Write RFPs that maximize the chances of success of your consulting projects
by Hélène LAFFITTE
February 25, 2019
The definition of the needs also called Requirements is the first, and one of the most valuable, step in the process of procuring goods and services. However, the procurement requirements for goods are mainly focused on the specifications of the products. For Consulting, the background of the company, the context of the project, the scope, and the deliverables are equally important. The whole point is to make sure the consultants have all the elements to submit a relevant proposal. Scoping properly has a direct Impact on the overall cost of a project. Scope on the wrong problem and you spend a lot of money for nothing. Scope on a subject too wide and you will pay for more than you actually needed or use the wrong consultants for part of the job. Writing well-defined requirements is the cornerstone of a successful consulting project.
Amazing things will happen when you listen to the consumer. – Jonathan Midenhall, CMO of Airbnb
Nothing says brilliant execution like a Request for Proposals (RFP) that sings to its potential suppliers or partners. So it’s time once again to think outside the box—even when the topic is RFPs.
Industries and technologies rapidly move forward and change in response to the pressures involved in innovation and globalization. As you keep that forward momentum in play, it might be easy to overlook the work of aligning your procurement practices with your company’s strategic goals and objectives. That oversight would be costly.
The new procurement process—RFPs included—has to have a seat at the C-suite’s table and be redesigned to reflect best practices and keep pace with change. Here are two reasons:
- You want your RFPs to attract proposals from top-notch providers of the best products and services available. And those providers likewise seek out partnerships with companies like yours who understand the value they bring to the table.
- Writing great RFPs that reflect best practices in procurement will get you the answers you need and save you time. Not only this, but it will allow you to make comparisons easily, and to be certain in the outcome.
The key takeaway is this: your procurement capability directly affects your company’s success—regardless of how that is defined—including its bottom line.
Solid, solution-based procurement practices, whether in hiring, outsourcing, purchasing, or partnering—lead directly to that genuine competitive edge your company works hard to earn.
That’s right: there’s a new route to impacting that bottom line. Learning how to execute RFPs in a way that aligns with your strategic procurement process boosts your ROI.
1. View the process as seeking solutions.
Thinking outside the traditional RFP box starts with reminding yourself that you’re not making a purchase, you’re solving a company problem.
First, provide all the information—the “why, what, who” details—that will enable your future supplier or partner to get what your company is all about, not just your product or service.
Describe in detail your need for the product or project, and how you currently think of the scope of the product or project.
How I currently think of it?
Yes, indeed. Amid the rapid pace of innovation and technological advances, your RFP has a new role to play: an opportunity to procure something beyond the scope of what you had in mind—a solution that may go above and beyond merely filling your current need.
Let’s take a moment and imagine that Apple, for example, had put out an RFP for a new type of iPhone that was significantly smaller yet packed with features. We can imagine getting back a proposal just for an iPhone that was an inch square in size and which fit better in a pocket because the RFP restricted the scope of the product requested to a type of iPhone.
Now let’s allow ourselves to imagine that Apple instead had put out an RFP for a new device with no specs other than that it had to fit in with the Apple brand. In this more open-ended scenario, it becomes possible to propose a wristwatch that would include iPhone features and more—a product beyond what Apple executives may have had in mind.
Your RFP should offer enough information to lead the potential partners to the right framework for your solution, but also offer enough of a wide berth to enable them to fashion a creative and possibly innovative solution that may well exceed your expectations.
2. Reveal your company for an aligned fit.
Move away from traditional RFPs by rethinking how to gain suppliers and partners who will work well with you and your team. Here’s how: In the section where you describe your company, reveal both your structure and your culture. Both are relevant.
- For example, does the company function on a project level or does each department have its own set of objectives and practices?
- Are you solely oriented towards innovation or do you balance innovation and maintaining current products? What drives your innovations: customer experiences and input, technological advances, or other approaches?
- Be sure to include relevant aspects of your strategic plans for the future along with your company history: where you’re headed and where you’ve been.
- Be clear about what the strategic context and intent of the project are. In order to propose the right approach and to give an accurate profile of the team, you’ll need to show the bigger picture, and how this project fits in.
3. Learn about your potential supplier or partner and include the nuts and bolts.
Think back to grade-school exams. Which type of exam could best show off how much of the lessons you absorbed: short-answer tests or essays? Traditional RFPs are your old short-answer school exams—a series of specific questions to potential partners. Responders will fill in the blanks, yes, but that may not leave you with a sufficient picture of what that potential partner can contribute to your company.
Instead, go for the essay style. Ask open-ended questions within the framework of what you need done. Here are a few pointers to elicit a fuller picture of the responding company:
- Start with asking about their history and accomplishments. Even if you think you know their basic history, reading their description may be revealing in and of itself.
- Try to determine what it might be like to work with them. Ask them about their approach, not just their outcomes.
- Ask for references, and have someone check those references. Look for a consultant whose ethics and posture is similarly aligned with your company’s, and whose references back it up. Finding a supplier whose vision and values align with yours just may make the difference between work that is adequate and work that exceeds your expectations.
Finally, finish off your RFP with the nuts and bolts of the process.
- Specify your criteria for evaluating proposals and awarding the work, the timeframe for proposal selection, payment and penalty information, and the expectation you have for the timeframe to start and complete the work—the standard content you still need.
- Attach a standard contact form and any certifications.
View the process as an open-ended quest for solutions.
Ditch that old procurement framework.
Rather than placing too much emphasis on how a consultant looks on paper, interact with her. Make the procurement job easier by using an iterative consultant-evaluation process. If your company’s procurement process needs realigning, perhaps your next RFP will address hiring a procurement consultant as a strategic priority.