One Partner, Infinite Possibilities

Preparing an RFP

The Most Important Thing Companies Forget in RFPs: Why It Matters!

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

What is an RFP?

The effectiveness of planning diminishes when this important element is overlooked. Before we get there, we first define what a Request for Proposal (RFP) is. It’s a formal document issued by an organization to solicit proposals from potential suppliers, vendors, or service providers. To simplify – to see if a vendor’s proposal meets the specific needs, requirements, or objectives of the project.

Key Objectives of an RFP

Now that you understand what an RFP is and its purpose, let’s break down the key objectives that help identify, assess, and choose the most suitable vendor for the project. Typically, these objectives include:

  • Identifying Qualified Suppliers. The RFP process allows organizations to reach out to a broad range of potential vendors, suppliers, or service providers who have the expertise and capabilities to meet the specific requirements of a project. These vendors are qualified with different criteria from financial stability to technical expertise. Some have certifications that may span various domains, such as ISO for quality assurance, ITIL for IT Service Management, and Scrum for Project Management.

  • Defining Project Requirements. Through the RFP document, the organization can clearly outline its needs, objectives, and the scope of work. This helps potential bidders understand the expectations and requirements of the project. 

  • Promoting Fair Competition. By issuing an RFP, companies promote fair competition among potential suppliers. Multiple vendors can submit proposals, providing the organization with a variety of options to choose from – with different types of offering.

  • Evaluating Proposals Objectively. The RFP typically includes evaluation criteria that the organization will use to assess and compare the proposals received. This objective evaluation process helps in selecting the proposal that best aligns with the organization’s goals and requirements.

  • Cost Comparison. Vendors submitting proposals are often required to provide detailed cost estimates. This allows the organization to compare not only the technical aspects of the proposals but also the associated costs such as one-time and recurring fees. 

  • Risk Mitigation. Through the RFP process, organizations can identify potential risks and challenges associated with a project and request bidders to propose strategies for mitigating these risks. This proactive approach helps in addressing issues before the project begins.

  • Legal and Contractual Clarity. The RFP includes information about contractual terms and conditions, providing a clear framework for how the project will be executed and how the relationship between the organization and the selected vendor will be governed. This is seldom discussed but in fact, may affect the project. Given the long-term nature of most IT solutions, it is crucial to design the agreement in a manner that addresses ongoing improvements and support. The potential for wasted IT investments arises when projects are treated merely as single transactions. Since a significant portion of the cost is incurred during the initial project phase, subsequent projects focused on enhancements typically involve minimal expenses. Consequently, the cost-benefit analysis tends to be more favorable when maximizing solutions in this context.

  • Ensuring Transparency. The RFP process is designed to be transparent, ensuring that all interested parties have equal access to information and an equal opportunity to submit proposals. This transparency is essential for building trust and fairness in the selection process.

In summary, an RFP serves as a tool to streamline the procurement process, promote fair competition, and ultimately help organizations make informed and strategic decisions when selecting vendors or service providers for their projects.

Many customers we’ve encountered frequently make this basic mistake when doing RFPs.

Most Customers Have a Product-Mindset

In many instances, customers often treat the procurement of solutions as a mere transaction, following a conventional purchase of a product. Typically, the process involves customers creating their Research for Proposals (RFPs), vendors filling out the RFP and ask questions mainly focused on product features, an assumption that everything will proceed smoothly. Finally, a demonstration of a proof of concept.

However, this approach, falls short when applied to solutions because of the following:

Purchasing a Product

  • Product-Centric. A traditional approach centered around buying a specific product or service.

  • Features and Benefits. Emphasizes product features and benefits without a deep understanding of your own problems and needs.

  • Transaction-Focused. Aims to procure as quickly, often without a comprehensive understanding of the challenges.

Purchasing a Solution

  • Customer-Centric. A customer-focused approach involves comprehending the impact of these challenges on stakeholders and their holistic effects.

  • Problem Solving. Focuses on solving specific problems or addressing needs.

  • Long-Term Relationship. A relationship-oriented approach aiming for trust and long-term partnerships.

Product Mindset Leads to These Fundamental Problems

Failure to Understand Your Needs

From experience, the needs of the customer typically involves tackling the concerns of three primary stakeholder groups within the company: project owners, sponsors, and end-users. These stakeholders encounter specific challenges within their own department or position that tend to arise unexpectedly. This is because the product-mindset is more focused on the product. Therefore, during the procurement phase, the discussion tends to heavily lean towards features and functionalities. Whereas the solutions mindset is focused on solving the customer’s problems, the conversation will focus more on how the problem gets solved and how changes introduced will affect every stakeholder. 

