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When a company decides to buy an item or service, and wants to solicit potential vendors, they first write a request for proposal (RFP). The RFP sets out the criteria they want vendors to address as they propose why they should be hired for the job. It’s important to write a RFP that is clear and asks for all of the information needed, while presenting the company in a positive light. A poorly written RFP could mean the company might wind up with primarily unqualified or subpar vendors, or no proposals at all.
The first step to write a RFP is, simply enough, to determine what exactly the company needs. Although this sounds quite basic, it is actually the step most often ignored by companies. Many companies begin to write a RFP without having a clear understanding of what their needs and desires are, and ultimately wind up asking for too much, too little, or contradictory things. Input should be solicited from everyone involved in the affected project, and a consensus should be reached as to what is actually needed before the RFP is even begun.
Vendors will need to know what exactly it is you need to be accomplished, and what you simply want to be accomplished. Many companies make the mistake when they write a RFP of creating a wish list of their dream features, but using need words like shall and must. Vendors who may not be able to meet one or two of these criteria may not submit a proposal at all if they believe the criteria are absolutely necessary. It’s important to pay attention to the language used, saving need words for when they’re accurate, and using softer language such as desire and optional for preferable features.
Before any proposals are actually solicited, it’s also a good idea to know what the ideal proposal will look like. If there are multiple aspects by which proposals will be judged, for example if they will be judged by price, timeliness, and feature density, have an idea how much of each of these features will be weighed. Know how a proposal that offers the lowest price but a long wait time will compare to a proposal that is twice as expensive but takes half the time. This will help reduce confusion and stress later in the process.
Actually sitting down to write a RFP can be a fairly painless and quick procedure once the groundwork has been laid. The introduction should just set out why the company is requesting proposals, and give an overview of the rest of the request, including important criteria and deadlines. The RFP should then cover what a winning proposal must have, followed by desired characteristics, and criteria for choosing the winner, especially if there are set selection criteria. Next, a timeline that lays out various benchmark dates and a final due date should be given. Finally, the RFP should give the applicants an idea what will happen next, including how long they can expect to wait to hear back, and whether those not chosen can expect a response.
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