It’s been a decade since I left the University of Oregon and moved into the private sector, working for various sports technology start-ups before joining AudienceView. Along the way, I’ve wrestled with university procurement offices in almost every state. The valuable lessons I’ve learned form the basis of these tips, which can help make the RFP process run more smoothly for your organization.
1. Picking the day / time for the RFP deadline.
Because executive approvals or sign-offs are the last thing that needs to happen before submission of an RFP, having Monday due dates can result in challenges for tracking down staff on Fridays before. If your organization makes bids due on, say, a Thursday, it’s easier for vendors to track down the appropriate officials and avoid issues with weekend courier routes.
2. Stick to your timeline.
The deadline for the bid is set in stone with a hard and fast date and time, often with a very tight turnaround time for responses. But, when the shoe is on the other foot, organizations reviewing RFP bids sometimes don’t stick to their own timeline. While projects may slip due to sickness, vacations and the general struggle to get all of the right people in the room to review, so please consider all of the dependencies and internal risks before you publish the official timeline. Be conservative and make the deadline attainable!
3. Ensure the RFP questions / requirements are on point.
On many occasions, I’ve seen RFPs with specs or requirements that apply to buying printers, paper or office furniture. When asked if those are requirements, procurement officers will respond with, “No, but that’s something we put in all of our bids.” In the spirit of preserving both your time in reviewing and vendors’ time in responding, please only list the requirements that relate to what you’re seeking. Proactively involving the key stakeholders – from marketing, fundraising, web, finance, operations, etc. – in the process of writing and reviewing the document will help avoid project hiccups and delays later in the process. Taking this action on the front end of the process will ensure that you and your organization cover all of the relevant angles and that the document is well vetted.
4. Make sure you give vendors enough time to respond.
Buying software – specifically the RIGHT software – takes time. Especially if ticketing and e-commerce revenue is the lifeblood of your organization, you are reviewing your current partnership and/or pursuing a new vendor. Beginning your process well in advance of your contract ending (12-18 months in advance) allows your organization to produce a thorough and well-constructed RFP. It also allows the vendors your considering enough time to ask the right questions and prepare the best and most relevant answers.
5. Make submissions easy (and environmentally friendly).
Communication technology has made great, helpful strides in the last few years, and sending electronic documents of high quality has become easily accessible to all organizations. Add in environmental concerns, and it looks like the days of six copies of an RFP, plus one original, plus a flash drive, plus a CD-ROM are likely on the decline. Opt to accept PDFs or electronic versions through purchasing software, which ensures that the copies that are produced are not reduced to poor quality black and white photocopies, and provides an opportunity to efficiently share as many times as required no matter what size your team is. The trees will thank you for it too.
6. Pick the day to deliver news and do it by phone.
So, you spend five months chasing business, you’ve been on countless conference calls talking about PCI and transferring files and, possibly, limits of liability. Then you get an email on a Friday afternoon and learn another vendor has been awarded the business. One way to turn a bad-news day into a valuable learning opportunity is giving some context as to why the bid was not successful, so the vendors can improve going forward and also understand exactly what drove the decision. Phone calls are always appreciated over just email, as is an opportunity for the vendor to schedule a few minutes with you to discuss the results.
I would be happy to share my experiences with any organization that is looking to improve their RFP process. Drop me an email and I’ll give you a call to chat!