Posts

Your Software RFP is Broken – Here’s How to Fix It

Have you ever been involved in a software purchase that failed to meet the stated objectives? That ran way over budget? That launched months or years later than planned? Of course you have. Research shows that only about 30% of digital transformations are successful.

One of the main reasons for this is the way enterprise software is often purchased: through an RFP (request for proposal). On paper, it seems like an RFP is a strong approach: define your goals clearly, evaluate solutions side-by-side on objective criteria, pick the best fit with input from all stakeholders. Unfortunately this approach is fundamentally flawed. It makes a number of incorrect assumptions.

Flawed assumption 1: You fully understand the requirements up-front

You spent weeks building your buying team. You spent months interviewing users. You did your research on the market. You even brought in consultants to help you identify and document your requirements. Surely you know everything you need to know to specify exactly what you need and what you want to buy! Right?

Wrong. You will definitely identify additional requirements – sometimes extremely critical ones! – during implementation. If the project is complex enough to warrant an RFP, then it is too complex to fully document up front. It will affect too many people, touch too many systems, and modify too many business processes for anyone to understand the full impact ahead of time.

Flawed assumption 2: You are picking a static solution

An RFP implies that you are looking for a software solution that will not change. You want to buy a done deal – something that you can install, turn on, and forget about.

In reality, even the best enterprise software solutions are constantly evolving. They have to in order to keep up with the rapidly changing needs of users and the rapidly changing technology landscape. The best enterprise software vendors are constantly innovating and releasing new features and functionality.

And remember: you will miss key requirements in the RFP. Therefore, in order to be successful, the solution you select must be flexible, if only to accommodate the inherent imperfection of the requirements gathering process.

Instead of thinking about a static solution, you should be identifying a partner and platform that can adapt when your own understanding of your needs changes.

Flawed assumption 3: A feature list can define the solution fit

In an RFP, you are essentially comparing feature lists. Yes, you will ask about customer references, support, security, and so on. But to compare functionality, you’re going to ask about a long list of features.

However a feature is not a solution. A feature is just a tool that might or might not be helpful in solving your specific problem.

The challenge is figuring out how all of the features fit together to provide an overall solution that meets your needs. This can be extremely difficult to do in an RFP, because you are not actually seeing the software in action. You are just reading about it.

The only way to really understand how well a solution fits is to see it in action and use it yourself. This is why trial programs are so important (more on that later).

Flawed assumption 4: You can evaluate user experience from a demo

A demo is not the same as using the software. In a demo, you are seeing a pre-planned, rehearsed, and polished presentation of the software. The vendor controls what you see and how you see it. They are carefully selected to show you only the very best parts of the software. Even when you think you have dictated the demo script to the vendor, it is the vendor that is ultimately constructing and driving the demo, not you.

In reality, enterprise software is complex. It is used by lots of different types of users for all sorts of different purposes. There are bound to be areas that are confusing or difficult. The only way to really understand the user experience is to try the software yourself in a real-world setting.

Flawed assumption 5: User experience shortfalls aren’t important

You made your product comparisons. You thought about information security. You considered vendor financial viability. You saw a great demo. You got pricing that you’re happy with. So you make your selection. And most surprising of all, implementation goes right on schedule and according to plan! Then you go live and… users revolt.

What happened?

In the last section I talked about not being to evaluate user experience from a demo. You might have read it and thought to yourself “So what if it’s a little clunky to use? If it does everything we need at the right price it will still be worth it.”

Here’s the thing: User experience shortfalls kill user acceptance, and low user acceptance kills IT projects.

Think about it this way: you can have the most technically perfect, feature-rich, and secure software in the world. But if people can’t figure out how to use it, or don’t like using it, they are not going to use it. And if they’re not using it, you’re not going to get any value from it.

User experience should be one of your top priorities when selecting enterprise software, not an afterthought. And user experience is impossible to evaluate in an RFP.

There is a better way to buy enterprise software

The good news is that there is a better way to buy enterprise software.

Step 1: Use short RFIs to reverse-engineer requirements and eliminate poor fits

An RFI (Request for Information) is a common first step in an RFP process. It is usually a short questionnaire that vendors fill out to provide information about their products.

You can use RFIs to do more than just gather information, though. You can also use them to help reverse-engineer your requirements.

Start by taking a close look at your current pain points. What processes are you trying to improve? What problems are you trying to solve? Then, translate those into broad requirements. Once you have a list of requirements, you can use RFIs to eliminate vendors that are obviously not a good fit.

For example, let’s say you have a requirement that the software must integrate with your existing CRM system. You can use an RFI to ask vendors if their software integrates with CRM systems, and if so, which ones. This will help you quickly eliminate any vendor that does not support your specific CRM system.

There’s a benefit on both sides: Vendors don’t have to fill out lengthy evaluations where they could have qualified themselves out in a couple of questions, and you don’t have to process long, complex responses where a critical mismatch is buried away in hundreds of questions.

