Do you remember your first request for proposals?
Maybe it was one you were assigned during your first job after college.
Maybe it was one you carefully put together for the first company you called your own.
Whether it is your first RFP or your 41st, chances are you have a template in place that will allow you to drag and drop certain criteria to meet the newest need. While templates are great for saving time and establishing an efficient process for requesting proposals, the problem is, like all things that arise from a template, they become comfortable. Generic, even.
Certainly, there is not a vendor on the planet who expects to be entertained by an RFP. They are serious requests that require calculated responses, and we are always flattered to be considered. We simply want the best outcome available for our clients, and that begins with supplying a complete solution to their request.
How can you ensure you are getting the most out of the time and resources you place into creating the RFP? Leverage the prework.
Examine The All-Too Familiar RFP Conundrum
You know you have a problem to solve, so you send out an RFP to connect with vendors who can create a solution in the form of a second company website, let’s say. You choose a vendor based on the responses, and suddenly the project is off your plate, and onto theirs. It feels great to be moving forward, and you are excited about the next steps.
Six weeks later, the design and framework are presented, and they are not at all what you expected, nor even close to what you wanted.
Meanwhile, your vendor thinks they nailed it.
How did this happen? And, more importantly, how can you keep it from happening again?
Simply because a firm is able to provide a detailed and timely response to your RFP does not mean they have the proper technology, skills, or communication tactics necessary to ensure a successful outcome.
How To Build An RFP That Produces Results & A Valued Partnership
Vendors, by nature, work outside of your organization, and rely on your RFP to outline the specific parameters of your project or campaign.
Encouraging RFP recipients to develop the context of your needs will allow them to produce an appropriate solution.
In short, your RFP may currently read, “We want a second company website that does this.”
A more in-depth approach to net material results and creative solutions could state, “We have this need. How can your company design and develop a solution?”
In order for our firm to create solutions through all the available possibilities, we must begin by developing the baseline framework of those needs.
First, if you are willing (and able) to share a budget, this will allow us to produce solutions within those parameters.
If your budget is $75,000, and we return a proposal for $200,000, we never really had a shot at solving your problem — even if we have the most impactful solution. If we know from the receipt of the RFP that your budget is $75,000, we will propose equally dynamic solutions within your budget constraints.
The initial $200,000 response certainly would not be an attempt to upsell your company. It would simply be a more robust solution that provides an enhanced user experience.
If the vendor doesn’t know what the budget ballpark looks like they will — almost every time — miss the mark.
Protect your time and resources from wanton waste, and allow the solutions to come to you by asking the right questions.
Avoid Wasting Time While Focusing on Finding the Right Partner
When there is a mismatched understanding of either requirements or capabilities, even simple implementations are at serious risk.
Ask yourself a few simple questions before issuing the RFP, and keep in mind that you do not have to share all of the answers within the request.
- What are your goals for this project or campaign?
- Why are these needs at the top of your list?
- What are any critical events or dates you are working to meet, and why?
- What are your existing internal business workflows for the content you will add?
- What are your resources for maintaining the feature long term?
- Who are the key stakeholders who will have a say in how the project is defined? How involved are they able to be in the process?
Any assumption of details in an RFP is dangerous and can lead to the most vital expectations getting lost in translation.
Begin The Process With a Discovery RFP
The first step to a successful client/vendor relationship begins with a discovery RFP, which will provide critical questions and answers to find out what your business or organization needs before spending a lot of time and money pursuing the project.
We believe that strategy is everything. And the discovery phase will allow us to identify the best plan of action for each unique project, beginning with your genuine needs.
For example, instead of pursuing different facets of adding a search capability to your website, we explore whether a search option is the right solution for your users. Maybe the answer is a more robust unseen search engine. Based on the best user experience, maybe both are the wrong path, and a guided journey is the most effective and rewarding approach.
These important solutions can be efficiently identified through discovery, which allows us to take a design thinking, or human-centered design approach by realizing the necessary components to your overall needs.
- Who are your users?
- What do they need?
- How do they feel within the context of your system?
Ideally, we will interview your users and compile important user research, by identifying their personas and ultimately empowering their customer journeys.
In addition, the discovery phase will allow us to carefully investigate your KPIs, or key performance indicators, by understanding:
- Your complete project or campaign goals
- What metrics you are trying to influence
- What success looks like from your vantage point
With this information, we can begin crafting a detailed plan for the solution, including annotated and clickable wireframes, branding discovery, user flows, empathy maps, and user journeys.
Once the discovery phase is complete, you can issue a revised RFP with extensive details about the project to be built.
In the best case, the same firm that does the discovery RFP will be able to proceed with the build, as they will be invested in the project and not need to ramp up to its successful implementation.
At worst, a different firm takes what has been designed and uses the information to compile a concrete proposal that is based on your genuine needs and constraints.
Either way, you are ultimately saving time and resources by implementing a defined strategy, instead of an assumed understanding.
Mindful RFP Inclusions To Achieve Improved Responses That Cultivate A Successful Client/Vendor Relationship
In order to solicit improved RFP responses from multiple vendors, the RFP itself requires the mindful inclusion of several important segments.
Take care to include your company’s:
- Specific baseline needs
- Timeline for proposal response, project phases, and any important deadlines that apply to a campaign
- Complete budget, or at least a range when it is available
Our RFP responses extend beyond the initial framework and outline the importance of:
- User testing and quality assurance
While these are two separate segments, they are often viewed as practices that consume part of your budget. In reality, both make an absolute difference in a successful response and a failed attempt at completing a project based on assumptions.
- A minimum WCAG 2.1 AA Conformance
- A single point of contact, to create a streamlined and effective resource for asking questions and maintaining successful communication
- Weekly check-ins to discuss review points to direct development and correct potential deviations from the goal
- Reasonable expectations for revisions
- Effective ways to track change orders, allowing both the client and vendor to be accountable for the initial budget
A mutual understanding of the expectations and overall goals outlined in an RFP is paramount to a successful client/vendor relationship.
Before the client/vendor relationship can be solidified, the prework you put into defining your needs in the RFP can help ensure everyone is on the same page. While it may take more time to include specific information based on discovery, it is worth it to manage your internal resources later, and avoid frustration completely, so you are partnering with a collaborator who can deliver results.
Stauffer will provide the research and resources your company needs to create accurate and intelligent solutions, beginning with a single phone call. How may we help you today?
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash