The Five Components of a Highly Effective Request For Proposal

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Nothing gets your pulse racing like a nice juicy RFP (request for proposal) dropping into your in tray. Okay, this is probably far from reality, but they are a key part of the weekly diet for most consultants and certainly a regular feature of every company. Responses to RFPs are how companies judge, shortlist and select candidate firms to work with- so why are RFPs highly inefficient, the cause of so much pain and confusion, and the kind of thing people rarely cite as a career high?


After filling in more RFPs than we'd care to remember, we feel uniquely appointed to comment on what an efficient tendering process looks like and what to avoid when running your next tender process. While we can't guarantee it, this simple to follow five-point-checklist may help your organization's next RFP process run more smoothly than a German silk garment manufacturer.

1. Release the RFP only if you can see it through

Okay, before we get started, a little whine from a person who has responded to more RFPs than he cares to remember. Only ever release an RFP if you have the commercial backing and political support to see it through.

Organizations who release RFPs with no commitment (to appoint) lose credibility quickly with good consultants and firms. The world is surprisingly small and word gets around quickly.

Remember, time-wasters are no one's friends. Even responding to a RFP with limited scope can take days of a company's time, so be respectful of other's time and efforts- you'll feel better about yourself for doing so.

2. Know what you want

Understand the issue deeply- envision the outcome, ohm a little. Knowing what you really want is key. Gathering your requirements fully is best achieved by understanding the issue from the perspective of key stakeholders- the lad in accounts might be quiet but he can derail your project sure as look at you. Interview the stakeholders vigorously- or until they squeal.

Also clearly define the project experience the candidate firms must be able to show for them to make in through your shortlisting process. Sift out the "expats-that-have-done-it-once-honest-mate'. Envision the perfect candidate clearly and confirm their profile with project stakeholders. Finally, outline how winning candidates will work with you (are they dynamic, powerful, careful, precise), where are they located (local, regional, global) and how much experience do they need (little to none: this project is totally greenfield, extensive: we are a large corporation and we need to know we can trust them implicitly).

3. Make a shortlist

Life is finite and you have better things to do- so, shortlist! Shortlisting is essential. You and your team have to evaluate three (probably monster-sized) submissions and time is money and your life is finite. If you can't shortlist to three, you have not got the right five to begin with, or are you perhaps confused about the finite nature of existence?

Find five firms that you can prove have what it takes to deliver a project like yours- successfully. Ask them to send credentials showing experience in delivering similar projects. While a highly seasoned expert is no guarantee of a successful outcome, it is best if the candidate firm has some relevant experience to draw upon. If you appoint a consultant with no similar experience, you can bet they will be learning as they go- on your fees, dammit!

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Now, shortlist these five firms down to just three who fit your profile and have the relevant experience. The results they show you and importantly, how they present them to you, will give you a feeling about the firm's capabilities. If the feeling isn't good, you can bet your guts know something- ignore them at your peril.

Also, don't waste yours or your candidate's time by making them respond to an RFP unless they have some chance of winning. It ain't right, and it isn't clever.

4. Remember the KISS principle.

Keep it stupidly simple. Many RFPs can be summed up in a single page so why not keep it simple and save time? You won't fool anyone with your pages and pages of "important company content." Keep your historical references to on-point examples - consultants only need to read relevant material, the rest is a waste of everyone's time.

Note that complexity is not your friend. You are trying to select a consultative and trustworthy partner to help you deliver a critical business solution- you are not trying to get them to solve the problem in their response. Also, ask the candidates to keep their credentials simple. Three relevant case studies will be enough and it shows you how good the candidate is at selection and filtering.

5. Ask respondents to follow a template.

It's good to send a submission template with the RFP. If you want to compare apples with apples, send a submission template that shortlisted firms have to use. A framework will enable candidate firms to work through the RFP in a logical manner and save them wasting man hours putting content together that you are not interested in sifting through. With the framework in place, the content will be focused on the issues and the review of the submissions will become simpler and the selection process easier.

While you will probably not be spend your last breath recalling your "best RFP moment," they are a fact of commercial life and we have to live with them. Hopefully the pointers above will make your next one simpler, easier, and more effective.

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