Ah – the procurement professional’s trusted best friend: The RFP. This sweet mechanism is your first step to securing a great deal on your offices supplies, implementing new IT and telecommunications tools and services throughout your organization, partnering with the right marketing agency to grow your company’s brand, or improving the quality of your product by contacting a new supplier for your direct materials. Most importantly though, the RFP is both yours and contending suppliers’ way of getting to know each other’s companies and deciding if and how your companies can work together.

Think of the RFP as a first impression that you have the ability to shape based on the information you share with your contending supply base, the information you request from them, and your approach to communicating with them. Just as you’ll be using the RFP to vet suppliers, suppliers will also be using the RFP as a means for deciding whether or not they want to work with you. So, you want your RFP to set you and your potential suppliers up for success.

What Not to Do:

Overuse boiler plate language: A double-edged sword, boilerplate language can both help and hinder your RFP. While it may save time to leverage a templated RFP, often these include unnecessary information that is irrelevant to your project goals. When used improperly, boilerplate language can also send the wrong message to your contending supply base, giving the appearance of clumsy or hasty work and suppliers may not be motivated to give you’re the thorough responses you’re looking for.

     Instead… Don’t be afraid to reframe your templated RFP. Templated language serves a purpose for covering your legal basis and providing a consistent structure. Aside from that, don’t be afraid to remove components of the template that aren’t relevant to your project requirements. For example, you may be inclined to include information about your company boasting its accomplishments to give participating suppliers a better view of your company's profile. However, suppliers are only likely to skim over this information to focus on how their products and services could address your needs. As a result, the fluff you included only adds the length of the RFP and adds minimal value to the process.

Be Vague: The RFP is your opportunity to get an apples-to-apples comparison of your potential supplier. Despite this, many companies struggle to provide enough detail in their scope of work to enable a simplified comparison. Ambiguity leads to assumptions and assumptions will vary across your suppliers, leaving you with a wide ranges in pricing, service levels, and conditions to asess.
     Instead…Be Specific in Your Scope of Work. Think about the information your contending suppliers would need to be able to deliver a proposal (mostly) consistent in structure to the many others you'll be receiving - allowing you to conduct as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as possible. What exactly are you looking for them to provide? What processes are currently in place that you’re looking for your contending suppliers to adapt to? What capabilities do they need to have? Be as specific as possible within this section of your RFP in an effort to simplify the assessment phase later on in the process.

Strictly Limit Communication: Chances are, you’re inviting a number of suppliers to submit responses to your RFP and you probably don’t want to be constantly inundated with questions or even sales pitches. In the perfect world, your RFP would be absolutely clear and concise and suppliers would perfectly understand what you’re looking for and be able to give you clean-cut answers. The reality is, in most cases, suppliers will need to reach out to you to ask clarifying questions and completely shutting out that communication can prevent you from working with a supplier that could be a perfect fit for your organization’s needs.
     Instead…Open the Lines of Communication: There are ways to add structure to the communication with your contending supply base without opening the flood gates. The trick is building in opportunities to interact with these suppliers to your RFP process and taking them into consideration when developing your timeline. One way is to have them submit their questions via email with a set deadline for submissions. Once, you’ve received all of these questions you can then formulate your answers and compose a simple document with all of the questions you’ve received and then share it with the participating suppliers. This gives your contending supply-base an opportunity to have their question(s) answered and receive answers to questions they may not have thought of all -while not overwhelming you.

While designing and administering an RFP can be challenging, keep in mind that this is the first step to establishing a strong relationship with your future suppliers. Ultimately you and your supply base have the same goal of working together. Make your first impression on your future suppliers one that shows you’re mindful of their time, thoughtful of work you’re asking them to provide, and open to their perspectives and concerns.

Recognizing the importance finding and working with the right supplier or vendor, Source One is committed to sharing our know-how and insights to deliver tools and methodologies that set our clients up for sourcing success.  While you may already be familiar with our e-sourcing platform, WhyAbe.com, the world’s only free e-sourcing tool is getting a make-over. Stay tuned for how its new features will make it even easier to manage RFX events and supplier relationships!
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Carole Boyle

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