Writing a Convincing Request for Proposal

When thinking about business, we usually concentrate on things like sales and marketing, human resources and the like, but there is another side to the business coin: suppliers. From raw materials to sales inventory to office supplies, you are constantly trying to get the best cost for things in order to be able to offer your customers the best price you can. One of the ways to do this is with a great Request for Proposal (RFP), or more simply, Request for Quote (RFQ).

Writing a Great RFP

At its most basic, a Request for Proposal is a document (or group of documents) that describe the detailed needs of a prospective buyer to a potential vendor. RFPs are typically used for evaluation, comparison and selection in the software industry, but they can be issued and used for any kind of product or service. Once the data needed is collected, it can be placed in a decision matrix to assist in getting the best solution possible.

To make sure that your RFP is given the same consideration as everyone else’s, in addition to full contact information for the person or persons responsible for the contract, the processes involved and the project itself; your RFP should be written in a formal way that guides the reader through the entire solicitation, selection and award process. 

  • Solicitation Process
    • Will there be either a mandatory or optional bidders’ conference?
    • Announce the due dates for proposal submission or withdrawal
  • Selection Process
    • Provide a process timeline
    • Describe the process format
    • Define the evaluation methods
    • Criteria
    • Weights
  • Award Process
    • Provide all relevant deadlines
    • Give the award date for the contract
    • Describe the contract along with all terms and conditions 

The successful RFP: Some Basic Information
There is much that can be learned from the basics of journalism. When telling a story, you need to include the Who, What, Why, When and How. Without these elements, there is no story. You should think of your RFP as a story as well. By answering these questions, you will be able to build the various sections of your RFP as follows:

  • Who
    This includes a description of your company and discusses the people responsible for evaluating proposals and for making the final decision.
    • Background Information
      An overview of your company, its operations, statistics, customer demographics, and an honest appraisal of your company’s strengths and weaknesses.
    • Points of Contact
      List the people your prospective vendors should contact for information on the RFP, or with any other questions. Be sure to include the contact’s name, title, responsibilities, and the various ways of reaching them.
  • What
    Describes the nature of the project including the needs and expected outcomes.
    • Scope of Work
      Describe what you expect from the vendor as well as the outcomes you are looking for. This should include a very detailed list of responsibilities, especially where sub-contractors are involved.
    • Outcome and Performance Standards
      Here you will specify the outcome targets and the minimal performance standards you expect from the vendor. This is also the place to discuss how you will monitor performance and implement any necessary corrective action.
    • Deliverables
      You need to give the vendor a list of any and all deliverables including products, reports, and plans, as well as a proposed delivery schedule.
  • Why
    Tells your potential supplier why your company needs to buy a new solution.
    • Statement of Purpose
      Detail your objective with this contract and describe the products and services your organization is looking for to meet that objective.
  • When
    Describes the entire selection process timeframe including when to submit questions, offer the proposal and when the decision will be made.
    • Process Schedule
      Show the timeline for the process leading to the final decision. It should include relevant dates for all steps in the process.
  • How
    Discusses the contract, the kind of information and documents you need from potential providers and describes how proposals will be evaluated and the winner selected.
    • Term of Contract
      Include all the terms such as contract length, start date, end date and options for renewal.
    • Payments, Incentives, and Penalties
      List all payment terms for adequate performance, highlighting incentives for superior performance and penalties for poor performance or for a lack of compliance.
    • Contractual Terms and Conditions
      Include all standard contracting forms, certifications, and assurances as well as terms and requirements specific to this contract.
    • Requirements for Proposal Preparation
      Request a single, definite structure for the proposal and include an exhaustive list of the documents you want to receive as part of that proposal.
    • Evaluation and Award Process
      Describe all the procedures and criteria used for evaluating proposals and for making the final contract award.

As long as you have these components in your RFP, you will have all the basic information you will need but you are not finished yet. Your RFP should be accompanied by a great cover letter, which will be discussed in my next article: “Writing a Convincing Request for Proposal II: The Cover Letter.”