How To Write Good RFP Questions
Table of contents
A Request for Proposal (RFP) is usually the second step of a sourcing process after the Request for Information (RFI). It helps you gather concrete and very specific information that you will later use to evaluate suppliers, while also giving you a clear idea of what you’re looking for. Because of this, you must choose your RFP questions right.
An efficient RFP process is one where all stakeholders are involved, where goals and objectives are clearly outlined, and where only the best suppliers are shortlisted and asked to participate. This makes it complex to prepare and exhaustive in scope, yet crucial for the success of your sourcing process.
All this might sound very complicated right now, but actually, writing a good Request for Proposal is not that hard. You just need to follow a few best practices.
How to write a good RFP
During the RFP process, it’s easy to stray from your initial goals because you’re bombarded with lots of information. One solution to this is to follow the checklist below. By analyzing only the things that matter, you can make sure that you don’t end up with something that looks good only on paper but fails to deliver in practice.
1. Write down your goals, scope, budget, and KPIs
If you don’t know what you want to achieve, you can’t plan for it. Before you reach out to suppliers, before you even shortlist the suppliers you want to reach out to, you should write down the goals you want to achieve and why. This will serve as a compass later on when you filter all the information you receive based on what’s important to you.
At this step, it’s also important to decide (and potentially communicate to your suppliers!) the budget you’re willing to spend, as well as the KPIs you’ll use to choose a partner for your project. This way, you make sure you don’t waste your time on proposals that are way out of your budget, and that suppliers actually focus on the things that are important to you.
To accommodate this, in Prokuria, buyers can use dedicated fields to store data about the budget and other key information. These fields may be made visible to suppliers, depending on the buyer’s strategy.
Each KPI should also be assigned a score and should be reflected in one or more questions of the RFP. Chances are that not all your suppliers will fulfill all your requests, or not all your requests are equally important. By judging your suppliers based on how many points they can score, you not only ensure a very transparent and fair process, but you’ll also have an easier time choosing the winner.
Prokuria helps here by allowing buyers to export and analyze suppliers’ responses in spreadsheets for easier comparison, score calculations, and aggregation.
2. Have a timeline in place
Sourcing projects shouldn’t be dragged out indefinitely. RFP processes are time-consuming for both buyers and suppliers, so it’s important to stick to a timeline. RFP documents should include:
each stage of the process;
who the decision-maker is for each stage (include the name and job title);
what suppliers should do to get to the next stage (the minimum requirements they need to accomplish).
As always, communicating clearly that timeline to suppliers is tremendously helpful to establish a level playing field and operate based on fairness and reciprocal trust. Prokuria allows buyers to clearly communicate to suppliers any details related to the envisaged timeline of the RFP process.
3. Expect questions to arise during the sourcing process
Although you should strive to make your Request for Proposal as clear as possible, inevitably, your suppliers might still have specific questions. Make sure they know who they should address these questions to and that that person can answer promptly.
To keep these inevitable questions in one place, both for efficiency and for audit reasons, Prokuria allows buyers and sellers to communicate directly via the platform. This helps clarify issues in real-time and contributes to the general smoothness of the RFP process.
Mistakes organizations make during the RFP process
There are many mistakes organizations make during the RFP process. Some of the most common are:
Including only general information about the organization, without giving details about stakeholders: for suppliers, it’s important to know who they’ll be working with. Although Prokuria does clearly notify the sellers of which person has organized the RFP event, it could help to clearly note who are the other members of the team are dealing with the RFP. Not only does this ensure there’s chemistry between the two teams, but it also helps them personalize their responses according to the background of the person they’ll be interacting with.
Including only a bullet point list of the products/features, you want to receive: you should also mention why these products/features are important to you, how you plan to use them, and why. You don’t know all about your suppliers’ capabilities, so you shouldn’t see everything in black and white. By providing a context, you enable suppliers to propose a solution that might be different than what you initially imagined, but is just as effective. In Prokuria, buyers can provide extensive descriptions of the RFP and the items being sourced, as well as attach an unlimited number of files to provide further details, like technical specifications, notes on future usage, or background and context information.
Googling suppliers: the best suppliers for your project might not necessarily be those you find on the first results page on Google. Instead, you should check out multiple sources, listings, and ask for recommendations. Prokuria helps with qualifying and onboarding new suppliers, and therefore making sure you’re dealing with the right partners should be way smoother than with a manual process.
