Treinen’s top tips for your successful procurement
Sending out an RFP? In 17 years of business, we have responded to hundreds of RFPs and work orders. We have seen it all, from RFPs sent that still contained template language (“insert your schedule here”) to RFPs that incorporated all the best practices.
We have put together our best advice for organizations to ensure contractors like us can respond to your RFPs on time and with a thorough response, so you can select the right vendor.
Writing the RFP
There are a few best practices that we’ve identified over the years to ensure you have an RFP at the right level of detail and with clear instructions for the vendor community.
To obtain thorough responses from vendors, make sure you are clear in describing your goals and your needs from a vendor. This means you should be as transparent as possible with the vendors. Most importantly, tell the vendor why the project is happening so they can propose an approach that will help you achieve your specific goals. The more information you provide to them, the more likely they are to prepare a valuable response.
Be clear on organizational as well as individual qualifications so that the vendor will bid the right people who will suit you and your organization the best. Make sure you are specific in defining mandatory versus desirable qualifications or requirements, whether you are looking for full time or part time consultants, and whether you have a preference for a team approach or an individual. Defining this will help you better understand your needs and will help vendors propose a team that will best meet your needs.
The organization and clarity of your RFP can directly impact the number and quality of responses you receive. It is critical that you are clear about what you expect from the vendor’s response. Here are a few tips:
- Include clear expectations for how you want the proposal organized. Dedicate one section of the RFP to describing the proposal requirements.
- Use numbered bullets when describing information that needs to be provided by the vendors and ask them to use the same numbering in their proposal. This will allow vendors to ensure a complete response and make it easier for you to compare vendor’s answers to your questions.
- Include which file type you want vendors to respond with (Word, PDF, etc).
- Identify any page limits to ensure concise responses.
- Refrain from repetition within the RFP. This will make it easier to revise the RFP, if needed, as well as making it simpler for vendors to understand your requirements.
- Consolidate information as much as possible by including the least possible amount of attachments, helping to reduce confusion and helping vendors fully understand your expectations and procurement process.
- Provide any forms that need to be completed by the vendor in Word whenever possible. This saves time for the vendor and ensures the forms are returned to you in the desired format.
Consider hosting a pre-proposal conference that allows for dialog between you and vendors. Pre-proposal conferences are most valuable if vendors are allowed to ask questions in order to clarify areas within the RFP that are unclear. If you decide to offer a pre-proposal conference, consider making it optional as to not discount busy or smaller vendors. Additionally, in most instances it is appropriate to provide a webinar/phone option to encourage attendance.
Questions and answers should happen as early in the process as possible. This will allow vendors more time to provide you with adequate and specific information in their proposals. If you do not know an answer to a vendor question or do not have a preference, it is okay to say so. Be as transparent and direct as possible. Vague answers will add confusion to the process. RFP coordinators should be involved in the Q&A process so that appropriate communication can take place and all organization policies are adhered to.
Evaluators must be familiar with the RFP requirements as well as scope, evaluation criteria and guidelines in order to fairly evaluate vendors on paper and in person. Your evaluation criteria should accurately reflect what is most important to you in selecting a vendor.
Provide clear information to the vendors about the format and process for the Oral Interviews.
Set an agenda for the vendor to follow. This includes establishing an overall time limit for the interview, and time limits per segment, if applicable. Consider asking the vendor to give a short presentation or provide them with some questions to prepare their responses to ahead of time. This should always be combined with a more conversational interview component, where vendors are asked to respond to your questions without the opportunity to prepare responses.
Allow the vendor enough time to prepare. If you ask vendors to prepare anything in advance of the interview, like a presentation or responses to specific questions, allow enough time for them to prepare. You want to see the best your vendor has to offer – give them the opportunity to show you that.
Don’t forget the details. Make sure to provide clear dates and times for the interview as well as the location, driving and parking directions, and how to access the building. If the vendor is giving a presentation, make sure to tell them what technologies they are expected to use and what is available in the conference room. If possible, inform the vendor of the names and titles of the individuals who will be attending the interview.
After you have selected an Apparent Successful Vendor, it is a good practice (and may be required by law in your area) to offer debrief meetings to those vendors who were not selected. This is an important step to maintain your relationship with the vendor community. They need to hear how they can improve, which will allow for more competition in future procurements and ensure you are receiving high-quality bids.
Provide as much valuable and specific information as possible to the vendors. Include their ranking overall and information about specific sections that will help vendors understand if they scored well or if they completely missed the mark. If you can’t provide a ranking, at least provide their score out of the best possible score.
Be as honest as possible with vendors regarding what they did well and what they could have done better. Work with your contract staff to understand what type of information you are allowed to share. Honesty between the client and vendor will result in more vendors feeling they were treated fairly and more often than not, this will result in them proposing to you again in the future.
Taking the time to craft a detailed and clear RFP and process will help you get the right vendor for your project.