If You Are Going to Create RFPs – Avoid RFP Hell

And Write Better RFPs!

On Sunday, in Why Create RFP Hell? we referenced a post by Larry Bodine that he posted over ten (10) years ago over on the Law Marketing Blog on Why Go to RFP Hell where we noted that, as a vendor, the last thing you want to do is answer an RFP. Especially a poorly designed RFP, because it is the only thing worse than the Spreadsheet Hell you have to endure to manage your Sourcing Project Pipeline (unless, of course, you have a Sourcing CRM solution, like Per Angusta described in yesterday’s post).

Since the last thing you want to do is be on the receiving end of a bad RFP, the very last thing you want to do is issue a bad one. If you don’t drive away the best suppliers, you will at least put them off and they will not be all that excited about giving you a great solution or putting their best effort into the project. So, as we indicated in Sunday’s post, you really need to Write Better RFPs (membership required). And the new Plus series co-authored by the doctor and the maverick is designed to help you do all that. All five (5) parts of the series are now up, and can be found here:

  1. Intro & Issues
  2. Requirements
  3. Provider Secrets
  4. Buyer Best Practices
  5. Tech Benefits

So how will this series help you write better RFPs? Instead of telling you what an RFP is, specifying the section, and giving you a template with hundreds of useless questions that will have respondents pulling out their hair (and searching for the closest voodoo shop with your linked in profile picture in hand), it addresses a number of key requirements of RFPs that most guides will fail to tell you.

For example, what is more important to keep in mind when writing an RFP — the supplier limits, or your limits? Most people would say “supplier limits” because the supplier will be providing a product or service and you need to know the extent of their capability. And while this is true, it’s more important to know your limits. If you don’t know your limits, you end up asking questions that are too detailed and that effectively only allow suppliers that fit in a neat little box to respond — a neat little box that might represent last year, or last decade’s solution. An initial RFP needs very open, broad, questions that allow a top-notch, engaged, interested supplier to show their capabilities, not just the subset you think you are interested in. Success is describing the desired end, not the acceptable means. If the supplier can host their software on a quantum computer, all the better for you.

And while you might need to Cover Your @ss, Asking CYA questions is pointless. No supplier who takes the time to fill out a 20 page RFP is going to say “NO” knowing that it could be an immediate disqualification. And while you will want to disqualify any supplier unable or unwilling to meet necessary conditions by the first delivery date, you do not want to disqualify a supplier who does not have sufficient insurance now, because, for the right contract, many suppliers will increase their insurance, change their operational practices, and participate in optional sustainability improvement programs. Simply create an attachment that lists, in detail, necessary insurance requirements, and mandatory certifications and audits, minimally acceptable codes of conduct, and any other inflexible requirements and explicitly state that any supplier unable to meet these requirements by a certain date will be disqualified in the next round and that any suppliers selected for the next round (which could be in-person negotiations) will have to verify the ability to meet all of the attached terms and conditions before they will be allowed to continue in the sourcing process. If you take the time to specify all this in detail, the supplier will know your organization is serious, but that it is willing to give a good supplier until the product or services delivery date to meet the requirements. The better suppliers will self-select.

The reality is, as per our in-depth Provider Secrets article, suppliers, and the best suppliers in particular, have a lot of reasons to ignore your RFP. If you want the best suppliers to respond, it has to be a good RFP (for a decent size project which clearly conveys that the best supplier, whether or not it already does business with the organization, has a solid chance of winning some business).

If you follow the tips and tricks in Buyer Best Practices, your chances will improve considerably, especially if you use a good RFP creation tool that makes it easy to engage organizational stakeholders, gather supplier responses, and compare them side-by-side in a meaningful manner (that goes beyond just a weighted scorecard). So check out the series (membership required) and learn to Write Better RFPs today.