Only choosing the big names: popularity doesn’t always equal quality. You might think that choosing a supplier that is well-known in your industry is best, but that’s not always true. You should stick to the score list we’ve mentioned in the previous section. Only this will ensure that you choose the best-fitting suppliers. Also, reputation comes with a price tag, so by going with a lesser-known supplier that is just as good or even better, you might be able to make some savings. There are several good platforms to check the reputation of vendors - we use Confides, and there are equally good players for other markets, as well.
Sending your RFP to too many suppliers: you might think that by submitting your RFP to as many suppliers as possible, you’ll have more options to choose from. That may be true, but you’ll also put a lot of pressure on you to review and evaluate each of them. Prokuria helps there, as comparing results for a well-structured RFP is fairly straightforward, but asking too many suppliers may still be unproductive. Choosing only five or six suppliers who are best fitted for your project is usually a better approach, particularly if the RFP comes after an RFI.
How to write RFP questions
Now that you know everything you need to pay attention to during the RFP process, it’s time to decide on the questions you’ll include in your document.
In Prokuria you can find different types of questions you can use. This will help you gather very standardized responses that will minimize the time you spend analyzing and evaluating the offers.
Prokuria supports multiple types of questions:
Short text: supplier can reply with a free text up to 100 characters;
Long text: supplier can reply with a free text up to 1000 characters;
Single choice: to be used when you have a small list of options like: list of countries, list of cities, list of certifications, etc and supplier can choose one option;
Multiple choice: to be used when you have a small list of options like: list of countries, list of cities, list of certifications, etc and supplier can choose multiple options;
Dropdown single choice: to be used when you have a large list of options like: list of countries, list of cities, list of certifications, etc and supplier can choose one option;
Dropdown multiple choice: to be used when you have a large list of option like: list of countries, list of cities, list of certifications, etc and supplier can choose multiple options;
File upload: when you need your suppliers to upload a document.
To draft good RFP questions, you should consider the following:
1. Alignment with possible suppliers
You don’t want to choose just any supplier, you want to eventually choose the best-fitting supplier. You may need an e-auction for that, but meanwhile, you need to make sure your goals and their capabilities match.
2. Focus on your need
Don’t ask questions that are beyond the scope of your project. This not only makes it easier for suppliers to respond to a Request for Proposal, but it also makes it easier for you to evaluate their responses. There is an exception here - if you haven’t qualified your suppliers before launching the RFP, you may want to design a few questions which are meant to assess the overall organizational capabilities of vendors.
3. Keep your questions open but concise
If you’re too specific, the answer may not touch on all the areas you’re interested in, and if you’re too generic, you risk getting a stock answer. You need to give suppliers a chance to prove their expertise.
The more concise you are in the number of questions you ask, the easier it will be for suppliers to produce insightful responses.
Last but not least, don’t use sub-questions or combine more questions into one. Ask only one specific question at a time - this will allow you to easily compare responses later.
Examples of questions to ask before, during, and after and RFP
We could talk all day about how you can write good RFP questions, but the truth is the best way to learn is through examples. So here are a few of the best RFP questions we’ve encountered so far:
Questions for the Buyers to clearly answer to
in the description of the RFP event
What is the problem?
What does the buying organization want to achieve?
What are the requirements (including the technical requirements, if known)?
What is the scope of the project?
What is the budget?
What is the timeline?
Who are the stakeholders?
Who is the contact person?
Questions to ask suppliers within the RFP
Tip: Try to organize them into very specific categories. It will be much easier for you to be sure you don't miss anything and for your suppliers to reply
Can you provide the latest certificate of fiscal registration and other fiscal-related details?
Can you provide similar projects that you worked on?
What is the RFP project team and its capabilities?
Can you provide the latest certifications related to the RFP scope?
Why should we choose you over other competitors?
What are the payment terms? What is the maximum payment term accepted?
What are the financial penalties you are considering?
Can you provide a liability insurance certificate?
What is your commitment regarding the price offered?
What policies do you have regarding price volatility?
Product / Services specifications
Can you provide a detailed description of your product/service?
Are the products already available?
Do you own the products you deliver or are you a third-party supplier?
What is your policy regarding unplanned requests and additional requirements?
Can you suggest alternative solutions that meet our requirements?
Are there any legal constraints that could affect your performance or delivery capabilities?
How do you monitor progress and performance?
What happens if you can’t deliver?
Questions to consider after the RFP process,
and possible notes to send to suppliers
Who reviews proposals?
What happens with competitive responses? How about non-competitive ones?
What if no Supplier is good enough?
Correctly implementing an RFP process requires time, dedication, and skills. Otherwise, you risk losing time for nothing as you won’t actually find a solution to your problem. Fortunately, with a procurement automation platform like Prokuria, managing your RFIs, RFPs, and RFQs becomes easy and hassle-free.