How to Write an RFP to Get the Solution You Need

In our 17 years of business, we’ve seen hundreds of RFPs. Some have dazzled us with detailed requirements and clear objectives, while others have left us feeling, um, uninspired. What separates the good from the bad and the ugly, in our experience, comes down to assembling the right team, allowing enough time, and defining what you really need in an enterprise solution. Keep these three common sense tips in mind, and you’ll craft a winning RFP that gets you the solution you need every time.

RFP Success Tip #1: Assemble the Right Team

The most ineffective way to write an RFP is to ask everyone in your organization what they want and throw it all into a massive list of requirements. When you do this, you end up with an unwieldy wish list full of requirements—some valid, some not—that the vendor needs to sift through to determine the essence of your ask. We’ve encountered this type of RFP more than once, and it’s not ideal.

But getting input from everyone is a good idea. A more effective way to do this is to have your line-level managers gather feedback from lower-level staff, and then convene with a technical resource and a business analyst from your team who can apply the want vs. need test to each of the requirements in the room.

It may sound obvious, but you also need to make sure that your core users play a key role in shaping the requirements. Spend time with the people who will use the product the most: ask them what their current pain points are, see if they have any ideas for solutions, and go from there. Your business analyst can then help you rank your requirements, and you’ll be on solid footing to begin writing your RFP.

RFP Success Tip #2: Allow Enough Time

It will come as no surprise that the RFPs we love responding to are the ones that are clear and carefully considered. But careful work takes time. The complex organizations we serve require a healthy dose of business analysis before they can begin to gather requirements effectively, and that process should never be rushed—if you do rush, you might end up with a one-size-fits-all CRM that has to do everything for your organization, and consequently does nothing well. Imagine the headaches.

Some accreditors choose to engage us in the planning process. During these short-term engagements, we help them define their ideal solution by immersing ourselves in their business processes and stakeholder needs. Then they use that insight to craft an RFP that accurately reflects their organizational priorities. A lot of this work can be done internally if you involve the right resources, especially a strong business analyst who can manage the project with input from your technical team, as mentioned above.

RFP Success Tip #3: Separate Must-Haves from Nice-to-Haves

So you’ve engaged the right stakeholders, taken the right amount of time, and you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for in a solution. When you get to this point, you’re able to prioritize your requirements as must-haves versus nice-to-haves and write an RFP that reflects your true needs. Now it’s time to choose a vendor.

No system, no matter how robust, is going to be able to match all of your requirements 100 percent out of the box. In the RFPs we’ve seen, about 80 percent of the functionality can be found in about 20 percent of the requirements, so it’s critically important to focus on your core requirements and find a vendor who can deliver on those out of the box. This way, you’ll benefit from the vendor’s upgrade path—as the vendor updates the product, your core system will update as well, keeping it in optimal shape year after year.

The same is not true of custom shops. When you choose a vendor who promises to meet 100 percent of your requirements via a custom solution, your solution will (1) take a long time to build, (2) go stale almost immediately, and (3) be expensive to support and upgrade, if you can even upgrade it at all. When you can find a product company that’s a good match for your core needs, you’ll benefit much more in the long run.

One final thing to keep in mind when you’re evaluating vendors: cost matters, but time does too. A good product company can get you up and running on an out of the box solution fairly quickly. If you choose to partner with ARMATURE for accreditation management software or supplier quality management software, for example, you can expect some configuration, possibly some data migration, and some systems integration on top of the standard product implementation. But even with those factors in play, going with a product shop like us is a lot faster and easier than taking your entire process and building a custom solution around it.

We hope you find these tips useful the next time you begin your RFP process. Here’s to your success!