I loved BJ’s post last Monday, in which he inadvertently found that he’d been editing a paragraph from the customer’s RFP – rather than from the draft proposal.
I still spend about 10% of my time working with purchasing teams. They find it fascinating to hear what happens on the bidding side of the table, and I personally like to keep in close contact with the way that buyers think and operate. And if I can persuade one or two sourcing teams that they need to write better RFPs, then it might make life easier for some proposal folks out there!
It’s a long hard slog, though, trying to persuade buyers that what they’re doing when producing an RFP is an exact mirror image of what we’re doing in our proposal teams. Their process logically includes:
- Pre-RFP preparation (building their team, developing their project plan, positioning their requirements with the market to ensure that the right suppliers do bid)
- Developing their strategy (“What are our real needs? How do we want to position this with bidders?”)
- Working out the structure of their document (“How can we make sure we get the right information in a format that’s easy to evaluate?”)
- Designing their content (“What questions do we need to ask, and why? What would good answers look like?”)
- Developing their content (collating information from different content experts, and melding it together to ensure consistency of tone and content)
- Producing a professional-looking document that presents their opportunity appropriately to the RFP’s recipients
- Gaining final sign-off from relevant stakeholders before the RFP is issued to the market.
Problem is, they don’t really (by and large) see it as a process. And when they don’t treat it as a process, they don’t understand the skills associated with doing it well – least of all, any professional writing or design skills, as mentioned in some of the comments on BJ’s post. So it’s left to the purchasing manager (frequently untrained in the art of developing RFPs) to cut and paste from past questionnaires, and to issue documents that veer between inconsistent and incoherent, whilst often feeling a sense of desperate isolation from business stakeholders who don’t want to get actively involved until the proposals are in.
Done well, mind, the benefits to the buyer are immense: we’ve seen this whenever we’ve helped procurement teams with their RFPs and subsequent evaluations. They receive far higher-quality proposals from their suppliers. So much better for the evaluators to be able to choose between a selection of truly excellent proposals, than to play a confrontational game that inevitably results in poor documents articulating unnecessarily weak, costly and risky solutions from ill-informed bidders. They find the transition from contract to implementation much smoother. And they find it far easier to manage the debrief process, as even losing suppliers confirm that they recognise the quality and fairness of the process they’ve just been through.
More on this shortly – our Proposal Guys panel is working on advice for those developing RFPs, and we’ll share their thoughts next week.