Over the years I’ve put together scores of Requests for Proposals … and Requests for Solutions, Quotations, Tenders and Information. I’ve seen countless checklists, flowcharts and ‘cookbooks’, all designed to ease the process of soliciting bids from the open market. Most have been comprehensive approaches with detailed lists of activities and associated checkpoints. They’ve added structure to the RFX process and ensured that it is managed effectively.
As you might expect, at Integris Applied we have our own approach. It would be too long to outline here, and anyway it’s just another process and not particularly interesting, but here’s a brief discussion of four key activities that are worth highlighting. They’re worth highlighting because while they’re built into the Integris Applied approach, they aren’t always included in others.
Be clear about what you’re trying to achieve and WHY
It’s obvious that RFXs should specify core requirements – how much, by when, in what format and where. What isn’t so obvious is that an RFX should also define why. Taking the time to include a description of the higher-level strategy that the RFX is supporting, the key goals of that strategy, and the performance indicators that will measure overall success, provides a richer view that benefits all parties. It adds a depth of insight that helps vendors shape responses to hit exactly what a client is looking for and eliminates (or at least minimizes) invalid assumptions, misunderstandings and unnecessary effort.
Q&A is an essential part of the RFX process. Vendors need to be able to ask clarification questions to confirm their understanding of requirements and clients need to be able to ask probing questions that test the ability of vendors. But this can be time-consuming and draining for all concerned. To minimize the burden here are two approaches to consider.
(1) DON’T succumb to the temptation to anonymously and broadly share questions and answers so that everybody has the same information. Rather than providing a ‘level playing field’, this allows less able vendors to profit from those with greater expertise. After all, why should an organization benefit if they weren’t intelligent enough to ask a particularly pertinent question?
(2) DO embrace the concept of discovery sessions with vendors. Limit the time allocated to them but ensure that these sessions are clear and open with all relevant parties available to ask and answer questions. Initial discovery sessions can be focused on client representatives answering questions from vendors while subsequent sessions can be focused on vendors answering questions about their proposed solution.
Be transparent about the process
RFX processes require a significant investment of time and resources from all parties. Large and/or complex agreements can soak up many thousands of resource hours but even small agreements require effort that is a distraction from day-to-day operations. Careful program management is the key to maximizing efficiency and here are two particular areas to take note of.
- Process staging – outline what will happen and when. Publishing a schedule for the RFX process, from initial discovery sessions to final selection, ensures that everybody, on both sides of the table, can appropriately budget their time to be fully engaged in the process.
- Final decision approach – define who will be involved and how submissions will be scored. Clearly defining the final selection process allows vendors to ensure emphasis on the most appropriate aspects of their solution and clarifies for decision makers what attributes they should be looking out for.
Be on the lookout for cultural alignment right from the start
Cultural fit (aka chemistry) is often overlooked in the RFX process. In the minutia of assessing capabilities and the alignment of deliverables with demands, cultural alignment somehow seems to get lost. When this happens, the prospects for long-term client-vendor affinity are reduced. Organizations that have misaligned core principles rarely establish an open, honest and symbiotic relationship. So, pay attention to cultural dynamics of different bidders right from the start and build it into the assessment criteria. Cultural alignment may not be as tangible as price, quality or speed of delivery, but it’s every bit as important.
That’s it. Four activities that are (IMHO) instrumental to the overall RFX process, but frequently overlooked. I acknowledge that there are instances where procurement policies restrict a buyer’s ability to adopt some of these activities. But whatever approach you choose, and whomever you engage to help you (and we’d be delighted if you gave us a call), you should attempt to build them into your process. If you do, you’ll increase your chances of a long-term successful outcome.
– John Pirtle, June 2018 – [bio]