The RFP: Writing One and Responding to One
Published in Event Solutions Magazine, July 2000
The Request For Proposal (RFP) can be one of the most timesaving documents in the industry, if it is well written and responded to appropriately. A good RFP will help the writer collect comprehensive and comparable bids for an equitable evaluation of potential service providers and subcontractors. It will help the bidder prepare a proposal that completely addresses the specifications and requirements, as well as highlights a companys unique benefits and features.
Writing an RFP
The reason you write an RFP is to streamline the evaluation process when considering bids for goods or services you require for your meeting or event. In order to do this you must know what you need, why you need it, and how you will evaluate which is the best product or service provider for the job.
Start with the scope of the services to be provided and your specifications. These are the answers to who, what, where, when, how many, etc. Specify quality, quantity, dimensions, features, brand names, or anything else important to you and critical to the success of your event.
Identify any restrictions imposed on either the products/services you are seeking or the selection process itself. Provide an explanation of any restrictions or regulations that affect your purchase practices. Are you required to only use vendors with a certain type of license? Must your vendors comply with your corporate environmental policies or hiring practices? You dont want to have to wade through proposals from companies that are not qualified to respond to your RFP. Plus, you want the qualified bidders to know what must be included to satisfy these requirements.
Provide the budget, a price range, or suggested price ceilings. You must clearly stipulate what the budget includes so you will get an inclusive bid, not one that you must calculate further to arrive at the true cost. You might provide a price range based on what you have paid for similar products or services over the past several years.
Put the project in context for the bidders. Explain the purposewhy you are holding the event. State the goals and objectives for the event as well as the reason you are seeking bids. Describe the history of the event, the background of the organization, and the profile of the audience. Define your expectations including the outcomes you hope to or must achieve.
Describe the selection procedure. Outline the deadlines for submitting the proposal, when the proposal will be reviewed and by whom, and when the decision will be made and by whom. Stipulate whether any of the criteria will be weighted or emphasized differently, as well as if any special preference will be given to bidders of a certain location, professional affiliation, gender, or minority group.
Let bidders know what you expect from the company you will select. What qualities, capabilities, experience, and/or expertise are you looking for? Are you looking for a large company? Are you looking for one that has all the products and services in-house, or will it be acceptable if they out-source certain portions of the project?
You should prepare an evaluation checklist for comparing the bids; so ask for the information you need and identify the criteria you will use to select the winning bid. This could include experience with your type or scope of event, quality of products or services, strategies to achieve goals and objectives, expertise in specific fields, proximity, and/or price. Each criterion should be weighted in relation to its importance to your selection parameters.
Make the evaluation process easier on yourself by specifying the configuration of the proposal. Tell the bidder in which order you want the details and descriptions. This way you can quickly pull out the information to be considered.
Responding to an RFP
First and foremost, respond to an RFP in exact accordance with the requirements outlined in the RFP. Provide all the information requested, in the order and format specified. The first indication of your professional qualification is the ability to follow directions.
Restate the scope of services and specifications included in the RFP. Describe how you will approach the project and the rationale why this approach will best serve the clients needs. Try to include specific references to the goals and objectives provided in the RFP. Show you understand their needs and expectations and that you have the strategies and abilities to meet them.
Describe the benefits your product or service will provide. Remember that no one who buys a quarter-inch drill really wants a quarter-inch drill. What they want is a quarter-inch hole! You are selling solutions. Illustrate how you will provide these solutions.
Outline your cost estimates including all fixed and variable pricing. Clearly identify any exclusions or purchaser obligations that will affect the bottom line cost of the event or service. If explicit brand names or quality specifications have been requested and you have a different recommendation, explain how your suggestion provides the same or better features. The objective here is that there should be no surprises later.
Provide descriptions and estimates for ancillary or additional products or services you are able to furnish, or that will enhance the outcome of the event. Explain how and why these will improve the experience/solution. This will illustrate both your diversity and your understanding of their needs.
Completely identify how you do business and, if necessary, why. Specify your deposit and payment requirements, guarantee and cancellation policies, and all other terms and conditions you expect the client to accept. These may or may not be negotiable depending on the client and the piece of business, but you should familiarize the client with your standard business practices.
Showcase your capabilities. Demonstrate your comparable experience and expertise with references and benchmark projects of a similar size or scope. Illustrate your suitability for the job at hand. Provide a history of your company and the relevant experience of your key personnel. If appropriate, you may even include a copy of your insurance, a credit rating showing your financial stability, or any pertinent licenses required for your product or service.
Highlight your professionalism. Outline your strengths and distinctions, again relating them to the scope of services to be provided for this project. If you are an ISES member, include the ISES Code of Ethics to show your commitment to the integrity of the industry. If you are a Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP), or have other certifications, proudly and prominently display this achievement. Include anything that will show the client you can do what you say you can do; give them a comfort level for hiring you.
Compose your proposal in such a way that it puts the appropriate emphasis on the various criteria in relation to the weighted selection procedure. If the RFP states that the lowest price is most important, you must decide whether you can compete on that level. If you can not or do not wish to compete on price alone, you might illustrate how by choosing you the client will receive a value-added experience through increased efficiency or improved service.
Carefully consider your packaging. Corporations spend millions of dollars designing their product packaging and so should you. The way you package and deliver your proposal can create a positive inclination that may not be on the checklist the client is using to compare and contrast various proposals. Keep in mind that these decisions and ratings are often subjective.
Use color and graphics to catch their eye. With the prevalence of color printers and clip art, even the smallest special event company or supplier should be able to create exciting and eye-catching proposal covers. You should also include color and photographs inside the proposal as well. What better way to show a potential client what you can do than by showing them, in full color, what you have done?
Customize the proposal and personalize it to the client. At the very least include their name on the cover and at best, design the cover to reflect their corporate culture and image. This creates a subliminal acceptance and affiliation from the very beginning. No, this isnt going to make the client toss out the evaluation criteria, but it is going to communicate your professionalism, capabilities, and affinity for the project.
The Bottom Line
Whether writing the RFP or responding to it, you must ask for what you want. The RFP writer must define his or her needs, wants, and expectations. Since most of us are suffering from time poverty, invest some of that precious time constructing a concise and comprehensive RFP so you will get what you ask for, and save a lot more time during the selection process.
As a professional responding to the RFP, you must ask for the business, both figuratively and literally. The style and contents of the proposal will communicate your desire for the business, but so many of us neglect to actually ask for the business. Do this in a well-constructed cover letter. As the saying goes, Ask and ye shall receive."