Essential Questions to Ask Before, During and After Receiving an RFP

Last updated: June 15, 2018

Summary

A request for proposal (RFP) gives a client an opportunity to outline what it needs and wants from a vendor. The RFP process also offers vendors an opportunity to demonstrate to a potential client why they are the best company for the project. For that reason, it's imperative both the vendor and the client ask each other the right questions at the start of, during and after the RFP process.

Asking the right questions throughout the process will help clients put together a strong request for proposals. Knowing what questions to ask also allows vendors to determine if the RFP is worth responding to and what they can expect from the negotiation process with a client.

Read on to find RFP questions to ask vendors and clients, as well as sample RFP questions and why each of those questions is important. Read our latest article to learn more about the RFP process timeline.

Questions to Ask Before Starting the RFP Process

1. What is the problem?

Another way to approach this question is: Why are you starting the RFP process? What does your company or organization hope to improve?

Outline the problem your company is facing, including the particular pain points you encounter and areas where there is room for improvement or growth. Next, think about where you want your company to go and the steps needed to get you there.

Having a thorough understanding of the problem will help you see which vendors are suggesting a feasible solution.

2. What are your goals for the project, and do they align with the goals of your company?

The goals your company hopes to achieve shouldn't contradict or interfere with the overall goals or mission of your company. Before you begin putting together an RFP, make sure the objectives of the project are in line with your business' overall objectives.

3. What are your requirements?

What are you looking for from vendors, or more specifically, what do vendors need to have for your company to even consider working with them?

The more details you can provide when it comes to explaining your company's requirements, the better. For example, what are your company's expectations when it comes to the security protocols your vendors use? What technical requirements do you have?

It's also worth thinking about the references a vendor might supply you during the RFP process. How will you evaluate references? Remember, it's better to compare apples to apples rather than apples to oranges. When you ask for references from a vendor, it's important to specify those references come from organizations and projects that are similar in scope and shape to your project.

4. What is the scope of the project?

Outline the goals of the project, as well as a timeline for deliverables. What needs to be completed first, and how long do you expect each part of the project to take? What response do you expect if any part of the project needs to get adjusted along the way?

Defining the project scope and setting the priorities for scope will give vendors the opportunity to present you with a workable plan for implementation.

Project Scope

5. Does the new solution integrate with existing systems?

Vendors need to know if they are working on a standalone solution, or if your company plans on working the solution into existing software or other existing programs or protocols. Take time to outline what systems, if any, the solution will work with and how they will play together. It's also a good idea to provide full details on existing systems, such as how they get maintained and updated.

6. What is your budget?

Figuring out your company's budget for the project means more than examining how much money you have to spend. It also means researching market rates and finding out what similar companies have paid for similar projects. You can also contact vendors to find out what they typically charge for projects similar to yours.

Setting a budget also gives your vendors an idea of what you're looking for and can help them shape their proposals to your needs.

7. What is your timeline?

You want to give vendors a due date for the proposal and any other material submissions. You also want to give vendors a "know-by" date, or a date by which you expect to make your decision.

It's also a good idea to include a timeline for the project itself. For example, when do you expect the project to go live, and when would you like to receive certain parts or components of the project? Giving vendors an idea of what you expect during the implementation of the project will allow them to confirm they have the bandwidth and ability to work with you.

8. Who is the point person on the project?

Vendors are likely to have questions about the RFP, and it's important for your company to designate who is in charge of responding to any questions that come up. It's a good idea to choose a person who has expertise on the subject to serve as the point of contact. It's also smart to tap into anyone on your team who could provide additional information and expert advice as needed. Be sure your point person knows whom they can turn to for answers to specific questions that might come up during the RFP process.

9. Who are your key stakeholders? Do they have adequate representation and input?

Getting your stakeholders involved is especially critical when they will be selecting vendors. Identify not only who will be affected by the purchasing decision but also who will bring the most value to the RFP process. Let those people know that being involved is an opportunity for them to make sure their needs are understood, not an obligation that will take up a lot of their time.

You'll get better outcomes if you focus on specific criteria and state them clearly. Ensure stakeholder interests and needs are considered but don't get overwhelmed with stakeholder wants. Create proper context and set expectations for vendors and stakeholders.

Questions to Ask in an RFP

1. What policies do you have regarding price volatility?

Prices change based on a variety of factors. Price volatility is especially likely when a contract will last multiple years. In an RFP, it's important to ask a vendor what their policies are for price volatility, including what cost-of-living adjustments they will allow for and what they will do if prices should rise or fall unexpectedly.

2. Can you suggest alternatives that meet our requirements?

Vendors who have been in a particular industry for a while might be able to offer clients insight into ways to meet specific requirements for a lower cost, but without giving up on quality or otherwise compromising. A client might consider asking vendors to share case studies or examples of instances where they were able to save their customers money.

Case Studies

3. How much time does your company need to respond to unplanned requests or additional requirements?

What happens if a client is in the middle of using the vendor's product or machines, and something goes wrong? A client needs to know how much time it will take for someone from the vendor's company to respond to the issue. Are support personnel available onsite to correct any problems as they arise, or does someone have to travel from the vendor's headquarters out to the client? Who handles and pays for repairs? It's also important to find out what availability the vendor offers — do they have someone available at all times, or only during business hours?

