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9 Quick Tips For Writing an Effective RFP

The Request for Proposal is a powerful tool with a specific job to do. Follow these quick suggestions to make it even more effective.

Mark Hamblin

Mark Hamblin

September 17, 2020

You're probably here because you're faced with writing a Request for Proposal for some super important project. Maybe its your first one, or maybe you've been writing them for years. Either way, welcome — you're in a good place.

We're going to give you some quick tips for how you can make that RFP really awesome.

Throughout this list, remember that there is no right or wrong way to write an RFP, and creating the RFP itself is not the end goal. Instead, it is just one (important) step in the overall process of finding the best possible supplier, vendor, or partner to meet your business need.

OK, let's dive in.

1. Keep it concise and focused. Don't write a novel.

Notice that we titled this post "Quick tips for writing an effective RFP". Big emphasis on effective.

All too often we see people spending too much time on things that really don't matter with the RFP — the formatting, the length, or getting that company logo just perfect.

Sure, a professional looking RFP is good, but in the end, no awards will be given because you used some super fancy font and turned a simple RFP into something rivaling War and Peace.

The only people who have time to read unnecessarily long RFPs are people at companies with nothing better to do, with no business coming in. Are they the ones you really want to work with?

2. Sell it. Look at the RFP as a marketing tool with suppliers.

A large part of your job in Procurement and Supply Chain is to attract the best possible suppliers and partners to do business with you, on the best possible terms.

Just like your Sales & Marketing team's job is to find the best possible customers to buy from you on the best possible terms.

And just like your HR department's job is to find the best possible talent to join your company.

In the end, any externally facing role in a company involves selling, marketing, and negotiation. As a Procurement or Supply Chain person, the RFP is one of your main tools to do this.

Is there some potential upside for suppliers who win this project with you, such as other future business, or some unwritten growth potential? Put that in the RFP.

Is there some legitimate reason why suppliers should give you a low price for this project, maybe because you're easy to work with, or because you're doing some of the work internally? Mention that too.

By no means should you make false promises or empty commitments (good suppliers will see right through that) but it will serve you well to view the RFP as an important part of your overall negotiation process.

3. Publish your decision criteria.

Chances are you and your team have made a list of criteria you'll use to make a vendor selection decision. Maybe its just a qualitative list, or maybe you've gone the extra step of assigning weights to each item with an objective rating scale.

Either way, we suggest making this known to your suppliers as part of the RFP — weights, rating scales, and all.

If nothing else, it is a very clear and quantifiable way to communicate your overall priorities for the project.

You may be thinking this will allow some suppliers to "game the system" by tailoring their proposal to better fit your rating system, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It cuts out a lot of the negotiation and aligning of objectives that would have to come later anyways.

In the end, more information, communicated as early in the process as possible, is usually a very good thing.

4. Make the project deliverables & expectations extremely clear. Remember 5W's + 1H.

RFPs can vary widely in the scope of what they cover. Some are for very specific short-term projects, but some are for more open-ended partnerships or outsourcing efforts.

But no matter what, there is some picture in your mind or your company's understanding of what this project is, how you see it being executed, and what the outcomes and deliverables are. Write down as much of that as possible, in as much detail as you can.

For each deliverable or expectation, think about the 5W's (who, what, when, where, why) and 1H (how).

For an outsourced service project, where will the work be done? Will the vendor be providing dedicated resources or shared resources with other customers? When will each deliverable be due? If there are still some unknowns, or things that you're flexible on, mention that too!

We recommend making a "Deliverables" section of your RFP document, making it very clear and prominent, and putting a lot of thought into it internally. The extra effort now will save you much grief later, and will provide a much better target for vendors to hit in preparing their proposal.

5. Be prepared to make changes & publish updates.

RFPs have traditionally been viewed as this big thing you write once, send out to lots of vendors, and collect responses on.

The workflow went something like write big long Word document → export as PDF → send to suppliers → collect responses from suppliers.

