A request for proposal (RFP) is a laborious process for vendors and consultants, and it may or may not lead to being hired by an organization.
RFPs may include the submission of 100-plus pages of documents, lead to multiple in-person meetings, require onerous reference checks, asks for supplemental materials, or spur the development of case study examples — the list could go on.
Until there are better methods of evaluating vendors, let all parties in the RFP process realize that etiquette matters and represents you and your organization.
If you work in an association, non-profit or corporation, you may have to draft an RFP or multiple RFPs over the course of your career. This can be massively time-consuming and requires a team effort.
Here are a few ways to ensure that the RFP process is respected and that both parties engage in a useful exercise of finding the best talent, tools, and technology to power their programs:
Stick to deadlines.
Many RFPs will follow a strict calendar of when key elements of the process will take place. If you’re submitting a response to an RFP, an easy way of getting knocked out of the running is by missing a deadline.
Conversely, if you’re soliciting an RFP, you owe the vendor or consultant the respect of keeping to your own deadlines. RFPs can be very costly to vendors and consultants, and many times firms won’t engage in the process due to the barrier of entry. Delaying the process can further exacerbate the costs to services providers, many of whom will take a loss if the proposal is rejected.
Convey the scope of work.
Tailor RFPs as closely as possible to get to the root of what you are trying to achieve. Do not craft subjective or open RFPs that have providers wondering what you are trying to do. Remember, an RFP is different than a full-capabilities deck.
You have to convey your abilities, skills, and experience in an abbreviated fashion, but constantly connect this back to the goal of the RFP. Focusing the RFP will improve the quality of submissions, and better-focused submissions will increase the likelihood of being selected.
Maintain the integrity of the process.
Don’t utilize the RFP process to solicit ideas from vendors or service providers if you don’t have a real intention of engaging their paid services. If you have every intention of going with the same vendor as you have for the past 10 years because of trust and personal relationships, that is perfectly fine, but don’t subject other vendors through a brutal process without the possibility of victory.
In preserving the integrity of the process, make sure that you provide equal opportunities to all parties that are submitting an RFP. Don’t disclose information to one party and not the other. Showcasing a level playing field is important because it’s likely that you may work with a vendor in the future, even if you do not select them on the first go around. Failure to maintain a process with integrity will lead to fewer responses to RFPs and possibly being blacklisted by some vendors or consultants.
Be humble in victory or defeat.
If you win the RFP duel, you won the game. Celebrate the victory but know that there will be many more games throughout your career. It’s senseless to gloat because if you’re active enough in the advocacy business, you’re going to have to experience both victory and defeat along the way.
If you lose, pick up the pieces and take the lessons learned from the process back with you. Reflect on them, improve, and strategize your next move for the next game. There will be winners and losers in any RFP, but it can also be a great learning process for those involved that aren’t selected so as long as the integrity of the process is preserved, and the parties engage in mutual respect.
Joshua Habursky is assistant vice president of advocacy at the Independent Community Bankers of America, chairman of the Grassroots Professional Network, a contributing editor at Campaigns & Elections, and an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.
Mike Fulton directs the Washington, D.C., office of the Asher Agency and teaches public affairs in West Virginia University's Integrated Marketing Communications program.