Step 2: Run a lengthy trial program with simple user feedback

After you’ve used RFIs to eliminate the obviously poor fits, it’s time to start evaluating the remaining vendors. The best way to do this is with a trial program.

A trial program will give you a chance to try the software in a real-world setting and get feedback from actual users. To make sure you get meaningful feedback, make the trial long. “Long” will vary depending on specific solution you’re looking for – it could range from several weeks to several months, or even a full year if it needs to capture a full financial cycle. And be sure to include a meaningful cross-section of future users in major and minor roles, not just a handful of “power users”.

Throughout the trial program – not just at the end – ask each user to fill out a simple feedback form. NPS (Net Promoter Score) is a great option, but you can also use a short custom form with questions about specific pain points and whether or not they were addressed. Whatever form of feedback you use, make sure it is painless for the end user to provide and easy for the buying team to process – the most important thing is to gather feedback from as many people as possible, even if it’s basic.

Also, the trial isn’t just about you! You’re giving your prospective vendors the opportunity to work with you and develop a much deeper level of understanding of your needs than they could get by looking at a requirements document in an RFP.

Step 3: Identify a very small set of finalists for infosec and pricing evaluations

After you’ve collected feedback from the trial program, you should have a good idea of which vendors are the best fit. From there, you can identify a very small set of finalists to move on to the next stage of evaluation.

At this point, you’ll want to do a more thorough evaluation of information security and pricing. You should also have a much better idea of what you need, so you can make sure the finalist vendors are able to meet your specific requirements.

You’ll also get better responses from your vendors at this stage than you will by opening with a lengthy RFP! The remaining vendors will have a much clearer understanding of your needs thanks to the trial, and since they know they’re on the shortlist they will be willing to invest more time in thoroughly answering your questions and also putting their best foot forward on pricing.

Take the plunge

If you’re still using an RFP to buy enterprise software, it’s time to ditch it. The RFP process for enterprise software is broken. It just doesn’t work in this space. While RFPs not the only reason a majority of digital transformation projects fail, it definitely doesn’t help.

The good news is that by following the steps outlined above, you’ll be able to avoid the most common pitfalls of the RFP process and give yourself a much better chance of selecting best partner for your enterprise software needs. Give it a try on your next project!

Common Supplier Frustrations in Procurement

In 2022, CPOs are facing many challenges. We list the Top 3 as we see it.

What Vendors Wants in an RFP Process

What Vendors Want (in RFPs)

In the past, we have offered bits of advice from top strategic sourcing and procurement professionals on how to improve procurement processes like RFPs. While their opinions are invaluable, they share a single perspective. Consequently, we think looking at the same problem from the counter viewpoint is a worthwhile endeavor… giving buyers access to the minds of vendors. And hey, Hollywood turned this concept into two movies: What Women Want (2000) and What Men Want (2019). So let’s figure out What Vendors Want (2020).

Interestingly, the team at Vendorful responds to a fair number of RFPs, oftentimes for RFP software. While that may seem quite meta, it actually makes a lot of sense. An organization that values the RFP can certainly justify issuing an RFP for RFP Automation Software. The requests we see run the gamut – from ridiculously complex to entirely too simple. In our view, an RFP should facilitate a streamlined and fair sourcing process while helping the buyer optimize for total value.

Of course, RFPs only achieve their goal when they’re done correctly. Today, we are putting on our metaphorical software provider hat to provide some key tips to help ensure that you are running your RFPs the right way.

1. Always do your research

Getting comfortable with the subject matter is hugely important. In fact, research should be the first step organizations take when they are kicking off new strategic sourcing events. Research helps in two ways. First, it reduces some of the information asymmetries between buyer and seller. (Unfortunately for buyers out there, the narrow focus of a vendor almost always confers an information advantage to the seller.) Second, it helps guide the requirements and qualification criteria for prospective suppliers. Sharing a clearly articulated vision and requirements makes it much easier for suppliers to provide useful bids.

In terms of depth of research, there is a sweet spot and it will vary based on the product or serviced being sourced as well as the criticality of that product or service to the business. Ultimately, the research should further inform your internally-generated “wish list” and become part of the RFP. By neatly framing your needs and desires as they relate to what is being sourced, you put the competing vendors in a position to submit highly-relevant bids. And not only will providing relevant information make the difference in getting a bid that corresponds with your goals, but it also reduces the likelihood of delays and confusion from vendors.

What vendors want: To deal with an educated prospective customer.

2. Remove bias when creating your RFP

RFPs are a great way to level the playing field for suppliers who want a genuine shot of winning your business. To that end, it is important to create your RFP without bias. “Where would bias come from?” you wonder. It’s not uncommon for companies to write their RFPs with a specific vendor already in mind…or to leverage an RFP that was developed by one of the competing vendors.

