7 Common Mistakes During the RFP Process
By Steven Jeffery
While a thorough and well-prepared request for proposal (RFP) is always welcome and appreciated by supply management practitioners, a poor RFP is an unwanted burden that takes up valuable time, money and energy. It often leads to missed internal clients’ expectations, resulting in numerous questions and unsatisfactory results.
There are seven common mistakes that can increase your chances of receiving poor responses to your RFP. More important, these mistakes can prevent you from achieving the objective of the RFP. Let’s examine these mistakes here.
1) Ignoring the Importance of RFIs
In the rush to move things along, the request for information (RFI) is often overlooked in the RFP process. As the name implies, an RFI is a tool for collecting information from suppliers about the companies themselves, and their products and services. RFIs are useful when you’re faced with several suppliers you’re unfamiliar with, when you want to benchmark the marketplace for products and services (including budgetary information), and when you’ve identified too many potential suppliers and need to narrow the field. RFIs are simpler and less time-consuming than RFPs to prepare and evaluate. It makes a lot of sense to focus your team’s efforts on an RFI ahead of the RFP, thus eliminating unqualified suppliers from further consideration. It also saves the team time from sorting through responses that don’t meet the requirements.
An effective RFI has the following traits:
- It introduces the RFP process to prospective suppliers.
- It announces your intention to suppliers that there will be competition to get your business.
- It obtains project budgetary and financial data.
- It achieves greater understanding of a supplier’s products and services.
- It reduces the long list of potential respondents to a shorter, manageable list.
2) Sending Your RFP to Too Many Suppliers
Your suppliers deserve a fair and equitable opportunity to win your business, so send the RFP only to suppliers that have a real chance to work with you. It’s far better to do research ahead of time and target your RFP to the suppliers that are most likely to return the best responses. After all, the supplier’s cost and time spent to respond to an RFP is often significant. And once you receive responses, there’s also the cost and time within your organization for review and evaluation. You should allocate between one to two hours to review each response.
3) Not Holding a Pre-Proposal Conference
The pre-proposal conference gives you an opportunity to respond to suppliers’ questions and to explain or clarify technical issues with a common response to all suppliers. This goes a long way toward ensuring that every supplier you invite enters on an even playing field, which can especially problematic when you have a long-term, entrenched supplier that behaves more like an employee than a contractor. In those situations, it can be challenging to tender a quality response from other suppliers, because they expect the odds of you switching suppliers are not in their favor. A well-planned and well-run pre-proposal conference can save a lot of time and send one consistent message to all suppliers.
4) Omitting Response Instructions and Templates
Not including clear and concise instructions for the supplier to submit its response will result in inconsistencies in suppliers’ response formats. When you provide specific instructions on how the supplier should respond to your RFP, it not only maintains your control over the sourcing process, it also makes it easier for the response team to evaluate the responses.
For example, if your instructions dictate that suppliers provide their introduction/company background under tab A, functional/operational response under tab B and pricing under tab C, this makes it simpler and clearer for them and for you. Having a consistent template makes it easier to evaluate suppliers because you know exactly where to look for information during your review. If you need to go back and verify responses and information, knowing where to locate the specific information you desire saves valuable time.
5) Including Too Many Dates
I often come across RFPs attempting to be thorough but sharing too many calendar dates and excessive information. Including extra dates releases more information than is necessary and may even decrease your leverage to negotiate the best possible deal. You only need to include four dates in the RFP:
- Date the RFP is issued
- When questions are due
- Pre-proposal conference date
- When suppliers’ responses are due.
Dates such as evaluation period, on-site presentations and selection due dates reveal too much information to prospective suppliers. At this point in the process, less is more. Be on your guard for suppliers’ attempts to discover as much information as they can. Treat this information as it if were your organization’s most protected trade secrets. Doing so will help you maintain leverage and control of the sourcing process.
6) Unclear and Loosely Defined Objectives
Good-quality RFP responses should always be one of the goals of any sourcing process. Avoid being overly vague or cast a wide net in your RFP questions. One of the first things a supplier does when receiving an RFP is to ask the question, “What will it take to win the business?” The only way to do this is to ensure your objective or mission is clearly stated in the RFP. All technical, functional and operations questions should support the objective and mission of your RFP.
Seek input from a valued third party to ensure the RFP is stated clearly. Ask him or her to explain what the objective of the RFP is, the problem you are trying to solve, what it takes to win the business, what is within and outside of the scope, and most important, the necessary requirements.
7) Negotiating the Contract After Selecting a Winner
One of the most disheartening mistakes is witnessing an excellent, well-prepared RFP result in unfavorable results by selecting the winner first and then negotiating terms and conditions. When this occurs, you forfeit any competitive leverage gained during the sourcing process by essentially converting a competitive bid to a single-source initiative.
Always make it clear to potential suppliers that just because you have reached the point of negotiating terms and conditions doesn’t mean they’ve won the business. Communicate to the suppliers repeatedly that you’re negotiating with more than one. Also, negotiating with more than one supplier actually decreases your negotiation time frame because suppliers are quicker to respond when they know there’s competition.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is we’re all very busy in our roles every day, and we can’t afford to waste time working harder and longer than necessary. You can have a better chance of receiving quality RFP responses and save time by preventing these common RFP mistakes. Follow these simple guidelines and you are more likely to increase your organization’s efficiency and effectiveness in the RFP process.
Steven Jeffery is co-author of the book Art of a Creating a Quality RFP.