Is there a right way to structure an RFP in order to make the comparison of vendors easier?

We've got a lot of requirements and are trying to make our vendor selection less painful. Is there a right way to structure our RFP in order to make the comparison easier?
Requests For Proposal, or RFPs, are a standard tool for choosing vendors. Asking the right questions in an RFP will help ensure that the vendor proposals contain all the info you need to make an informed choice.

The RFP process takes a lot of work by all parties. The requester prepares and sends the RFPs and reviews the results, and the vendors must do a thorough, accurate job of providing the requested information. If you rush to get an RFP out the door, you'll likely end up doing more work on the back end to fill in missing information. Consider the following tips for writing a complete RFP and easing the back-end work of analyzing proposals.

  • Include a glossary. Don't assume that your vendors will understand terms the same way you do. Be sure to define important business and solution terms carefully—explain exactly what you mean, so the vendor can respond appropriately.
  • Develop a weighted, ranked, mathematical formula for the questions and responses, based on the priority and category of the requirements. If you do this on the front-end, your prep time will be greater, but the vendors will give you better information. For example, if you design a series of carefully thought-out multiple-choice or other closed-ended questions, you'll be able to enter the proposal responses quickly and use simple mathematical calculations to identify the vendor that best meets the requirements.

    If you "save time" on the RFP—for example, by asking the vendors open-ended questions—your up-front prep time will be reduced, but you'll have a lot more work to do once the proposals start rolling in. Without strict guidelines, the vendors are likely to answer your questions in very different ways. The answers will be more detailed than if you asked closed questions, but you'll have more trouble converting the wide-ranging answers into mathematical choices, or even comparing apples to apples.
  • Ask about more than just the solution. Be sure to consider the vendor's organizational environment, how well it matches your organization, and the vendor's experience and reputation in the industry. Aside from looking at how well the vendor meets the requirements, consider the cost of the solution and its ongoing maintenance. Our vendor assessment checklist can help you identify other factors you may want to consider.

To see some example RFPs of varying levels of complexity, have a look at our New System Development RFP, our IT Project RFP, and our RFP for Training Program Development.

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