When you create an RFP based on a single supplier, you’re skewing the outcome of the entire sourcing event. Sometimes, it’s clear to the supplier, based on the RFP itself, that the outcome of the process has been predetermined. If you have already decided which supplier you’re going to use, running an RFP is a terrible use of your time and the time of the included suppliers. If you are to invest the time in running a formal strategic sourcing event, do it the right way. You should use it as a tool to discover which of the suppliers best meets your actual goals. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a pre-process favorite. But if you skew the RFP in such a way that no one else has a legitimate opportunity to win the business, you’re undermining your own process. Keep an open mind and run a fair competition; you might be surprised at the value some of the other suppliers can bring to your organization.

What vendors want: A fair opportunity to win your business.

Ready to master the RFP?

Check out our free guide to the RFP process.

Cover: Guide to the RFP Process

3. Identify important dates

This is one of the most basic guidelines that businesses tend to overlook when it comes to writing RFPs. Remember to always spell out deadlines, pre-bid document submissions, initial responses, target implementation dates — all these are critical to a vendor’s ability to deliver quality work.

In many cases, details such as key dates are worked into the body of the RFP and tend to get lost. Suppliers find it helpful to have a separate section clearly detailing this information. Not only does it increase compliance from the suppliers; end, but it also ensures everyone, including you, is able to keep track of the timeline.

And while we’re on the subject of dates, please keep them reasonable. Sending out a 200-question RFP on a Friday afternoon with a submission date of the coming Monday is not fair to suppliers. It’s also not fair to buyers. You will get fewer bids and the bids you do receive will be of lower quality.

What vendors want: Ready access to key dates and enough time to complete the RFP.

4. Find the right balance with your questions

If you send out an RFP with very little structure or guidance governing the bids, you may be surprised at how different vendors can interpret the same information in different ways. On the other hand, if your RFP is simply a giant list of yes/no questions, you’ll have uniformity of response, but maybe insufficient insight to make an informed decision.

When you are scoring the bids, you will find it much easier to have an apples-to-apples format.  So providing specific guidelines (or using specialized software) will help you do that. That said, the format should not blindly restrict the content. For example, if you are looking to source a software product and want to make sure that it doesn’t require a Ph.D. to figure out, you might ask a question like this: “Do you take steps to ensure your product has an easy-to-use interface?” Structured as a yes/no question, this gets at the heart of your requirement but does so in a coarse way. And we, as vendors, are eager to put our best foot forward and tell you all about our user interface decisions. In this case, you might consider asking for screenshots or video walkthroughs. Or perhaps you could ask for details about the vendor’s process for creating user interfaces.

Doing this allows the vendors some license to sell the virtues of their product. But it also allows you, the buyer, to make a more educated assessment based on specific information. So while we’re totally on board with requiring the response to follow a specific format or structure, we certainly appreciate having a little wiggle room to tell our story. And the bonus is that this extra flexibility also improves your ability to choose the product or service that is best for you.

What vendors want: To be evaluated on our merits and to be able to show you what those merits are.

Unlike the movies, there is no mind reading involved in strategic sourcing. Just ask and vendors will tell you what they want. Obviously, it’s your responsibility to accept only the good and fair parts of their guidance. (Believe me, they all want to write your RFP!) But by putting yourself in their shoes, you can improve the process for them and for you.

If you’d like to see how Vendorful streamlines and automates the RFP process for buyers, we invite you to schedule a demo.

Strategic Sourcing Checklist

A Handy Checklist for Sourcing Managers

How do Sourcing Managers go about choosing the right supplier for a project? Are there specific steps that you should follow to ensure that you get the best results? Are there benchmark practices that you, as a procurement manager, should take note of?

Strategic sourcing is a multi-step process with several considerations. And cost-efficient, systematic sourcing is a process that requires thoughtful preparation. 

To help you keep track of all the necessary steps, the following simple vendor relationship management checklist is offered as a guideline:

 1. Have you identified your requirements?

Before you even start crafting your RFP (Request for Proposal), take a moment to consider whether or not the service or product that you want is actually essential to your business. Is it something that is required for your business? Is the service critical to operations? Is it something that will improve business performance?

Make sure the product or service that you are trying to procure isn’t already readily available in your company. 

Remember, one of the most important goals of streamlining your strategic sourcing and procurement processes is saving money. This requires taking a closer look at resources already available in your organization.

2. Identify and estimate the cost of your procurement

A Deloitte study notes that 74% of CPOs (Chief Procurement Officers) cite cost reduction as a strong business priority. That said, it’s essential that companies ensure due diligence when it comes to researching market prices of services and products.

Establishing an estimate will provide an overview regarding whether your procurement costs meet or exceed your allotted budget.

3. Seek funding approval

Before you send out an RFP, make sure you have the necessary funding to back it up. You don’t want to jumpstart the process by seeking suppliers first, only to find out executives don’t agree with your proposed budget. This will only lead to ruining supplier relationships.

