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How to Write a Good Request for Proposal (RFP)

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When your company is seeking a vendor to perform an important task, you want to attract the best performers possible. A little thought before you prepare the Request for Proposal (RFP) can help you find that vendor.

To some degree, a standardized template RFP will attract standardized template proposals. That might do the trick, but there's a way to probe deeper and to increase the odds of finding the perfect vendor: Be creative. Here are five ways to give your RFP some life:

  • Vary from the template. Every RFP can't be created from scratch, but vary from the template on each RFP. Probe your most affected employees on pitfalls to avoid on the project and ask them about past bad vendors and how such a hire can be avoided. Write the RFP accordingly.
  • Strive for clarity. Don't fill your RFP with industry jargon without asking specific questions. If you "write around" what you are seeking with jargonish language, you will get an equally unhelpful answer back. Ask blunt, direct questions in the RFP and you'll get direct answers back.
  • Be clear about how you will evaluate the proposals. No use in being cryptic in how your company will evaluate the proposals. Some companies make respondents guess as to the company's priorities on a project, but what does that accomplish? A vendor that might be a good guesser on an RFP is not necessarily a vendor who can do the job for you.
  • Don't be afraid to answer questions. Some firms refuse to answer any questions from vendors once RFPs hit the street. That might not be the best policy. Allowing calls to come in from the vendors will give you clues to their enthusiasm and how well you might interface with their key employees. It is one more piece of information to choose the right vendor.
  • Allow some flexibility in the presentation. Don't completely box in the vendor's presentation to you. Provide certain parameters, but allow the vendors some room to demonstrate their creativity in terms of mediums.

A good RFP produces better vendors and better work product for your company. Not only that, but that extra effort preparing a better RFP is an internal exercise for employees to think more clearly about the project ahead and how they can work more cohesively with an outside vendor.

In all, the extra time preparing a good RFP should pay dividends for your company.