by Dan Morris, Sr. Solutions Architect
Creating a request for proposal (RFP) helps you identify and reach your organization’s goals. An RFP describes the product or service you want, or want to create, and the specifications used to identify and hire someone to work with your company.
The best RFPs go beyond a list of requirements, containing well-thought-out insights and business intelligence that helps you find the right partner to achieve your goals.
What is an RFP?
An RFP is a formal document that an organization uses when looking for partners and vendors to help it create a product or service. An RFP includes a detailed explanation of what you want and why, and you use it to solicit bids and identify the best partner in developing the product, service or solution.
Creating an RFP can be a massive undertaking, involving not only those who compete to prove to you that they warrant getting your business, but also teams within your organization to formulate what the RFP should contain in order to achieve your objective.
The RFP outlines what your organization is looking for and how it will evaluate proposals. It typically includes information in the following categories:
- Technical: Describe the business objectives of the project and details about the scope of the project including development, standards, outcomes, and deliverables.
- Administrative: Provide information about the company issuing the RFP, including its history, organization, and operations.
- Financial: Outline information about the company’s business plan, financial data, and risk analysis.
Not surprisingly, the RFP process is thorough and time-consuming. The document makes a statement not only about what you need but also about who you are as a company and where you want to head. You use an RFP to announce much more than that you want to find someone offering the best price. You use it to signal that you want to find the right partner.
The trouble with the traditional RFP process
As a typical part of companies’ search for a new partner, the RFP process is often dictated by procurement departments that have strict requirements.
Yet selecting the right partner isn’t like making the decision to buy the average product. It requires collaboration within the organization to create an RFP that effectively outlines the undertaking, and necessitates a conversation between organizations to ensure that they can form a productive working partnership. It means asking experts, both internally and externally, what they think your business should be doing and why.
Here are some problems with the typical RFP process:
- Collaboration within organizations is more necessary than ever, yet many companies have only recently implemented tools that streamline and enhance team collaboration—and some have yet to do so.
- Creating an RFP requires a daisy chain of information sharing among multiple employees who are not only under time constraints, they’re also typically fulfilling other job requirements at the same time. The incentive to create cookie-cutter RFPs is great, when the reality is that every RFP deserves a thorough look at what is being communicated to—and asked of—potential candidates.
- Standardization of traditional RFPs can quash more innovative approaches and cause companies to overlook opportunities.
- There’s not much chance in the RFP process to engage potential partners as consultative experts along the way.
The ideal RFP process would be more collaborative
RFPs aren’t going away, but we can improve the process with new considerations:
- Provide all participants with tools, such as ConnectedPDF (cPDF), that give you the ability to get and give insight into the process at every point so that information is shared and time is used most effectively.
- Meet fundamentals of the RFP process itself, such as quick turnaround, ad-hoc team input, follow-up and follow-through, by streamlining the ability of RFP creators to stay on task while managing their other workloads. Document intelligence can greatly assist.
- Engage potential partners early on to help you think through the information and issues you may not have addressed.
- Share information that a potential partner needs to create a successful proposal. Items such as budget, staffing and internal processes can help them create a holistic strategy that captures all of your needs.
- Be receptive to taking a fresh look at your existing research or to doing additional research that will inform a more successful strategy.
How this approach to RFPs can benefit you
By enhancing internal teams’ ability to collaborate as you develop RFPs, and by taking the time during the RFP process to tap vendors’ expertise, you can show results that top-of-mind with your organizations’ C-suite.
While RFPs are always time-consuming, they start the process to an important relationship. Success often comes from the RFP process and the decisions that go into and come out of it.