Either vendors will respond with half-truths about capabilities to meet your requirements, or the lack of response will necessitate starting the process all over again.
There are benefits of the RFP process. Interviewing stakeholders on how they would use the service, or currently handle processes the service might replace, can be productive and lead to innovation. Similarly, issuing an RFP is an easy way to solicit your needs to the vendor community in one fell swoop.
Here are a few best practices.
Keep It Simple, Stupid
The requirements of an RFP can morph into a behemoth. Resist the temptation for your RFP requirements to turn into a wishlist of everything you ever wanted. That approach will lead you down one of two paths: vendors will respond with half-truths about capabilities to meet your requirements, or a lack of responses will necessitate starting the process all over again. Both paths waste time, taxpayer funds, and critical momentum for innovative projects.
Limit the number of staff who have input on the RFP requirements. You need enough stakeholder input for project buy-in, but too much input will muddy up the requirements. Keeping your requirements simple increases the chances for a better response rate from vendors. From there, you can decide which response is the best fit.
Partner Up for Perspective
I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret about RFPs: a good number are rigged. If you review the latest released RFPs like I do (nerd alert), you’ll notice it, too. Do you see a requirement: “Must integrate with (Vendor) product?” Or requirements that only certain vendors can fulfill, regardless of how salient they are to the project? Practices like these give private-public partnerships a bad name.
Clearly, there’s some partnership happening; it’s just at the wrong stage and for the wrong motives. Sometimes, an RFP might be required and you’re just going through the motions to purchase what you want, I get it.
One way to ensure the best outcome of a project is by talking to vendors before writing an RFP. Ask them if your requirements are off-base. You might find you have a service or feature that a limited number of vendors can meet.
Vendors know more about their competition than you do; if you ask them about whether X requirement seems realistic for this project, their response will show whether they’re trustworthy.
Two advantages to building partnerships with multiple vendors in the same space:
- you find out if they’re worth doing business with and
- you get to guide your project down a realistic path.
Typically, vendors know more about their competition than you do; if you ask a vendor whether X requirement is realistic, their response will show whether they’re trustworthy. If they mislead you about the capabilities of other vendors, or over-promise on requirements, you can find out by talking with your other vendor contacts. Thus, it’s key to build relationships with multiple vendors.
I’ve dealt with simple, easy-to-navigate Request for Proposals that led to a great fit. I’ve also read proposals that are a nightmare (75+ pages, hundreds of requirements) and said, “Why bother?” It doesn’t have to be a headache and it doesn’t have to be useless. Keep it simple, partner up beforehand, and you’ll have a project that delivers a realistic, crafted outcome.