CWS 3.0: July 24, 2013

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Think Before Your RFP

By Shelley Williams

Do you enjoy drafting RFPs? Based on an informal survey I conducted among my acquaintances in the procurement world, the answer was an overwhelming “no.”

Why is it, then, that the suppliers vying for your business get lumbered with a 40-page RFP? The world of procurement collides with a bang with the world of service providers. With a proverbial thunderous thud, the lengthy questionnaire falls into the mailboxes of half a dozen suppliers.

Managed service providers may not mind RFPs. If nothing else, it is an opportunity for them. If it means answering questions ranging from hypothetical to rhetorical to — frankly — ridiculous, they will oblige. Which leads to some good news: Your lengthy RFPs have created new jobs, because — every MSP employs a team of professional copiers and pasters.

But is that what you really are looking for as a response to your request — answers culled and copied from responses to other clients’ RFPs?

As a buyer, how much effort did you put into writing your RFP? Or did you yourself use the template from the previous process, or that of the previous company you worked for?

Is that question about the MSP’s account management structure necessary? Likely, it carries low weighting in your evaluation process, so surely the MSP can just insert the slide it created for another client. Is that the level of attention you want to your request?

As a buyer, we want to avoid risk while simultaneously looking for cost savings and efficiencies. Unfortunately, the two don’t always go hand in hand. A lengthy RFP may provide us with a whole lot of information. It may even ensure that we know the precise invoicing process! But it curbs imagination on the supplier’s side and doesn’t allow for much creative problem-solving.

While we often focus on the wrong material in our RFP, we also don’t always give the providers enough time to put careful thought into their responses. As a buyer, we struggle to get our internal stakeholders excited about the MSP/VMS solution, and when finally we manage to get their attention, they want the solution implemented immediately. So, in order to make our customers happy, we give the supplier an inordinately short time to respond to the RFP, which we ourselves had months to write.

As a buyer we spend so much time writing our category strategy that we forget the value of the providers’ experience. Instead of inviting the suppliers to participate in the development of the strategy, we keep them at arms’ length and then out of the blue invite them to present their solution to our challenges – a solution that we have already decided — and mark it against the supplier if it so much as suggests another option.

As contingent workforce managers, we are considerate and compassionate people. But that isn’t always reflected in the way we conduct our RFP processes. Maybe it’s time for a little introspection before the next round begins.

Shelley Williams is the global transformation lead, Contingent Workforce, at Bloomberg L.P. 

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Proposal diva 24/07/2013 1:35 pm

As someone who develops proposals for a living I give this a huge AMEN! I'm not a copy/paster, but someone who actually tries to customize our response to the client's environment. Hmmm...they haven't told us anything about their environment. Hmmm...Which of these 200 questions are they the most interested in? Hmmm...200 questions due in 5 days? The level of customization drops exponentially. Hmmm...Decision on downselect 3 days after submission? So we are submitting a 60 page document and 20 attachments just to answer the questions multiplied by 10 responders--can they read 600 pages and 200 attachments in that timeframe and make a well-reasoned decision or are they just flipping to the pricing? Hmmmm....They are a US company with no international operations, so why do I need to describe "in detail" our global footprint? One 400 question behemoth (sent complete with one RFP document and 20 attachments to read and digest) was due in 3 days to see who was "serious" about bidding. Really? We see the RFP process as a decent indicator of how a company will be to work with after the sale and many fail. Unfortunately SIA is a major contributor to RFP inflation---when the SIA sample RFP questions are sent with no customization or editing, that's an indicator that the buyer gave little thought to what they really need.


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