October 19, 2010
10 Tips for Improving Your RFP Process

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Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mitch Ditkoff. I am the Co-Founder of Idea Champions, an innovation consulting and training company headquartered in Woodstock, NY. We've been in business since 1986 and, since that time, have responded to more than 1,200 RFPs.

Along the way, we've noticed a curious trend.

Time and again, we've seen RFP-requesting companies get stuck with a vendor or contract that did not fulfill their needs because their RFP process got in the way -- a process that could have been a lot more effective if only it had been more open, honest, and complete.

And so, as a public service to you and all our other prospective clients, here are 10 simple guidelines to increase the odds of your RFP process getting you the kind of results you are looking for:

10 TIPS FOR IMPROVING YOUR PROPOSAL PROCESS

1. Be Prepared: The odds of us delivering a meaningful proposal to you increase exponentially in response to the accuracy and thoroughness of the input you provide.

If the person you report to has asked you to "google innovation consultants" and put five proposals on his/her desk by next Friday, make sure you are sufficiently briefed so what we deliver to you will be fully aligned with what you really need.

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2. Be Clear About Deadlines: Is the proposal you are requesting really due yesterday? The first thing tomorrow? Two weeks from now? Please be willing to give us the scoop on when you really need it and we'll be happy to deliver it by then -- or sooner.

When you give potential vendors a fake deadline, it doesn't bode well for your future working relationship -- one that needs to be rooted in mutual trust, respect, and integrity.

And besides, unnecessarily stressing potential vendors may end up working against you, significantly increasing the odds of you receiving flawed, incomplete, or incomprehensible proposals.

3. Be Transparent:
While your proposal process is your business, not ours, there is something to be said for letting us know how many other companies you've invited to respond. If you're asking another 25, our chances are 4% and we might decide not to throw our hat in the ring. Make sense?

If you already know you have only $2,500 to spend on your three-day event in Orlando, let us know that, too. This information will save us the time it takes to write a proposal you will never accept and you the time it will take to read it. Win/Win.

4. Be Ethical: If you are contacting us only to get some useful thought starters about your event or initiative and already know you will not be engaging our services, there's really no need to ask for a proposal.

Chances are good we'll be happy to talk with you about your event, anyway, just for the opportunity to spark a future business relationship with you.

We subscribe to the notion that the more you give, the more you get. But asking us for a proposal that has no chance of being accepted is really not playing fair.

Put yourself in our shoes. The Golden Rule applies.

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5. Be Direct About What You're Asking For: If what you mean by "a proposal" is merely our fee, simply ask for it and we'll tell you. It will save us both a lot of time -- and more than a few trees.

If all you need is two pages' worth, mention that, too. If we give you ten and your threshold is two, both of us lose.

6. Be Honest: If you've already decided to engage the services of someone else, but need three competitive bids for "legal reasons," let us know. As part of our newly launched "Consulting Companies for a Proposal Savvy World" campaign, we'll send you -- within 24 hours -- our "They've Already Decided" proposal.

Much less work for us -- and no bad karma for you.

7.Keep Us Posted: At reasonable intervals, after we've submitted our proposal, please be willing to let us know where we stand.

If you haven't read our proposal yet, that's useful to know. If you can't find it, feel free to ask us to send another. If your conference has been canceled, we're just an email away. If you've decided to do it in-house, just holler. If budgets have been frozen... or your CEO has been indicted by the FTC... or you've decided that one of our competitors is the perfect fit, you know where to find us.

This information, delivered in a timely way, will allow us to release the dates we've been holding for you, significantly reducing the odds of you feeling guilty (or cranky) the next time we ask for an update.

8. Respond to Our (Infrequent) Emails: Often, when a prospective client asks us for a proposal, they ask us to "hold the date." This is perfectly understandable. It's common practice.

But sometimes another prospective client, the next day, will ask us for the same date. That's when we'll send you an email and ask for an update.

Since we will have given you the right of first refusal, all you need to do is let us know what's happening. Takes less than two minutes.

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9. Provide Authentic Closure: Let's say you decide not to engage our services. Maybe you liked another consultant's approach better or decided to go with the low cost provider.

So be it. Your choice. No problem. Yes, we might be disappointed, but we'll get over it.

What's harder to get over is when there's no closure.

Of course, we realize you owe us nothing. You are not, by law, required to do anything after we submit our proposal. We also realize that your silence isn't synonymous with a lack of care. Indeed, sometimes it's the opposite -- since you may have grown to like us and don't want to be the bearer of bad news.

For us, bad news is better than none.

That's how we learn and, hopefully, get better at responding to your future requests.

And that's not all.

You get to maintain a positive relationship with a company (us) whose services you may want to engage in the future. You also avoid getting a bad rap among the other consulting companies with whom we are regularly in contact.

And we, of course, get the kind of feedback we need help us grow our business. How long does this closure effort take? Three minutes? Five? Ten at the most.

10. Consider Reinventing Your RFP Process:
The above nine suggestions, of course, are only from our perspective. We're guessing there are at least a few other improvements you can think of that will significantly raise the odds of your future RFP process being more effective, efficient, and humane.

If you're stuck for fresh ideas about how to improve your RFP process, click here and conjure up some new ways you can change the game for the better.

A big thank you to Paul Roth and Val Vadeboncoeur for their sage input on this topic.

Idea Champions

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at October 19, 2010 02:15 PM

Comments

This is good work boys. I work this from both ends and this will be helpful.

gary

Posted by: gary-canuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 18, 2010 06:10 PM

I completely agree that the RFP process has to be revamped. In fact, I had written about it earlier that it has to move to a Social mode of interaction - that will make it easier for everyone concerned.
http://madhusudanrao.wordpress.com/2010/02/28/request-for-proposals-move-towards-sns/

Posted by: Madhusudan Rao [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2010 01:08 AM

We wrote a similar article about a year ago entitled "9 tips for running a more considerate procurement (RFP) process" that is along similar lines: http://blog.confluentforms.com/2010/01/9-tips-for-running-more-considerate.html

Thought you might enjoy it, as well as the other articles we've written on the RFP process!

-David

Posted by: Confluentforms [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2010 04:01 PM

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Idea Champions is a consulting and training company dedicated to awakening and nurturing the spirit of innovation. We help individuals, teams and entire organizations tap into their innate ability to create, develop and implement ideas that make a difference.

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