4. Determine the best procurement strategy

A strong purchasing strategy is one of the most cost-effective and efficient ways companies can create value for their business. It will help ensure longevity of supplier relationships, create positive working environments, and establish transparency in business processes. Often, automating the process via an eSourcing platform is the best way to go about it. Not only is the whole process simplified, sourcing managers can also monitor and track the entire process every step of the way.

5. Evaluating suppliers and awarding projects

Be sure to create clear criteria for evaluation that potential suppliers can access and review. This will help them identify key areas about the project that they need to focus on. For example, if you’re trying to expedite the completion of a project, it might be to your advantage to identify speed as a priority. If saving money is a priority, cost might be something that requires greater emphasis.

The strategic sourcing process can be complex. Fortunately, keeping this simple checklist in mind will help make sure that you have every critical element in place to make the right decisions regarding suppliers. 

Take advantage of Vendorful’s eSourcing functionality and find out how you can get the most value out of it for your business. It’s as simple as point and click. Speaking of which, you can point a click your way to a demo of Vendorful.

Craft your RFP

7 Key Components of an Effective Marketing RFP

If you work in the marketing industry then you know just how important good vendor relations are to the success of any project. This means you should put a strong focus on finding good vendors; beginning with a streamlined and efficient marketing RFP (request for proposal) that you can send out to potential candidates.

At this stage of the RFP process, your proposal essentially represents your company to future partners and collaborators. Well-written and thoughtfully planned RFPs yield good proposals. And good proposals result in great working relationships with vendors you can rely on. All things considered, a good RFP will ultimately ensure the positive outcome of your project.

With this in mind, the following key components should be a part of any marketing RFP you send out:

 1. Executive Summary

This is one of the most critical components of your marketing RFP. Vendors will often refer to the executive summary to determine if your project interests them and is worth bidding for. Keep it short and succinct. The very reason you’re crafting a summary is so your potential vendors can get a quick idea of your requirements. Be sure to include important milestones and objectives you want to achieve so that there is a clear understanding of what they will be working towards.

 2. Company Overview

Do not assume that your potential vendors are already familiar with your brand. No matter how big your company is, or well known, always introduce your business and share pertinent information about your brand. As part of your vendor’s research, it’s likely that they will also refer to other sources of information that will give them additional insight into your business, such as your LinkedIn or Facebook page. Be sure to keep these up to date.

3. Target Audience

Indicate in your RFP who you want to reach. To accurately identify who your intended audience is, think about who you’re speaking to, who you want to engage, and the kind of user experience you want create for them. This will ensure that your vendors are able to deliver quality bids that are relevant and therefore, more engaging to your target audience. 

4. Objectives

What goals or metrics do you want to achieve? How do you intend to determine whether or not these goals are met? How will you evaluate the success of your project?

Do you want to create a website for your client that prioritizes interactivity? Do you want to produce marketing materials within a very specific period of time? Discuss your objectives internally and communicate this clearly in your RFP. 

Your objectives will determine the kind of solutions that your vendors will provide. This is critical information for your vendors as it will help them prepare a better, more relevant bid.

5. Budget

Like any business, a big part of the success of any project comes down to budget. In fact, marketing budgets represent 11.4% of a company’s overall spend. 

Budgets, however, should always be considered in the context of quality. While you will always want to get the best value for the lowest possible price, try not to compromise quality just so you can get the cheapest bid. Keep this in mind when you indicate your budget. Be realistic about what your budget can achieve and find a balance between quality and cost-efficiency.

6. Requests for Additional Information

Are there any other details that you want your vendors to provide? Should they include organizational charts? Do you want a list of previous industry experience? Think about the information you need from your vendors so you get a better picture of what they can do for you. Make sure, however, that you keep your requests simple. Asking for something complicated might just turn potential bidders off. 

7. Selection Criteria

Finally, be sure to clearly indicate how you will be choosing your vendors. Apart from specific criteria, it might help if you assign a point-value or percentage for each to help vendors identify the top priority elements. For example, you may have multiple criteria for evaluation but if price and speed are priorities, show that it carries more weight by assigning more points to it. 

Ensuring these key components are included in your RFP as you search for vendors for your next marketing project means you’re increasing your chances of engaging them and building good relationships with them. Remember, the better written your proposal, the better response you’ll likely get.

Take advantage of Vendorful’s eSourcing module and find out how we can help you streamline your RFP process. Schedule a demo today.

Important RFP Elements

Does Your RFP Contain These Important Elements?

Your ability to attract and engage quality bids is dependent on how well you begin your procurement process.

After all, the search for the right supplier isn’t simply just about cost-savings. It’s important to establish a balance between budget and quality, and assure that you will be forging a partnership that mutually benefits you and the supplier.