If what happens is more on the former, the existing plan would be crafted more about the product’s features. Expectedly, during implementation issues such as scope creeps, delay in requirements gathering among other things often arise throughout the project. As a result, simple issues will require minimal adjustments while complex ones will require more time and resources to re-align with the project’s new requirements. 

Deteriorating Solutions

As companies grow, they encounter new challenges and bring in new people and processes. If there’s no plan for future improvements, solutions stall as priorities change. The requirements of the past do not address the needs of today.

Technical Debt

It occurs when implementing changes that are challenging to roll-back, typically requiring resources—time, personnel, financial investments, or a combination of the three. The greater the technical debt, the more challenging implementing changes become. 

When confronted with technical debt, the benefits of initiatives often result in lateral rather than progressive improvements. An example would be, developing a custom solution from scratch. The solution will definitely address the requirements and solve the problems of the customer, but may pose difficulties when the original developers depart.  The company will have a hard time introducing new updates due to the challenges in maintaining codebases without developer continuity. The issue becomes more problematic when the system is intricately linked across the organization such as Point of Sale, Inventory, and Accounting. There’s a likelihood that no single system can match the capabilities of the existing one, therefore any change will need to be simultaneous. This potentially increases the risk of the project.


Get Into a Solutions Mindset

All these can be avoided. These issues can impact the project’s smooth delivery, and in more severe cases, they can lead to project failure. To get ahead of these concerns, companies should focus on having a solutions mindset. It involves establishing a mutual understanding of key goals and challenges, and fostering transparent communication.

Build Relationships - Communicate and Be Open for Collaboration!

It Creates an Environment of Trust & Collaboration

Building a relationship with a vendor goes beyond transactional interactions. With trust, both vendors and customers can openly exchange concerns, knowledge, and ideas. This exchange allows each party to gain valuable insights and contribute ideas toward problem-solving, fostering collaboration for optimal solutions. Simultaneously, the customer assesses the vendor’s capability to address their issues, akin to gaining insights before making a significant commitment.

It Helps Save on Long Term Costs

Immediate cost savings are not typical in IT solutions. Think of it like an iceberg—beyond the visible solutions, there are underlying cost factors such as mastery with the solution, implementation time, change management, necessary support for ongoing functionality, and the vendor’s stability (to avoid fly-by-night companies) among other things. 

Added to that, the cloud introduces additional complexity with the way services are delivered. There are now various plans and features so only the features you need are used. Generally, most companies shouldn’t initially go with the top-tier plans because most high-end features are nice-to-have but seldom utilized. Vendors will help you choose and optimize the plan based on your requirement. 

It Reduces Risk

A customer-vendor relationship resembles a marriage where committing entails a long-term partnership. Similar to personal relationships, the evaluation is similar to dating where it involves understanding how well you can collaborate and how well the vendor can solve the problem. Assessing the vendor’s responsiveness, support, and communication style provides a preview before making a long-term commitment. Because once the knot is tied, it will take a few years before things can be undone.

Most Importantly, It Solves the Problem in Detail

Frequently, the issues that are openly discussed tend to be superficial in nature. There’s a narrative underlying them, revealing the cause-and-effect connection between the problem and its symptoms. Dealing with intricate processes makes these problems less straightforward. Each stakeholder faces a distinct problem or challenge, discovering and addressing these nuances significantly impacts how solutions are implemented. 

Effective communication and trust established between you and your vendor play a crucial role in conveying the challenges faced by these stakeholders. While customers are more familiar with the problems, vendors possess greater knowledge of potential solutions. Therefore, building a relationship ensures a more nuanced and effective resolution to the problem.

In summary, the Request for Proposal (RFP) process is vital for informed vendor selection, emphasizing transparency and a customer-centric approach. The challenges brought by the product mindset highlights the need to switch into the solutions mindset. You do it by building relationships. The trust and collaboration it creates forms the foundation for a successful RFP, which often results to successful partnerships.  It offers long-term cost savings, risk mitigation, and continuous improvement.

For more insights, follow us on LinkedIn and stay updated on all things IT.

Related posts

corqspace_full-lockupFA3 (1)
Get in touch