It's been a decade since I left the University of Oregon and moved into the private sector, working for various sports technology startups before joining AudienceView. Along the way, I've experienced this process with university procurement offices in almost every state. The valuable lessons I've learned form the basis of these tips, which can help make the RFP process run more smoothly for your organization (and maybe a few that help the vendors too!).
1. Pick a generous timeline. Stick to it.
If you are serious about going through the RFP process, then you need to give it the proper timeline. Too frequently, I've seen schools condense the timeline and end up in a "no decision" situation for no other reason than they ran out of time. When mapping out your process, make sure you build in the seasonality of your business. It's much easier to start the process much earlier than start too late. If you want a pure process, this point is critical.
My recommendation: Allow for at least 14 months to run your procurement process.
2. Ensure the RFP questions / requirements are on point.
On many occasions, I’ve seen RFPs with specs or requirements that apply to buying printers, paper or office furniture. When asked if those are requirements, procurement officers will respond with, “No, but that’s something we put in all of our bids.” In the spirit of preserving both your time in reviewing and vendors’ time in responding, please only list the requirements that relate to what you’re seeking. Proactively involving the key stakeholders – from marketing, fundraising, web, finance, operations, etc. – in the process of writing and reviewing the document will help avoid project hiccups and delays later in the process. Taking this action on the front end of the process will ensure that you and your organization cover all of the relevant angles and that the document is well vetted.
3. Pretty please, give the vendors enough time to respond.
Buying software – specifically the RIGHT software – takes time. Especially if ticketing and e-commerce revenue is the lifeblood of your organization, you are reviewing your current partnership and/or pursuing a new vendor. Beginning your process well in advance of your contract ending (12-18 months in advance) allows your organization to produce a thorough and well-constructed RFP. It also allows the vendors your considering enough time to ask the right questions and prepare the best and most relevant answers.
4. Make submissions easy (and environmentally friendly).
Communication technology has made great, helpful strides in the last few years, and sending electronic documents of high quality has become easily accessible to all organizations. Add in environmental concerns, and it looks like the days of six copies of an RFP, plus one original, plus a flash drive, plus a CD-ROM are likely on the decline. Opt to accept PDFs or electronic versions through purchasing software, which ensures that the copies that are produced are not reduced to poor quality black and white photocopies, and provides an opportunity to efficiently share as many times as required no matter what size your team is. The trees will thank you for it too.
5. Build a feedback loop into your process.
As vendors, we have a love/hate relationship with formal RFP procurement processes. On one hand, we love the purity of a level playing field and we completely align with the guidelines that a formal process does to help a university make the right choice for their business. On the other hand, we're not thrilled when the procurement process is seen as a frustrating formality put in place by the university when the key decision makers would prefer to stick with their current vendor regardless of the criteria at play. As vendors, what we really crave is understanding why we are winning and why we are losing. If the reasoning is political, so be it. If it's functional, we want to know why. If it's price, that is key for us too. My suggestion is to make sure each losing vendor walks away with the right information that helps them adjust their offering for future procurement processes at other institutions. This is fundamental to our ability to improve.
So, there you have it. Five tips that help all parties involved in a critical, time consuming and expensive process. I would be happy to share my experiences with any organization that is looking to improve their RFP process. Drop me an email and I’ll give you a call to chat!