In many cases, achieving this starts with crafting a high-quality RFP (request for proposals): when your RFP outline is sub-optimal, the whole sourcing process is likely to deliver sub-optimal results.

With that in mind, it’s crucial that your RFP online contains all the important elements you require. Browse through the checklist below before sending out your next RFP.

1. Statement of Purpose

Your RFP should offer a brief explanation detailing exactly what you need, your purpose for sending the RFP, and what you hope to gain.

It should also include an outline of your target timeframe. Are you seeking a long-term supplier or a partner for a one-time project?

This section should be able to set clear expectations regarding your needs.

2. Introduction

Provide comprehensive background about your company. Your prospective bidders are of course expected to do their own research, but giving them an introduction will point them in the right direction.

Try to provide as much information that you believe will be relevant to your supplier’s ability to deliver a great proposal.

3. Timeline

Map out how long the entire process will take by providing a timeline. Establish closing dates for submitting the intention to bid and be specific about deadlines.

Make sure you provide a feasible timeline for your suppliers. Give them enough time to craft their responses so you receive quality proposals.

4. Goals

Were you able to articulate a clear set of goals in your RFP? Spelling it out clearly for your potential suppliers helps them focus on delivering what you actually need. Think about what your priorities are and what you’re working towards.

5. Deliverables

Explain the deliverables you expect to receive from each proposal. Typically, this should include items such as the plan of action, timelines, and ways forward specific to your project.

6. Pricing Template

While not necessarily a requirement, best practice shows that providing potential suppliers with a pre-designed pricing format where they can detail their pricing structure makes it easier to compare one bidder from another. It also makes it easier to ensure that there are no requirements that were left out.

7. Terms and Conditions

Comprehensive RFPs typically provide a pro-forma contract that details pertinent information about the working engagement. Typically, this includes details such as payment terms, penalties, incentives, breach of contract rules, and dispute resolutions.

8. Criteria for Evaluation

A critical element of the RFP is anchored on knowing exactly how you will make your decisions when it comes to choosing the winning bid. Suppliers have to know what you are prioritizing. For example, are you putting more weight on budget over timelines? Or is price negotiable as long as they are able to ensure quality of service?

9. Wish List

Make sure that your wish list is separate from your non-negotiables. You may want certain elements that would be great to have in the proposal, but aren’t necessarily needed. These could also be items that you’re not quite sure will fit your budget. Regardless of what you want to include, if it’s not a priority or a must-have, be sure to include it as a separate list.

While there isn’t a cut-and-dried way to construct an RFP, ensuring that the above items are included when sending it will raise your chances of receiving high quality, thoughtfully prepared proposals.

Take advantage of Vendorful’s eSourcing platform and find out how we can help you write better RFPs. Get in touch with us today.

Create an RFP that gets results

How to Create an RFP that Gets Results

The efficacy of procurement teams is tethered to knowing and understanding what they are purchasing and why. Think this seems straightforward? Think again. Large enterprises might have vendor rosters numbering in the thousands that cut across numerous categories. And most of the ongoing vendor engagement is in the hands of stakeholders, who all too often, sit in virtual silos. So what can procurement teams do to address this? Actually, there are lots of things. But for the purpose of this post, let’s focus on maximizing the chances that the best-aligned vendors are engaged. A key tactic to engage involves leveraging procurement’s favorite three-letter acronym — the RFP (request for proposal). An RFP allows an organization to assess whether the supplier’s goods and/or services are actually going to meet its needs.

With that in mind, it’s critical that the RFP proposal is able to draw out the best answers from your potential suppliers. Therefore, it has to be prepared thoughtfully and with care.

The following steps will help to ensure this:

1. Do your research

Start by embracing the requirements gathering process. Engage with stakeholders and establish what problems they are trying to solve and understand both the parameters and constraints surrounding them. Collectively, you should determine what they actually need, which will help you draft an RFP proposal that drives specific results. Are there key areas that you want your prospective suppliers to address? Be sure to understand what elements are actually feasible and in scope. You want to take care to avoid wasting the supplier’s time — and yours — by providing an RFP to which they can reasonably respond.

If you’ve done your homework upfront, then you can be realistic about setting expectations and tie them to measurable and quantifiable company objectives.

2. Identify your ideal supplier

Different suppliers will provide different proposals. Each supplier endeavors to provide its unique viewpoint. Their approaches and solutions will vary and each one will likely have its own strengths and weaknesses. While some suppliers will focus on cost, others will attempt to win you over by providing the most comprehensive service. Others may focus on speed or support. Create a clear picture of your winning criteria to minimize the difficulty in assessing what each bid has to offer. As you write your RFP, be sure to also note what qualities your winning bid will have.

Remember: value is ultimately dynamic in nature and can change situationally. While you might be particularly priced sensitive with one purchase, you might find yourself more time-sensitive with another. By establishing the key drivers of your decision, and if possible, weighting your RFP accordingly, you increase the likelihood of strong alignment with the supplier you ultimately choose.

