Crafting a request for proposal (RFP) can be stressful. You need input from several key stakeholders, and it’s difficult to ensure you’ve covered all your bases.

And let’s be honest, no one wants to be responsible for making a poor vendor selection.

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Fortunately, with the right preparation, you can craft an RFP that identifies the perfect vendor for your organization. And that starts with asking the right questions.

The best RFP questions to ask your team

Before you ask your vendors a single question, you need to have an internal discussion. Identifying your crucial needs and wants upfront will save you countless miscommunications and setbacks later.

Key RFP questions to ask:

  • Have we selected a project manager or project lead? This is crucial. Establish who will be the primary point of contact if vendors have questions and who will ensure the process keeps moving.

  • Have we established the key stakeholders/evaluators? Don’t forget to include IT, procurement, and legal in those considerations. The earlier you include them, the better.

  • Have we established a clear budget? You want to establish your financial limitations early on. Otherwise, you risk falling in love with something you can’t afford. Remember, it’s critical to have input and approval from your C-Suite regarding your budget before you start looking for providers.

  • Are we starting with a request for information (RFI) or an RFP? If you’re just looking to check price and gather information, an RFP is not the way to go. Instead, send an RFI first.

  • What are our crucial deal-breakers? Ask your team what would immediately eliminate candidates so you don’t needlessly extend the evaluation process. Below are some examples of possible deal-breakers.

    • Critical audit findings.
    • Failure to meet security standards.
    • Lack of defined policies or procedures.
    • Inability to meet budget or timeline requirements.
    • Use of sub-contractors.
    • Customer support concerns (outsourced, language barrier, etc.)
    • Lack of client references.
    • Custom development required.
  • How are we going to score? A common mistake we see is not finalizing the supplier evaluation and scoring system before sending an RFI/RFP. This creates a problem. How can you measure success if you’re not sure what you’re assessing?

  • What are our end goals? What does success look like? What are our biggest factors in determining success?

  • Are we going to use rounds of questions? Rounds are a great way to keep the process easy for everyone. Keeping RFPs brief while you narrow down options makes it easier for providers to engage, and it also means you have fewer responses to evaluate.

After you answer these questions, you can start to write your RFP. (Find tips on what to include in your RFP to speed up your process.)

The best RFP questions to ask your vendors

  • Ask only a few questions. Use multiple rounds to keep the required effort it takes to respond manageable. Start with an RFI if necessary, ask the deal-breaker questions early on, and then get into the nitty gritty. By the end, you should have four to seven serious candidates.

  • Ask a mixture of open-ended and closed-ended questions. That gives vendors some room to impress and surprise you, but also provides some easy-to-score responses.

  • Ask for a trial. With either a product or service, it’s always smart to create a trail period. That way if they don’t deliver, or if it’s just not a good fit, you can get out before you’ve committed long term.

  • Ask about their competition. Who do they lose business to? Really, it’s an honesty test. Because if they’re not willing to say who their competitors are, or why they lose to them, you might want to question their overall transparency. And if they are honest, you’ll find out what other options you should consider.

  • Ask about implementation. Depending on your goals and needs, timing could be your determining factor in selecting a vendor. Some products require months of training and onboarding (some even mandate that it’s in-person). You’ll also want to find out if there are additional fees for data uploads, etc.

  • Ask for their reviews and specific use cases. Read them and watch for red flags and average response time.

  • Ask industry-specific questions. Not sure what yours are? Consider hiring a consultant, posting in industry forums/LinkedIn groups, and/or pinging colleagues for their questions.

  • Ask security-specific questions as part of your due diligence process. Ask your IT team what their requirements are. Are certain accreditations/standards of security required? How are communications processed?

How RFP360 can help

RFP360 offers a full-circle RFP management platform that encourages collaboration with internal stakeholders and simplifies the process of gathering and evaluating vendor proposals.

“RFP360 helps us automate and focus on core business. Now, we can categorize, search, and profile providers, which helps us understand who would be the most appropriate vendors to invite to a particular RFP,” said Mark Rieder, SVP of HR technologies and benefits administration at NFP. “We love the automated scoring. We’re shortlisting faster, and we’re being a true partner to our vendors. It’s a win-win.”

Learn more.