The Easy Way to Do RFP Weighted Scoring

Request for proposal (RFP) scoring isn’t high on most people’s list of favorite pastimes … but it’s far too important to ignore if you want to effectively evaluate vendors. To get weighted scoring right, you have to consider:

● What you want to score in your RFP responses (priorities and requirements)
● How you’re going to score them (type of scale, weight)
● Who is going to do the scoring (resources)

Luckily, we’ve created a template that makes RFP scoring simple.

1. Decide if you need an RFP or an RFI

We find people mostly get into scoring problems when they’re not exactly sure what kind of information they want from vendors. Which is why the first step to efficient scoring is understanding the difference between a request for information (RFI) and an RFP.

An RFI is:

  • High-level, general information.
  • Usually the first step in the RFP process.
  • Used when purchasers aren’t quite sure what they’re looking for.

An RFP is:

  • Full of specific questions.
  • Based on detailed criteria.
  • Should be used when you’re open to vendor’s suggestions.

Which do you need? A simple litmus test is if you want general information, and you want it from more than, say, 10 vendors, you should probably send an RFI first.

Issue a high-level RFI to a broad range of candidates with the goal of quickly excluding solutions that won’t work for you. Ask the critical questions which will immediately eliminate unsuitable providers and identify those are eligible for the next round.

Once you’ve clarified what you’re looking for and have your list of viable options, you’re ready to write your targeted RFP. But before you write any questions, determine your scoring criteria.

Start a discussion amongst your internal stakeholders (IT, executives, users, etc.)

Set your team up for success by asking questions like:

  • What’s our definition of success?
  • What are our biggest factors in determining success?
  • What are the categories we need to judge solutions against?
  • How important is each category? (functionality 50%, security 20%, speed to implement 20%, etc.)
  • Should pricing be a weighted factor? (Some experts argue it shouldn’t.)

Their feedback will help you all agree on goals and priorities, allowing you to set a weight for each section, and/or question (completing your supplier scorecard).

Pro Tip: focus on closed-end questions, instead of open-ended questions. They’re much easier to rate.

2. Incorporate technology

Everyone agrees raw data isn’t helpful if you can’t effectively interpret it, and RFPs are no different. So if you want to make things really easy, think about investing in RFP software.

While paying for specialized RFP software may be a new thought, the big advantage is you don’t have to compile manual spreadsheets – no complicated weighted-decision template matrix, macros, complex formulas, or miscalculations.

And many offer built-in algorithms that make it easy to score individual questions (not just sections) meaning a more indicative overall score, giving you a shorter evaluation time, fewer opportunities for human error, and clearer vendor comparisons.

3. Make your vendor scorecard short and sweet

It may sound obvious, but one of the best ways to keep the vendor scorecard simple is to have a short list of invited vendors. We prefer capping our RFPs at about five vendors, and asking 20 questions or less. While it may seem awfully concise, it still means each evaluator has to judge and weigh 100 individual responses.

Using an RFP Scoring Template to Select a Vendor

Once you get a weighted RFP score, do you have to choose the supplier with the highest score? The short answer is no.

According to Procurement Pro Phil Ideson of Art of Procurement and Palambride:

Recognize that the supplier that you end up selecting may not be the one that scores the best on the weighted scoring algorithm. Because there are things that are a bit more subjective that do play a big role in selecting your final supplier.

When you’re looking at commoditized products and services there has to be a reason why you’re not selecting the highest scored supplier. I’d suggest that if there is a good reason you don’t choose them in that instance yourweighting was flawed. You didn’t reflect what it was you actually needed in the weighting. Because obviously there was a disconnect between the final scores and who you actually chose. Or it could be that you haven’t built the discipline among your team to recognize the importance of doing it this way. So they see it as being a ‘check the boxes exercise.’ But they still want to go with who they want to go with.

Simply put, there will be times when you don’t select the highest-scored candidate. But you may also want to revisit your selection criteria. We can relate.

A couple of years ago when we issued an RFP for a Public Relations consultant, we actually chose the second highest-scored provider. Why? We couldn’t swallow the price tag of the top candidate. So, we chose the second tiered supplier because the difference in points wasn’t high enough to overcome the price discrepancy.

When you should probably choose the highest scored provider:

  • When the highest score is the key decision-makers’ explicit selection criteria.
  • When your team has thoughtfully prepped and agreed upon your scoring criteria.

When you have to think twice about choosing the highest scored provider:

  • If it’s a commodity purchase, and the only true consideration is price.
  • Your incumbent was second in line but your history with them tipped the scale.
  • It was difficult to score the project — it was too high level or open-ended.

Of course, as with all RFP best practices and guidelines, take it with a grain of salt. Each industry, organization, and RFP is unique.

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