3. Organize your document

As a standard, any business-related document should be carefully and accurately written. This is especially true for RFPs. After all, your main goal is to find a vendor that will provide valuable goods or services for your company.

That said, be sure to outline what is needed in such a way that your priorities are clearly communicated to the potential supplier.

In general, you should be able to answer the following questions:

Why are you trying to find a supplier for this particular problem?

  • Who is the organization seeking this solution? (Provide a clear description of your organization.)
  • What is the nature of your project and what is required from your suppliers?
  • When do you need the proposal or bid completed?

From here, it is easy to create a brief introduction that summarizes key bid points.

4. Clarify your evaluation criteria

When it comes to evaluation criteria, you are at liberty to provide as much information or as few details as you like. Generally, however, suppliers need some insight you will be judging their bids in order for them to focus their answers on your actual requirements. Undoubtedly, you will be better served by conveying your priorities. However, we would caution you not to share specific weighting criteria as you don’t want suppliers to “game their responses.”

5. Provide a detailed timeline

Explicitly detail the timeframe by which your RFPs need to be answered. Suppliers must know how much time they have to prepare their responses.

For a clear and comprehensive reply, establish reasonable deadlines. Remember, complex bids require weeks of preparation (sometimes more!) and it’s unreasonable to demand that they be submitted hurriedly.

Keep these points in mind the next time you’re writing an RFP. These simple tips can help ensure that you send out an engaging and effective RFP that attracts the best bids from potential suppliers.

Take advantage of Vendorful’s eSourcing platform and find out how we can help improve your procurement process. Send a message to Vendorful today.

Write engaging RFPs

Why You Should Be Writing Engaging RFPs

What’s the difference between an acceptable RFP bid versus a stellar one that engages suppliers to put forward their best possible response?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple, cut-and-dried way to answer that question. However, there are guidelines that you can keep in mind to make sure you’re able to energize potential suppliers and draw out their best bids.

If you want to create engaging RFPs, try the following actionable tips:

1. Do your research

Creating a hastily researched RFP just for the sake of sending one out is a waste of time. Before you even begin writing a draft, you should learn every stage of the RFP process flow.

It’s important that you are able to identify what are non-negotiables and absolutely necessary for your company. Be thorough and explicit in identifying the areas that are absolute requirements and those that are optional. This gives your suppliers a clear idea as to whether or not they are capable of addressing your needs.

2. Have a clear idea of what your winning proposal will look like

RFPs can be responded to in various ways. Different suppliers will have varied strengths and areas of expertise. They will also have weaknesses. While some companies might compete based on their ability to reduce their costs, others will push their capabilities and focus on delivering quality. There will also be suppliers who will find a way to create a balance between price, quality, and expediency.

Paint a picture of what you need from your ideal supplier. If managing cost is your priority, make sure this is indicated in your RFP. If you want the fastest delivery time, explicitly say so. If money is no object, let your audience know. This way, your suppliers will know what your priorities are and can tailor their bids according to what you really need.

3. Provide a summary or brief introduction

The summary is where your company can briefly explain the project and capture the attention of suppliers. It also creates interest in your project. Be sure to include the key points of your RFP in the introduction that gives an informative, big picture overview of what your requirements are.

Start by indicating your company name — you’d be surprised at how many businesses forget this seemingly basic and simple element of an RFP! You might think this is obvious, but companies tend to forget the company name assuming that they are already recognized, or that everyone is waiting for them to send out RFPs. Then go into a brief explanation of what you need. Be sure to mention your target deadline and any other key dates as well.

4. Thoroughly explain your requirements

This is perhaps the most critical component of an RFP. To avoid miscommunication, be very specific about what you require. It’s important, however, that you avoid directly dictating how you want vendors to do their work for you. Be clear and detail-oriented but make sure you’re not making your vendors feel like you’ll be micromanaging every aspect of the project.

Divide your RFP into several sections for clarity, especially if your project has multiple working components.

5. Detail your selection process

Be specific about how you make your selection. Apart from meeting your requirements, what other factors will you be looking into? Who will be in charge of making the selection? Will you be following a point system?

RFPs are a great way to make sourcing more transparent for all parties. Providing more details surrounding how your business will make its selection can prove to be a great way to engage more suppliers to send in their best bids.

Consider these guidelines when creating your next RFP. You’ll surely notice a difference in terms of engagement and responses.

If you have experience with writing RFPs and can offer more helpful guidelines to boost engagement among suppliers, we’d love to hear all about it. Leave us a message below.

Contact us to find out how Vendorful can help ensure you and your suppliers benefit from eSourcing. Contact us today!

