Writing a Request for Proposal (RFP) / Request for Information (RFI) is an art. A well written RFP can save you from having to finalize many events with face-to-face negotiations.
As Strategic Sourcing experts with over 20 years’ of experience in the space, we annually conduct thousands of RFPs and speak daily with suppliers across industries and geographies. Here are some of our best practices and tips for how to write an excellent ‘Request For’ and gets your supplier response-rate up:
- Define Purpose & Objectives
- Find the right balance between a “Copy Paste” & “Clean Sheet” approach
- Be strict on what is “Need to know” and what is “Nice to know”
- Make a calculated decision about “Open” versus “Closed” questions
- Decide how you will evaluate the RFP responses and visualize this to the suppliers
- Communicate why the suppliers should put an effort into YOUR RFP
- Never restrict the suppliers’ access to help
Define Purpose & Objective(s)
Preparation is key for writing and conducting an RFP. Always ask yourself (and answer) the following questions during the preparation phase:
- What is the purpose of the RFP?
- What are the objectives of the RFP?
If you, the buyer, is not able to formulate the purpose and objectives of an RFP in a concise manner, you likely run the risk that the RFP will not provide sufficient or the right information needed in order to make a qualified decision.
The common purpose of an RFP is mostly “To find a supplier of product X for a given time period”. However, objectives can differ greatly depending category strategy, market conditions, etc.
When defining objectives, we always recommend using the ‘SMART Model’:
- S: Specific
- M: Measurable
- A: Accepted
- R: Realistic (but ambitious)
- T: Time-bound
Using the ‘SMART Model’ to form objectives makes it much easier to evaluate the information provided by suppliers, and ultimately to make qualified decisions.
Tip 1: Define you Purpose and Objectives using the SMART Model
Find the right balance between a “Copy Paste” & “Clean Sheet” approach
You can take one of two approaches when drafting a new RFP. Either do a complete Copy/Paste of previous years’ RFPs, or build it completely from scratch. Finding the right balance between reusing existing templates and sketching completely new RPF templates is not an easy exercise but is one that becomes easier with practice and experience.
As a starting point, it is generally a good idea to reuse existing RFP templates created you or your colleagues, however, always make sure that the copied content fully supports your defined objectives. Anything that is not linked directly to your defined objectives will just become noise in the evaluation phase. And remember the cleaner a template you use, the easier it will become to reuse.
A good approach using template questions for all the standard company information, which is used to evaluate and assess the overall supplier suitability such as:
- Financial information
- CSR information
- General market information
(In an ideal world all supplier (company)-dependent information and not RFP-dependent should be gathered via a Supply Base Management (SBM) system. Only information that varies depending on the event (products) should be requested via the RFP.)
This way, each buyer will not collect the same supplier information every time an RFP is issued, instead you can evaluate this information in a central SBM system, allowing you to focus efforts on collecting and evaluating the RFP dependent information.
Tip 1: Reuse existing questionnaire templates BUT make sure to adjust questions so they align with your defined RFP objectives
Tip 2: Use template questions for any standard company information and create new questions for any RFP dependent questions
Tip 3: Consider collecting the company dependent supplier information using a central Supplier Base Management (SBM) system
Be strict on what is “Need to know” and what is “Nice to know”
The Request for Information (RFI) is a crucial part of the RFP. The RFI is used to gather the information needed before making the analysis and a qualified decision. Therefore, we as buyer have a common tendency to “safe-guard” and ask all the questions we can possibility think of in the RFI. However, when writing the RFI always think: “less is more”.
Any question that cannot be linked directly back your SMART objectives, should be avoided. The extra question will just be time-consuming noise during the evaluation process. When asking too many “nice to know” questions, you run the risk that suppliers will focus too much on these and perhaps spend less energy on the “need to know” questions.
TIP 1: Avoid the ‘nice to know’ questions in the initial RFI – Remember sometimes ‘Less Is More’
To ensure you ask the right questions in the RFI, we recommend drawing a ‘question map’ (see illustration below’, where each RFI question is linked back to the RFP objectives - and the objectives are linked back to the RFP purpose. This way you make sure that no irrelevant questions are asked, and all parties spend their scarce resources on the questions that matter the most in the end.
Tip 2: Draw a question map linking each question to the RFP objective
Make a calculated decision about “Open” versus “Closed” questions
Once you have your questions in place it is time to consider which question type is most suitable and effective for collecting the supplier responses. If you ask the right questions the wrong way you might still be left with a lot of noise in the evaluation.
The open question types are EASY to ask because you do not have to consider or formulate actual answer option, but they are HARD to evaluate. In an open question the supplier can respond with a whole essay as response, and then you must filter out all the irrelevant information to find the information you are looking for.
The closed question types on the other hand are HARD to ask, as they require specifications of all answer options, but they are EASY to evaluate. Closed question types make it easy to compare the suppliers’ responses and you can even assign a score to each option, and let the system evaluate the responses for you.
You can argue that in the end, you are likely to spend the same amount of time no matter the question type. It is a matter of when you spend that time: in the preparation phase to formulate the closed questions or in the evaluation phase to evaluate the open questions. However, when asking too many open questions, you run the risk of suppliers might misinterpret, and not provide you with sufficient or correct information for you to evaluate the answer.
As a result, we recommend mainly using closed questions to ensure you get the information you are looking for. Remember, you can always “open” a closed question by allowing comments and/or file upload. This way you can easily evaluate and compare the suppliers’ responses, while still allowing for any additional information that could be of value.
Tip 1: Use a majority of closed questions to make sure you get the exact information needed from suppliers
Tip 2: Use comments and file upload to capture any additional information that could be of value