for them.Here’s a trick – chances are each seller will have a website.Go to it and look up their client list. Choose a couple that they DIDN’T provide and call them.You may hear what you already heard OR you may learn something new.Make sure you ask references real questions.Simple questions like “did you like them?” “did they do a good job?” are good, but they tell you nothing.Ask specific questions about the service you are looking for. Did they deliver on time?What happened when something went wrong?Who did you work with? What are they like? Etc.Their approachAgain, you may not have a solid scope so it’s not fair for them to fully detail the project.It’s also not fair as that may be part of the project and they should get paid for that time.Ask them how they would approach the project. For example…if you are looking to have your offices painted, you might want to See how they would approach it.Will they paint at night and off hours?Will they put drop cloths and tape to protect carpet and furniture?Will they move furniture? Will they offer their expertise when it comes to color choices for walls an trim?If you are looking to have a piece of software installed will they train your team?How do they handle training?How will they learm more about your wishes/wants and needs? Do they have a Discovery phase?Will they interview stakeholders? On the phone or in person?If you have a long RFP it may be wise to ask them to provide a summary Of the project. To see if they understand what you are asking of them. It should Not be long, but enough for you to see if they read it and understand the tasks at hand. Have them breakdown their budget. If they simply say $35,000 with no explanation – go back And ask for it. See how they got to that number. Is it by hours and they apply a rate?See exmaples of their work – like references they are not going to show you shoddy work. So again – go to their website and look at their work. Ask them to explain how they handle Scope creep – because it is inevitable.Do they issue change orders? During or after the project?How do they handle quick timelines? – if you have one….Do they have insurance? Prove it.
Please pleaseplease do not post your RFP online or allow it to be posted on one those RFP databases.Why? Because you do not need 15 proposals. That’s over 300 pages of reading….it is a waste of your time. Get 3 to 5. that’s still a lot to read. And only read proposals from sellers you sent it to. Chances are they RFP will show up online and you will get proposals from sellers blindly. They have no idea who you are and what you want – they just like to answer RFPs. Is it worth your time?How do you choose a shortlist?Ask you friends and colleagues.If you see work you like – ask who did itMEET them in person.Remember 10% is capabilities and 90% is chemistry.In person is best – phone is okay.You want to get a feel for them.Have a majority of your team meet them.How do you all get along?Are they funny?Are they serious?Are they professional? courteous?How did they handle themselves?Did they bring a presentation?Focus on how you feel with them in the room?Who did they bring? Partners? Senior people?Is it the people you will be working with?Sometimes I suggest visiting them on their turf – their offices.See if they are real – a legitimate company…it’s like going to a boyfriend or girlfriend’s place for the first time – how do they live?Are they neat? Messy?is their fridge filled with real food or just condiments.
How to Write an RFP That Gets You What You Want! Lorman Education Services – May 10, 2012 Michael Weiss, figure18
Michael Weiss Let’s Connect! @mikepweiss email@example.com www.figure18.com http://about.me/michaelweiss www.linkedin.com/in/mpweiss
imagistic Digital Marketing & Technology Answering Technology RFPs since 1997 Worked with Fortune 500 Companies Worked with Higher Education Organization
Program Highlights Key Elements to Include Tools & tips for effective RFP writing Keys to identify the most important stakeholders in your project How to set a budget for your project- and stick to it
Program Highlights How a Strong Proposal Translates into a Successful Project Plan Ways to write an RFP: what to include & what not to include How to prioritize your extensive wish list How to choose the most qualified vendor for your company
Program Highlights Strategies for Fitting Your Proposal to Your Budget The big picture: Proposal process from planning to implementation Specific tips to maintain control of the RFP process Strategies to write an RFP that addresses your unique needs
Takeaways What an RFP offers you Sets your vision Forces internal discussions Peace of Mind Ability to compare apples to apples
Do I Really Need An RFP? Yes! “But Why?” you ask? Because there is a lot of work you can do BEFORE you hire a vendor = save time & money! This will make you look good in the eyes of a vendor
Where Do I Start? Start by “looking in”. What do you really need? Not “what would we like to have?” Focus on your objectives – why are you really doing this project? Prioritize your needs Talk to your people! Include all departments Identify and Meet with all Stakeholders Who are they? Do they really need to be involved? Too many cooks… Set up your internal team Assign roles You will soon see things you need to discuss internally!
What To Put In Your RFP List your objectives We need a new Website We need to buy furniture We need to repave our sidewalks Brand building
What To Put In Your RFP Tell Your Story Who are you? What have you done? What do you want to do? What are your current challenges?
What To Put In Your RFP End Users – Who benefits from this project? Who are they? Are they customers? Internal staff? Who are they Now? Who do you want them to be? What do you want them to do? Can you create user profiles of who those targets are?
What To Put In Your RFP This is a key internal discussion While you do not have to be 100% clear – you need to have an idea By identifying audiences/end users you start to think like them Would they like this? How would they use it? How can it help them?
What To Put In Your RFP The Details Contractual Information This is required by many Organizations – put in an Appendix. It can be distracting and seem overwhelming to the bidder. Type of Bid Sole Source or Competitive Many organizations require at least 3 bidders Can a Bidder team up with another vendor if they do not possess the core skillset?
What To Put In Your RFP Needs versus “Nice To Haves” Put down your Must Haves List the wishes and wants Phased Approach? Sometimes you may only know what you don’t want. That’s okay.
What To Put In Your RFP Schedule RFP Issued Date Proposals Due Date Decision Date Kick Off Date Launch Date – hugely important! Any Dates coinciding with the Launch Date (campaigns, etc.)
What To Put In Your RFP Internal Team Main Point Decision Committee Members Availability issues Vacation Schedules Multiple Offices Division of Roles What kind of talent do you have on your team?
What To Put In Your RFP Ownership Make it clear that you OWN it ALL
What To Put In Your RFP BUDGET! Really? YES! Because it gives vendors a frame of reference If no real budget number – include a number that sends you running to the hills – set a ceiling How much money is available? Is there enough to fund the entire project or only a portion of it? Can you use a combination of fixed and variable funding to avoid having to rewrite the contract if the final cost is more than expected?
What To Put In Your RFP BUDGET! No Budget = No Scope Bid Sheets – it pigeon holes vendors – sometimes they need to bid it in their own way – is that okay for your organization? Scope
What To Put In Your RFP Time What is the time frame? Is the schedule flexible Phased Approach Does it all need to happen at once? Will different vendors be needed at different phases? This will help you prioritize what is needed and when
What To Put In Your RFP What to request from Vendors What is their process? What is their history? References Their Approach It is too hard to ask for an exact scope as you may not know it yet Rather – ask them how they would approach the project Better yet – have them summarize what the project is about Explanation of their budget Hours Estimates Examples of their work How do they handle Usability Testing How they handle scope creep and challenging budgets/timeline Insurance – do they have it?
Who Do I Send It To? Get a short list of firms Keep it small – 3 to 5 5 twenty page proposals is a lot of bed time reading Get referrals from colleagues Give them a chance to ask questions Meet with them In-person is best Phone is fine
Conclusion You need to issue an RFP By doing so you force yourself to do some initial work This will help you set your scope & expectations You need to set a budget range Keep your vendors to a short list Q&A