Welcome to our fourth article on RFPs and the second in the “RFP Guide” series.
Our previous articles covered:
- How to prepare a clear set of requirements for your CMS using a CMS Requirements Template
- How to turn your Contract Management System requirements specification into an RFP
- RFP Guide 1 - How to set up an RFP scoring system and release the RFP
In this article, we'll outline the key concepts and activities involved in the next stage of the process – conducting a preliminary review of proposals received from suppliers responding to the RFP.
Review all received proposals.
Each supplier's proposal should initially consist of the completed RFP response templates (if you’re following Gatekeeper’s templates and process), their contract or comments about your contract, and any supplementary material to help their submission.
In this review stage, suppliers will usually provide additional information, in the form of responses to questions, comments and concerns raised about their proposal, and a presentation of selected aspects of their solution.
Once the cut-off time for supplier submission of proposals has been passed, everybody in the RFP team will be involved to some extent in the following activities:
1. Manage supplier communications.
The Designated Contact should perform the following activities:
- Log which invited suppliers have and haven't provided a proposal. Acknowledge receipt of each proposal, and query the non-receipt of any proposals from suppliers who didn't request or weren't granted an extension to the proposal submission deadline
- For each received proposal, check that the correct templates have been used and completed. Advise the applicable suppliers if this is not the case
- Distribute the proposals to the core* team members for the initial review, and to the other evaluation team members for familiarisation prior to attending supplier presentations
- Collate and consolidate details of all issues, questions and concerns about each proposal reported by the review team
- Agree with the review team about the aspects of each proposal that should be covered in the relevant supplier's presentation, the preferred method of conducting the presentation taking account of the locations of the evaluation team members (eg onsite visit, web conference) and suggested duration and timing for the session
- Advise each supplier about the outcomes of their proposal's initial review, plus the agenda, the method and the timing for their presentation, and details of all issues raised about their presentations
- Forward to the evaluation team all supplier responses to the issues raised from the initial review of their proposals and their presentations.
*Here we refer to a “core team”, which would be the team that is running the RFP from an internal viewpoint and has the most relevant expertise. If this were an RFP for a CMS then that might be the Contract Management Team.
2. Conduct the initial proposal review.
Selected core team members need to conduct an initial review of each proposal with a different focus from the general evaluation exercise, and before that exercise begins. The focus is on determining if there are grounds for immediately excluding any particular proposal, as this will reduce the general evaluation effort.
The approach used in the initial review is to:
- Look critically at the depth and relevance of the various responses in each area of the RFP
- Identify any responses that are excessive, superficial, irrelevant, objectionable, incomplete, impractical, unclear, missing the point or inconsistent with other responses
- Highlight any assumptions that are counter to what has been specified or unlikely to be the case
- Check for non-adherence to either the required method of responding or the required format of the responses
- Test that any links to web sites or external files are working and provide access to the expected information
- Discuss with all referees the extent and nature of their experience with the supplier's products and services, and record an opinion for use in the full evaluation
- Reveal the extent of out-of-the-box functionality versus customisation needed to the supplier's software for high levels of fit with requirements
- Determine the viability of the proposal by counting the number of showstoppers, the must-have requirements that the supplier isn't able to satisfy at all
- Discover if any pricing elements are hidden, say by being bundled into a single charge, making comparison with other proposals difficult
- Assess the level of risk inherent in the proposal, in areas such as the supplier's financial viability, the feasibility of proposed implementation timeframes, or the extent of options for supporting customers with your organisation's geographic footprint
- Provide reasons why any particular proposal appears to be unacceptable or otherwise a candidate for exclusion from further consideration
- Develop an agenda suggesting aspects of each proposal that should be covered in the relevant supplier's presentation
- Agree with all other reviewers and document all the matters to be raised with the supplier in order to get greater clarity about their proposition, whether through responses in writing, by demonstration or both, and send the details to the Designated Contact for issuing to the suppliers.
Once received, the response from each supplier who is a candidate for exclusion should be considered by the review team to determine if the issues suggesting exclusion have been adequately addressed.
Unless this is the case, the broader evaluation team should be advised of all such exclusions, and the suppliers in question should not be invited to deliver a presentation.
3. Attend supplier presentations.
The aim of the supplier presentation is to demonstrate certain aspects of the proposal, and discuss key issues with their proposal.
The intent is to expose any weaknesses in a proposal, not for the purpose of disqualifying the supplier, but to understand if and how the proposal needs to be adjusted to better meet requirements, or how requirements can be met using unexpected methods or technologies.
General presentation rules:
- The presentations should be largely focussed on what the evaluation team needs to see, as determined in the initial review of proposals. This doesn't mean that the supplier can't demonstrate other areas unrelated to the team's immediate needs, but that should be a secondary priority
- The presentation should provide clarity about aspects of the supplier's proposal that will facilitate the evaluation process. It makes sense for each evaluation team member to attend at least the parts of the supplier presentations most relevant to their evaluation duties, to give them the best basis for allocating scores.
However, given the difficulty of any presentation running strictly in accordance with the timetable when the number and complexity of questions that might be raised is unpredictable, a commitment of time to attend the entire presentation session may be the better option for the evaluation team members
- Suppliers will often be unable to provide complete answers to questions raised during the presentation session, and they should commit to providing those answers as quickly as possible.
If evaluation team members have further questions following the presentation as they consider what they've seen, these should be promptly raised with the suppliers via the Designated Contact
- In the face of a presentation with poor content or delivery, never berate, belittle, insult or otherwise demean any supplier representatives. Remain professional and simply advise them that they appear to be unprepared, that you will notify their management accordingly and ask if they would like to reschedule, then terminate the presentation.
Advise the supplier immediately in writing, requesting an explanation and a new date for an improved presentation
- To get the most out of a supplier presentation, each evaluation team member, and to a lesser extent, any interested stakeholders and other attendees, should:
- Print a copy of the supplier's proposal, mark it up with comments and questions, and take it to the presentation
- Annotate the proposal with observations and questions as the presentation proceeds
- Raise any questions at the appropriate point in the presentation, note key points of the answers if immediately given
- Apart from their coverage of the agenda items, also assess the supplier's approach to the presentation, their knowledge of both their own product and general related principles, their ability to listen to and understand your concerns, and their willingness to recognise your view of their proposal's shortcomings and to deal with them
- Keep an open mind and consider the feasibility of any supplier suggestions about various or unexpected ways that some requirements might be satisfied
- On departure of the supplier's team, conduct a quick team discussion to gather impressions, note important findings and outstanding concerns for use in completing the evaluation scorecard related to the presentation.
This stage of the RFP process deals with the initial receipt of a supplier proposal and the follow-up solution presentation, covering:
- An approach for coordination and management of all communications with suppliers
- An outline of the nature of the initial proposal review
- A method of deciding if a proposal should be excluded
- A guide for determining the presentation agenda, managing the presentation itself and getting the most out of it.
You should now be able to plan and prepare for, and when ready, conduct the RFP stage activities outlined in this article.
Our next article in this RFP Guide series will outline the key concepts and activities involved in preparing for and conducting detailed evaluation and scoring of supplier proposals, working with the suppliers to minimise delays in resolving proposal queries, and checking the consistency and integrity of scoring.