Five things to consider before sending your RFP

5 Things to Consider Before Hitting Send on Your RFP

Most businesses understand the challenges of finding a reliable supplier. Sure, there are “throwaway engagements” where your focus is purely transactional, the sole focus might be quickly identifying who can get the job time. But for larger, more strategic endeavors, the scope of your evaluation likely transcends the supplier’s current capabilities. Indeed, your looking to find a partner with whom you can build a long-term, mutually beneficial working relationship.

For many organizations, the first key step on this journey is issuing an RFP (request for proposal). A strong client RFP can streamline the sourcing process, attract great vendors and quality bids, and improve working relationships that drive better results.

These outcomes, however, are premised on your ability to send thoughtful and engaging proposals. So, before you hit send on that RFP, be sure to keep the following questions in mind:

1. Do you know exactly what you’re asking from your potential suppliers?

As you put your requirements together, focus on what you want your vendors to do. This includes what you expect from them, especially during the bidding stage.

Be very specific and considerate when it comes to the work requirements you’re asking them to fulfill. For example, will responding to your bid mean that they are committing themselves to a free trial or otherwise obliging them to produce work for which they might not be compensated? In some circumstances, this might be a reasonable expectation. In others, it might preclude some prospective vendors from bidding.

Be mindful of the fact that, at the end of the day, this is a business transaction. You might want to ask for the sun and stars in your RFP, but there is a simple calculus at play for any potential respondent. “Does the opportunity merit the amount of work we’ll need to invest in responding to this RFP?”

2. Are you being thoughtful about deadlines?

Insightful, well-written, high-quality bids require time to create. Although you’d like to get the ball rolling on your project and get approval from your team, your suppliers need time to respond to it.

Look, we’ve talked to enough sourcing managers to know that seemingly all stakeholders want the supplier decision to have been made yesterday. But think about how much time it will really take for suppliers to submit an RFP response. Creating unnecessary pressure by establishing a less-than-reasonable deadline could force your suppliers to pass on your project simply because they are unable or unwilling to rush something out the door, particularly at the expense of quality.

True, there are instances where suppliers will bend over backwards to accommodate your needs. However, they will also appreciate a little consideration on deadlines, especially when you consider that you’re laying the foundation for your possible future working relationship if they win the project.

3. Can you make yourself available for questions and clarification?

You may think that you have given your suppliers all the information they need to create a great bid. However, engaged and highly-interested suppliers might well reach out and ask questions about your project, request clarification on certain questions or specifications, and might even delve into your objectives and goals.

If you’re not able to set aside time to answer their questions, it could lead to responses with incomplete answers or responses that don’t make sense contextually. And then you’re stuck making important decisions on incomplete or irrelevant information. Here’s the thing — you can’t really blame them for it since they’re basing their submissions on incomplete or incorrect information. In some cases, your inability to give more insight into the project might put off potential suppliers altogether.

To avoid this, keep in mind that your responsibilities don’t get put on pause during the stretch of time between issuing and scoring your RFP. The role might be more reactive than proactive, but you do have a responsibility to address questions and concerns from potential suppliers.

4. Are you able to provide a budget?

A lot of procurement teams assume that holding back on budget information can help drive competition between suppliers and therefore, deliver more value. In many cases, perhaps the majority of them, this could be true. Sharing budget information may well be tantamount to negotiating against yourself. However, in certain circumstances, it can be particularly difficult for suppliers to create a good plan for your project without at least a ballpark budget number. This is particularly true when the scope of an engagement is determined as much by price as they are by requirements. Custom software development is a good example of a project that might benefit from some disclosures around budget.

Again, this is not to say that you should share budget information willy-nilly. Be thoughtful and you feel it’s appropriate to convey some financial parameters, consider doing so.

5. Are you clear about your goals?

Any project has to have a clear goal. All too often, however, RFPs get sent out with the requirements details, but without clear objectives. For a supplier, this creates a challenging lack of context. The requirements should exist in furtherance of a goal, not exist in a vacuum.

Having objectives in place makes it easier to identify criteria that will ultimately inform your decision. This is helpful not just for suppliers, but for you — the buyer! For instance, if your objective is to launch on a specific date, then it’s clear that the winning RFP response has to include timely delivery. On the other hand, if your goal is to ensure that the project needs to be completed at a certain budget, then it’s possible the bid with the lowest cost could have an advantage.

If you want your RFP to attract and engage the best suppliers and the strongest proposals, consider these points before you send your proposal. You’ll likely see a marked difference in the volume and quality of responses.

If you have more advice on how to manage a great RFP process, we invite you to tell us about it in the comment section below. To know how Vendorful can help improve your procurement process, get in touch with us today.

Vendors wish you knew this about RFPs

Top 5 Things Vendors Wish Businesses Knew About RFPs

As a business, you know how important it is to create quality RFPs. Good RFPs draw the best bids from vendors, foster better working relationships, and ultimately deliver better results.

To this day, however, there are a lot of assumptions, apprehensions, and misconceptions surrounding the process. So, we thought we’d gather insight straight from the vendors themselves on what it really takes to write and execute an RFP that will get you the best bids.

