How Do I Improve the RFP Process?
Mark Twain once said, “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” With a little bit of RFP process improvement, you will not only make the creation of the RFP more straightforward, but you’ll also acquire higher-quality bids.
How can we improve the RFP process? Having worked in procurement for over twenty years, I can understand the frustration expressed by procurement professionals. It is not so much that the RFP process is broken, but that RFPs are becoming more complicated, and it’s getting harder and harder to get qualified vendors to bid on proposals.
Speaking with vendors, the common complaint I hear is that the time it takes to respond to a proposal often outweighs the value of the contract. Especially considering that bidding on an RFP doesn’t guarantee you anything.
So what is the advantage of getting more RFP bids? When your procurement team has a broader pool of quality applicants to choose from, you’ll have more leverage in negotiation and gain a broader view of the options that are out there. And getting more bids will get you that much closer to finding a solution that fits your needs. That is, as long as you’ve set up your RFP right.
The reason you’re likely reading this article in the first place is that you’re either not meeting your procurement goals (whether measured in cost savings or dollars spent) or you're simply frustrated by your existing RFP process. Luckily, we’ve worked with hundreds of procurement teams over the years and helped them make RFP process improvements. We've also developed software to help simplify the RFP process for both the buyer and the vendor.
Let’s look at some RFP process improvements and RFP best practices that can help.
RFP Process Improvement 1: Resolve Procurement Inefficiencies
While it may vary per organization or procurement team, we can all agree that there are two main inefficiencies that many organizations struggle with: turnaround time and vendor selection.
To be fair, the RFP process should take some time. You are making a significant financial decision for your organization, and it will impact a large number of end-users. From preparing the RFP to sending it out for bids and waiting for responses, a lot is going on before you even get to sign a contract.
That's if everything goes well! What if there are unforeseen complications or other delays that add even more time to your RFP process? Let’s look at some strategies for improving the specific steps involved in your RFP process.
Writing best practices to help solve RFP process inefficiencies
The RFP process doesn't need to be complicated. In fact, we’ve developed an RFP process improvement workflow to help your organization identify inefficiencies and make improvements.
Before we dive in, use this exercise to identify your main RFP. Here are some examples:
- Decrease the RFP development time
- Decrease the number of steps in the RFP process
- Decrease the vendor selection time
- Increase the number of bids received
The diagram below illustrates how simple it can be to improve your current process. First, consider your current process and define how long the process is taking. List out all the tasks that need to be done to complete an RFP in your organization.
Next, itemize how long you are spending on each step in your RFP process. This will help to determine any unnecessary steps and find opportunities for improvement.
The third step is to identify specific time-wasting tasks. Consider how important they are and what real value they are bringing to your process (if any).
Finally, you can use this information to create a new RFP process which should provide significant RFP process improvement.
The diagram below shows the RFP process improvement workflow for making effective RFP process improvements within your organization.
Shave days off of RFP timelines with RFP software automation
It is essential to keep in mind that the size of your organization will often determine the complexity of your RFP process and timelines. Smaller businesses may not have as many hands in the pot and there may be fewer policy requirements or points of approval. But all RFP processes can use the simple exercise outlined above, to shave a few days or weeks off of an inefficient RFP process.
Whether you are a government organization, public company, SMB, or a large corporation, businesses of all sizes can shave days off the RFP process by using RFP software. Automating many of the manual and unnecessary procedures of an RFP is a natural next step.
Some of the advantages of RFP automation software are:
- A single pane view for RFP administrators
- Question weighting and scoring capabilities
- Managing access levels for buyers and vendors
- A single communication channel
- Managing timelines and assigning tasks
- Auto import of existing RFPs in Word or Excel
All contracts have a termination date. It is in the buyer’s best interest to weigh their options at the end of each contract period. This not only ensures that you’re getting the best price but also allows you to leverage new technology or services that may have evolved since your last RFP.
However, resurrecting an old RFP that perhaps you weren’t even initially involved in can be confusing and risky, considering you don’t know what kind of review process it’s been through.
With the power of automation, reissuing RFPs you’ve already put out to bid in the past is easy. RFP software such as DirectRFP® allows you to clone an RFP, which means you just have to make small changes to update requirements. You can even see who was involved in the original RFP process and review responses you got in the past.
In addition, DirectRFP® is the only RFP software on the market that allows you to import existing RFP files in .docx or .csv formats. Digitize your RFP process without losing existing RFPs. We think that’s a win for any procurement team!
Compare RFP management software features in this handy chart.
Ask questions for measurable and comparable responses
Open-ended answers and questions that lead to paragraph-based responses can add unnecessary time to the review process. The RFP process in general is at risk of being out-of-date, so the most time-consuming part may be the best place to start.
Using easy-to-compare questions with multiple choice and yes/no answers ensures that responses don’t become too long-winded for easier comparability. Nobody wants to read through paragraphs and paragraphs to hunt for an answer. Make it black and white.