4. Does the vendor own and service the products/equipment it sells, or is it a third-party broker?

A client should understand how much of the work a vendor performs will be its own and how much of it will be outsourced. That includes the ownership and use of equipment. Does the vendor have full control over machinery or vehicles, or is it working under a contract with another company? As a client, you want the complete picture, so you have a full idea of what to expect from a vendor.

5. Is your company a registered woman-, diverse- or disabled veteran-owned company?

Working with diverse vendors, whether they are woman-, disabled veteran- or diverse-owned, can help improve a customer's clout and status. Whether the vendor is diverse-owned might not be a significant consideration when choosing a supplier to work with, but it can also be one more thing that tips the scales in a vendor's favor.

6. Why should our company choose your business over other competitors?

Asking why a client should work with a particular vendor over the others gives a company a chance to illustrate why it's different from the rest. The question allows companies the chance to cover any specifications that weren't addressed elsewhere in the RFP.

7. Does your company have any pending acquisitions? If so, how will this change your business model?

A client needs to know if anything about the vendor might change shortly. For example, a company doesn't want to choose one vendor over another, only to find a larger business has purchased the vendor's company and they will no longer be offering some services or products.

A client needs to know about any issues or concerns that could in some way affect the relationship between vendor and client.

9. Can you provide a detailed implementation plan, including a timeline, for the startup and transition process?

If a client were to choose your company as the vendor/supplier, how would you go about getting the project started, what timeline can the client expect from you and so on? The response to this question can influence a client's ultimate decision. For example, Vendor A might charge a lower price but include a timeline that requires six months from start to finish. Vendor B might charge more, but promise to complete the project in half the time. In some cases, it might be more cost-effective to choose Vendor B over Vendor A.

10. How will you monitor progress and performance on the account?

It's important there be continued communication and monitoring of the project between vendor and client. Clients should ask vendors to outline how they plan to monitor and review the process to make sure they address any issues and implement improvements, when available.

Communication

11. How does your company correct discrepancies between requisition and items delivered?

Services should be performed on time and items should be delivered as promised. In cases when that doesn't happen, a supplier/vendor should have a plan in place to correct any issues quickly and smoothly.

Questions to Ask Before Responding to an RFP

1. Does the client have a scale or grading tool to use to evaluate the RFP?

How will the client evaluate the proposals it receives from vendors? If they are using a scale or another tool to grade each proposal, what criteria are they going to examine? For example, a client might weight how well a vendor's proposal matches its needs, versus the vendor's proposed price. Or, it might compare the plan for implementation to the overall price charged and use that information to influence its final decision.

It's also worth asking a client what the most important criteria are when submitting a proposal. Knowing what the client is looking for will help a vendor shape the proposal.

2. Why did you choose our company?

Asking this question will give a supplier/vendor a better understanding of why a client decided to include it in the RFP, including what the client already knows about a vendor and where it ranks that vendor among the competition.

3. What will happen to competitive responses once the proposals are submitted?

How long will it take for your company to find out if it's moved to the next phase of the process, and will you get notified of any developments along the way? It's also a good idea to find out what the timeline is for the proposal process, including the date on which the client plans on making a final decision.

4. Who reviews proposals, and how?

Will employees at the client's company read over each proposal, or does the company plan on having an external team evaluate each proposal? Knowing who is going to read your proposal can influence the tone you take and the type of details you include.

Vendors might also want to find out how proposals get reviewed. Do evaluators look at the proposals blind, or is the name and other identifying information about the vendor included with each?

Analysis of RFPs

Once vendor and clients have had their questions answered and the vendors have submitted their proposals, it's time for clients to analyze and evaluate each one.

Before that happens, though, it's essential for a client to have a plan in place for analyzing and evaluating proposals. That plan should include an objective way to score and measure each proposal. Weighted scoring allows a client to determine which factors of the proposal are the most important, then assign each factor a numeric score.

For example, a proposal might be able to earn a maximum of 100 points. Of those 100 points, up to 50 can be based on how well the overall proposal met the requirements outlined by the vendors. Up to 10 points can be from the price quoted by the vendor, and so on. So a vendor that scores 10 out of 10 on price, but earns a 25 out of 50 on requirements, might not rank as high as a vendor that scores a 1 out of 10 on price, but a 40 out of 50 on requirements.

Need Help With Your RFPs?

Companies aren't on their own when it comes to developing an RFP and analyzing RFPs. Dryden offers indirect RFP management to make sure your company's RFP is well-constructed and seen by qualified vendors. We can help you craft an RFP that asks for the right information. Ask for too little and you won't get the information you need. Ask for too much and vendors might not submit proposals.

For nearly two decades, Dryden has worked with vendors of all kinds. We can make recommendations so you have confidence that you're inviting the right prospective vendors to respond.

Dryden Can Help

Once you've received the proposals, Dryden can help support RFPs by analyzing the potential savings from proposals and scoring proposals based on specified criteria. We can also make recommendations so you get a vendor that's the best fit for your needs. We can even help negotiate contracts once you've narrowed the selection.

Our comprehensive RFP services are here to help you from beginning to end. To learn more about our RFP consulting services, contact us today.

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