I’ve been suffering of late from Jon’s Law of Inverse Technological Availability: “the less time I have available, the greater the chances of IT failure”. Our third panel post has been a little delayed, therefore, as I’ve fought off the gremlins. The challenge we posed this time to our team of proposal professionals from around the world provoked considerable debate:
What impact does the quality of the customer’s RFP have on the quality of the proposal? And what advice would you offer to customers to improve their RFPs?
My mother often says ‘You reap what you sow’. And in this case, she is completely right. Any customer who issues a poorly constructed RFP is setting a poor tone from the outset. It will immediately sway the mood of the bid team who have to spend hours extricating requirements and compliances from a web of confusion.
First impressions count. That’s right, isn’t it? Everyone knows that. It’s why people practice their handshakes, polish their shoes before an interview, and so on…. So why, why, do potential clients think that it is acceptable to send a tangled mess of formatting, hidden text, and obscure questions?
If this is the issue, then the client should be likened to the small child learning to speak. The child knows what it wants, but the communication skills it possesses are not developed enough to clearly define it. The vendors are the adults trying to understand what the child is saying, trying to offer suggestions as to what it may be that is required…
Poor syntax would have the most effect, as we might not understand the question. Poor formatting, etc., doesn’t affect our response as we always remove the questionnaire and put it into our (beautifully formatted) response template.
1. Ensure the questions are clearly written and applicable to the project.
2. Eliminate redundant or duplicate questions. Nobody likes to answer the same question twice! (buyers don’t want to read the answer twice, either)
3. Apply consistent formatting to the questionnaire. A proposal manager should not have to correct formatting and numbering in the original RFP document.
4. Allow the vendor to respond in Microsoft Word (or PDF). Excel and web-based RFPs do not typically allow the vendor to incorporate formatting and graphics in their response.
If the second meeting goes well and you think this is a company you want to work with, have them write up their findings into a formal document, factoring in some of the specific questions you have identified, so you can may make whatever decision is in the best interest of your company. You save yourselves potentially hundreds of hours by not issuing formal RFPs, which typically don’t speak to your needs in the first place.
By now, I was starting to feel the panel’s collective pain! Lesa agreed with other panellists that the old principle of “garbage in, garbage out” tends to apply:
We see so many poorly written/constructed/formatted RFPs, with the nerve to require adherence to their crazy formats! For example, why ask “Provide a detailed description of ______” then restrict the response to 40 characters?!?!? Another frequent faux pas is the obvious combining of content from several RFPs into one (in)coherent document…
My advice? Many companies that issue RFPs also have proposal departments (or individuals) that respond to them…tap into that expertise and have them review the RFP for consistency / respond-ability! My department regularly offers our consultative expertise not only to divisions within our own company, but also to consultants/clients with whom we do business…
1) Know what you are buying
2) Understand what is important to you in your buying decision
3) Ask direct, complete and relevant questions
4) DON’T USE EXCEL FOR A RFP
5) Explain your goals and objectives
6) Provide your budget
7) Provide your scoring criteria
8) Describe what the products/services will be used for
9) Clearly define what is negotiable and what is not
10) Be open and transparent – let everybody ask questions throughout the process if they need to – after all, the goal is to get the information you need
11) Provide questions and answers to those questions to all the bidders or hold a pre-bidders conference
12) Provide a sufficient timeframe – give the responder enough time to really do their best work (don’t make them jump through hoops or work holidays….its just not nice)
13) Clearly define the assumptions we should use for pricing our products/services so that you can have an apples-to-apples comparison
An impact of a poor quality document is a feeling on the part of those responding, myself included, that the requestor doesn’t really take their own RFP seriously. I think this has a subliminal affect on those developing the response and the resulting proposal is poorer for it.