The easiest way to achieve this is with RFP software that uses set answers and weighted scoring to find the exact supplier solution for your needs. Include the use of weighted questions and on-the-fly answer auto-scoring, and you’re already chopping days off your RFP timeline by:
- Removing ambiguity in responses
- Offering vendor comparisons based on various customizable sectors (eg. price)
- Allowing auto-scoring and live response analysis without needing to print anything
- Providing real-time scoring to know who is bidding and how they stack up
Ask questions the right way to get the information you need
U2’s Bono sang, “We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong.” I think it’s a fitting lyric to describe the way many RFPs are written.
As a procurement professional, you have the mandate to secure a vendor that fulfills the needs of your RFP, including project capabilities, service agreements, technical specs, legal requirements, and compliance certifications, to name a few. All this, even before we start talking about cost.
Before putting all your requirements into an RFP, think about what you are looking for and design your questions to get the information you need. This may seem straightforward, but having been involved with hundreds of RFPs, I know all too well that the most well-intentioned RFP questions can lead to paragraphs and paragraphs of written responses. Essay-form responses are a waste of your time when it comes to assessing proposals, and sometimes you may not even get the response you’re looking for.
Boxing in the requirements, writing the RFP questions to quickly qualify or disqualify a bid, weighting the questions based on importance, and scoring responses will shave days off your RFP. Here are a few examples of how a specific requirement can be efficiently addressed with automatic scoring by an RFP automation software like DirectRFP®.
Whenever possible, use multiple choice or yes/no questions for easy scoring and comparing.
RFP Process Improvement 2: Build a Question Library
As far as RFP writing best practices go, a uniform approach will result in efficiency in the RFP process. You no doubt have similar requirements across various departments for different RFPs. Why not draw on previous RFPs to get a leg up on the new RFP?
Do you find yourself putting services and supplies out for RFP every few years? Although technology and products change, many of the questions you ask will be similar. You can use previously built RFPs to assist in wording and question setup. Up to 90 percent of an RFP can be automated, reducing creation time by 60 percent.
The question library helps to:
- Maintain consistency to meet all internal requirements for each RFP
- Ensure that a standard level of questioning and information gathering is applied
- Save time by reusing any repetitive components of an RFP
- Make it easier for vendors to respond, and get bids faster
Over time your question library will continue to grow. This can help your procurement team gain knowledge from previously issued RFPs. The automation frees you from data entry tasks. This allows you to concentrate on cost reduction, vendor consolidation, and supply chain shortcomings.
These RFP process improvements all lead to easier deployment and management of your RFP, and ultimately make responding to your RFP easier for the vendors as well.
RFP Process Improvement 3: Overcoming Multi-Channel Communications
Right this minute, you probably have several communication apps open on your desktop or phone. Email to chat with clients, Basecamp for internal projects, LinkedIn to reach out to prospects and new colleagues, Google Hangouts for internal group chats, Zoom for video conferencing, Facebook Messenger to make after-work plans, WhatsApp to chat with friends... We are all living in a multi-channel communication world.
While writing an RFP, you may be managing colleagues in different departments and pulling in subject-matter experts to put together the requirements. Consolidate your RFP management into one platform. Following this RFP best practice will allow you to consolidate communication in one place. Documents sent by email combined with chat messages can get messy, and things can be missed. Missed messages can result in delays in deploying an RFP.
Once an RFP has been put out, vendors will have questions and it is important that everyone has access to the same information. Sending messages from a single platform and being able to inform anyone who is responding to the RFP, will ensure that there is transparency throughout the process and a single vendor doesn’t have an unfair advantage.
A single-pane software system can track all communications for a particular RFP from start to end, ensuring that all vendors who need to know about an update are alerted, and no email is lost. This single source of truth will provide an audit trail, and ensure all parties have access to the same information.
Setting RFP Process Goals
To summarize some of the RFP process improvements we have spoken about so far, there are some overarching goals you should include in your RFP writing best practices to get better bids.
- Consistency: Consistent RFPs provide a higher quality of response.
- Continual improvement: Assess and improve your RFP process to help solve inefficiencies and continually make improvements.
- Automate: Shave days off of RFP timelines with RFP software automation.
- Simplify responses: Ask questions for measurable and comparable responses in order to quickly qualify and rate bids.
- Reuse and standardize: Start a question library to help standardize your RFPs and also shave hours off future RFP deployments.
- Share the load for efficiency: Depending on the size and complexity of the RFP, try assigning managers for individual sections of your RFP rather than one manager trying to execute the whole thing.
- Single pane view: Low-visibility becomes a bottleneck, so the easier it is to communicate the better. Ensure all parties are aware of changes, alerts, and deadlines.
RFP Process Improvement 4: Add RFP Automation Software
The best RFP software should assist with all of the above and ensure that you write clear questions to get the responses you need to make the right vendor selection. And the best kind of RFP process improvement is the removal of manual, time-consuming tasks, allowing your procurement team to focus on providing value.
Automated RFP software is a must-have tool for procurement officers to solicit the best bids from the right vendors. Save time and money finding the best available vendors out there.
Contact us today to learn why DirectRFP® is the only RFP automation platform that has been built to solicit exact and measurable responses from vendors.