In addition to providing the requested information, preparing a proposal in response to a Request for Proposals (RFP) is about making a good impression and, hopefully, a connection with the prospective client. The development of that impression starts before reading the proposal. In fact, we can easily judge bidders by the clarifications asked in the early stages of the RFP process, and it can be very tempting to eliminate a good number of them on the basis of their frustrating questions.
It is clear that many don’t read the RFP given that the answers to their questions are most often found in the documents provided. Others use the opportunity to ask questions that have little or no relevance to the service or the pricing requirements.
We get that descriptions or terminology used in the Scope of Work (SOW) can be confusing, and it’s ok to ensure a correct understanding….but not reading the RFP in its entirety or parceling off sections to different respondents who then ask disjointed or overlapping questions does not give confidence that the bidder can actually provide integrated services.
A few words to the wise:
– When the client is seeking 90-day payment terms, that’s what it means, unless the client specifically requests alternatives. When bidders ask if 30 or 60 days is acceptable, can you blame us for thinking: “What part of 90 days did you not understand?”
– If you don’t see any policies, don’t ask. If the client had wanted to include policies in the RFP, it would have. Many organisations prefer to keep their policies confidential until the later stages of the RFP process or until implementation. Very specific questions regarding procedural or administrative details are acceptable, for example, asking about the degree to which the employer insists on the employee speaking with the relocation management company prior to finding a realtor to maximize the potential collection of referral fees.
– Asking questions regarding the current level of support provided for various services detracts from the intent of the RFP, which is to obtain services based on a described SOW. It may not reflect what was offered in the past, but it’s what’s required in the future.
The purpose of the clarification questions stage of the RFP process is to ensure the bidders have a clear understanding of the SOW and pricing information requested. It is not an opportunity to impress, confuse, or contradict the client. If you can’t meet the terms, just say so and bow out. The impression a bidder creates starts well before we read the proposal; it is formed from the first point of contact, and a bad first impression can be difficult to shake.