Here are 5 things vendors wish you knew about RFPs.

  1. The best RFPs are brief and concise

Organizations should understand that answering RFPs can be a tedious and time-consuming process for vendors. So as much as you probably want all your questions answered, you have to make a conscious effort to compress your queries into brief and concise questions. This will draw out the best and most thoughtful answers from vendors.

Shorter RFPs don’t mean the project is less of a priority for a business. In fact, brief RFPs actually reflect the time and effort your company put into writing it. We’ve been the in the shoes of vendors who have received 700-question RFPs. You open up the document and your stomach drops. There’s an internal debate about whether it’s worth investing the time. Then, if you agree to participate, you invariably get some degree of burnout as your responses go from comprehensive (in the beginning) to “just enough to check the box” (near the end). To maximize both the quality and quantity of vendor responses, remember to make your RFPs comprehensive, but not exhaustive. As the buyer, you’ll have plenty of time to dig deeper as you work your way through the process.

  1. You have to give vendors enough time to respond

If you want thoughtful responses from quality vendors, you have to give them sufficient time to respond.

RFPs aren’t the only thing that your vendors have to work on. And as important as it is to your sourcing process, it is likely just one among numerous other tasks that require their attention. Squeezing in time to create great bids along with everything else on their collective plates can prove to be difficult if they aren’t given enough time to complete it.

At the end of the day, vendors not only want to win the project but also use that as a stepping stone towards creating a lasting, long-term relationship with your organization. To do that, however, you have get past step one: the supplier selection process. By making sure that that you provide sufficient time for them to prepare their responses, you’ll increase your chances that you’ll select the supplier that is right for your organization.

  1. Don’t read too much into vendor questions…or silence

Vendors are dependent on the information that you provide. Sometimes, what’s obvious to the company itself may not be too clear to a supplier. And while you probably think that the context you’ve provided and the phrasing of your questions are enough for vendors to deliver a great bid, there will be times that they may need to reach out for additional information.

Do not assume that this is a sign that they’re doing a bad job. It is not a reflection of a vendor’s inability to grasp a particular request. In fact, doing so shows their engagement, interest, and dedication to getting the job done right. As a rule of thumb, you can put vendors’ minds at ease by having a Q&A period. The easiest way to do this is typically to set up a deadline by which all of the vendors have to submit their questions. When you respond, take care to broadcast clarifications and explanations to all of the vendors — whether they submitted questions or not — to make sure that all respondents have access to the same information.

  1. Be careful of what you are inadvertently communicating to vendors

There are certain things that you could be unknowingly communicating to vendors. The most critical one being that they have no chance of winning your RFP.

When buyers are slow to respond, especially when it comes to questions pertaining to RFP, or do not easily accommodate vendor requests for feedback/clarification, it can be discouraging and reduce the likelihood that the vendor invests time into submitting a strong proposal.

Similarly, the actual questionnaire can dissuade a strong supplier from participating in the bidding process. For example, imagine a company created an RFP questionnaire that focuses extensively on operating history, customer list, and profits, but for whom those things were tertiary considerations behind quality of the offering and price. Absent the broader context of knowing how those things stack up, a startup might assume that it has no chance at winning the deal, given its relatively short history and opt to invest its time elsewhere, rather than submitting a bid. By being thoughtful about what and how you communicate, you improve the odds of a strong outcome.

  1. Vendors know it’s not just about cost (but it doesn’t hurt to reassure them)

There’s a generally-held belief that vendors are apprehensive about bidding on RFPs because they know it’s a numbers game. The assumption is, the lowest bid always wins.

This isn’t necessarily true. Businesses use RFPs as part of their sourcing process because they want to manage cost and at the same time, ensure quality, maximize alignment, develop a strategic rationales, and more. Vendors know this. They also know that the lowest bid isn’t always the best option. Striking the right balance is the responsibility of the buyer and by clearly conveying the criteria, buyers better equip vendors to submit strong bids.

One last thing…

If you want the best vendors to bid and engage with your RFP, you have to make it easy for them to do so. You want to minimize the amount of work that they must do that are, in effect, unrelated to your bid. So unless otherwise required by statute or unbending policy, try to avoid asking to do certain things like printing and physically delivering the bid to your office, or requiring them to utilize slow, clunky tools, or submit the reply with smoke signals.

This is yet another the reason why you should consider an end-to-end intuitive and reliable RFP management software to streamline the entire sourcing process; enabling seamless collaboration (and enthusiastic participation) among and between key stakeholders.

Keep these things in mind when crafting your next RFP and you’ll see the difference in the responses, your options, and your ROI. If you have experience creating RFPs and have more to add to this list, please feel free to share it with us in the comment section below.

To find out how Vendorful can help ensure you and your suppliers take advantage of the benefits of eSourcing, get in touch with us today.