But in reality, that probably isn't the best way to do it. Maybe as you start to hear back from suppliers you realize that you want to change something. Or maybe your project requirements change internally. Now you have to go back and edit that big long PDF document, and send new emails to all suppliers. Yuck.

You should view the RFP as a living document, with the expectation that you will modify, clarify, and add details throughout the process.

Certainly you don't want to go change the project scope completely, but most suppliers will welcome additional clarity. And if your requirements or project details have changed, its in everyone's best interest to communicate that as early as possible to save everyone's time. Changes happen.

Managing all these changes and re-sending updates to suppliers is now vastly easier thanks to modern sourcing automation software like what we offer at Supplios.

6. Be ready & open to questions from suppliers.

It would certainly be convenient to be able write a perfect RFP, send to your potential suppliers, and receive a healthy mix of highly competitive responses back by your deadline, all without fielding any questions.

But that never happens. Prepare for it.

Maybe you want to direct certain technical questions to a specific person, or only receive questions by email instead of phone. Make all that very clear. It will help you keep your sanity, and it will help encourage suppliers to actually ask questions that help them prepare better responses and help you improve your RFP.

Supplios can help you keep your sanity through all this — with our managed vendor communication features, you can direct all emails related to an RFP to one place, get help from colleagues to answer vendor questions, and greatly boost your efficiency in running many RFPs in parallel.

7. Make it very clear how vendors should respond — with templates or examples.

When writing an RFP, its easy to lose sight of its important counterpart — the vendor proposals themselves. After all, getting meaningful responses and proposals from vendors is the reason you're doing this, right?

But "proposal" can mean many different things to many people. To one person its a 58-page Powerpoint presentation filled with a bunch of fluff that you don't really care about. To another person its a 2-paragraph email with a couple price quotes in it. Big difference.

Do you have a specific form you want all vendors to fill out? Do you have a pricing spreadsheet you want everyone to fill out? Then make a template and include that in your RFP package. Or better yet, use the drag-and-drop form builder and pricing sheet builder we have in Supplios, and we'll automatically combine all the responses into one interactive side-by-side comparison chart. No more Excel nightmares! 🙌

No matter what tools you use, setting a specific target for the response format can help you more efficiently go through the responses, will help make sure you're making apples-to-apples comparisons between vendors, and will help make your expectations clear to those responding.

8. Big project? Undefined requirements? Break up the RFP into multiple rounds.

When starting to solicit bids and proposals for a large project, the overall process can seem quite daunting. Perhaps all the project requirements or scope is not defined yet.

For example, perhaps your company knows you need to bring on a contract manufacturer for a new product in development, but you don't know enough about how those deals are structured to write a solid RFP, and you really just want to see what options are available.

In this rather common scenario, it is often best to break up the process into (at least) two steps. The first step would be running a more open-ended RFP, where you just describe a much about the project as you can and solicit responses from suppliers where they detail their interest level, other relevant work they've done, and how they suggest to structure the project.

Then you can look at what you get from that, narrow your list of potential suppliers, and create a scoped-down second RFP, all while your internal team is better defining the project requirements.

Faced with a big project, don't try to swallow it whole. Break it into actionable pieces and keep things moving step-by-step.

9. Automate the busy-work.

Running an RFP or RFQ process can be full of busy-work. Preparing documents. Chasing your colleagues to help provide input or feedback. Infinite back-and-forth emails with suppliers, often answer the same questions over-and-over again.

The mundane busy-work often overshadows the important, often large $/€ decisions that we're managing with these RFPs. But it doesn't have to be this way.

There are finally well-designed, easy-to-use software tools like Supplios to help automate all the boring stuff, letting you focus on the high-value work that really matters.

From running effortless RFPs, to automating the new vendor onboarding process, to scaling your supply-chain compliance programs, our goal from day-one has been to give you a suite of tools to build and run a world-class supply chain without needing to go hire 10 more people.


We hope those quick tips help as you're preparing for your next RFP or RFQ!

If you're interested to see how Supplios can help you automate your sourcing process and save your and your team many hours per week, just drop us a line at hello@supplios.com. We'll be happy to give you a demo!

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