Have you ever had to manage an RFP process? What about answer one? They are miserable on both sides, right? In past jobs I had to run RFP processes and I always hated that no matter how specific we got, vendors would still find a way to answer “yes” when they really meant “no”. Then I got a position where we had to answer the questions. Suddenly we were confronted with questions that when put in context were vague and if we took the actual question, were “yes” but if the spirit was different, could be a “no”. In those days, we answered yes. Today, that’s not what I do.
With most RFPs there is little room to discuss anything and little tolerance for going outside the box built for the proposal. After all, the whole point of doing an RFP is to get a situation where you are comparing apples to apples. But in reality, it isn’t that easy.
For instance, I recently received one that said the website must be compatible with a particular software I have never used. In looking at the information on line, making a WordPress site compatible with this software is a very difficult undertaking. In fact, there was one company that only does WordPress sites compatible with this software – it is their whole market. I declined participating in the RFP process. But, I added comments to help the organization really dig into the proposals to make sure the people who did bid could actually do what the organization needed. The result? They are considering hiring me as a consultant!
If you have to do an RFP for something, try to give scenarios whenever possible. For instance, if there is a service component to the proposal, pose a situation that might come up and have the company describe what will happen. In the case above, have them explain how the two programs work together. Even if it is too technical for you to read, someone you know can help you make sure they know what they are talking about. Keep things as open-ended as possible so you can the best answers. You will have to put in the work to evaluate them any way, so give yourself as much information as possible. Also be sure to have a section for the vendor to send you notes and information. There may be things they want you to know that you didn’t ask and they didn’t feel they could include.
Start an RFP off as a partnership with the vendors to help you get the best information possible. It is the only way to actually end up with the right solution!
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