Writing RFPs: Five Factors for a Favorable Purchase

As a vendor with two decades of experience reviewing Request for Proposals (RFP's), I've read and responded to a wide-spectrum of requests from polished/detailed/long requests, to two paragraphs, to bulleted documents, to relatively small purchases, to $1-million-plus purchases. Regardless of the length and detail, many have ended with purchases that have not lived up to expectations.  As a technology solutions provider as well as a taxpayer and parent of four K-12 students, I want schools to get the most for their money and energy. When planning for an upcoming RFP, follow the tips below for a better, faster and more valuable outcome for you and your organization. 

  • Set and Publish Evaluation Criteria BEFORE Releasing Your RFP  – i.e. scoring matrix, point systems, etc. Advanced notice will accomplish two things. First, it can eliminate under-qualified or unprofessional vendors, shortening your review process. Second, it could lead you to an unexpected or possibly better outcome you hadn't considered.
  • Ask for Presentations – After selecting your two or three finalists, ask for them to present a proposal. Reading through multiple Product Data Sheets, wordy submissions and contacting references can be time consuming. A presentation gives you a better understanding of the company, product and service your school will receive.
  • Truly Consider Alternatives (T.C.A.) – Keep an open mind, you may be an expert on the system and equipment you've worked on for decades, but technology changes and there may be a better solution available today. Use the purchasing process as a chance to educate yourself on new or future options. In the end, you'll be more confident in your decision to choose the alternative or to stick with the status quo.
  • T.C.O. is T.O.P.'s – Total Cost of Ownership should be the yardstick by which you measure all vendors and proposals. Ask for anticipated costs covering the life expectancy of the equipment to be included in all bids. Maintenance costs, warranties, licenses, software upgrades and other similar costs all need to be considered. You should have visibility to as many potential costs as possible, and evaluate competing proposals as "apples-to-apples", not "apples-to-apple-seeds". 
  • Communicate with Non-Winning Vendors – This is spoken from a vendor who has lost his fair share of competitive bids and is meant to save you from having to duck-and-cover from unsuccessful vendors at tradeshows, or avoid an inbox full of email titled "status update on RFP".  Shortly after selecting your vendor send a brief group email to all respondents stating we've selected ABC Company as vendor, two or three factors that made ABC Company stand out, and thank them for their participation.

In my experience, RFP's almost always result in a purchase, signed contract or completed agreement.  From my house, it's about the same distance to travel to the beach as it is to travel to the desert.  I enjoy the beach.  So if I'm going to undertake the journey, why would I not try to finish at a destination that I prefer?

Scott Knapp is the father of four K-12 students and has over 15 years of experience in the education technology industry. He joined Tech Electronics in 2015 and is currently the Director of Education. Knapp is responsible for providing educational institutions across the Midwest with the latest in communication, life safety and classroom technology.