I’ve had people explain the process of reviewing request for proposal (RFP) responses from service providers as slow torture. It begins with denial and avoiding the project at all costs (“Just one more cat on a treadmill video on YouTube!”), then over-ambitious excitement (“I’ll do it now – I have a free hour and can totally review six RFP responses in that time, because I just had coffee!”) and then turns to utter dread (“I’d rather stab myself in the eye with this pencil…”).
But there are ways to make this process less painful and get the best possible results from the time you invest in reviewing RFP responses from service providers. One approach: Schedule a Friday afternoon to review the responses and make sure you hit any other deadlines before lunch. Turn off email alerts and take notes on what stands out in each RFP response. You want to have your full attention on the project.
Some other important things to keep in mind as you review the documents:
- Agency enthusiasm. Get a glass of wine. OK, just kidding. Sort of. But seriously, was the RFP response an enjoyable read? Did it make you excited about working with the agency? Did the agency seem excited about the prospect of working with you?
- Industry confusion. Make sure to check if responses to questions indicate inexperience in your industry. Misused acronyms or incorrect industry jargon indicate that the company may not have the experience that it claims in the case study portion of the report.
- Notice the little things. Did they listen to your guidance about page limits? Did they meet the deadline? Were they able to follow your template? Failures in any of these areas point to a lack of attention to detail. Either the person put in charge of the RFP was rushed, or there is a broader issue with that service provider.
- Best foot forward. You never turned in a college term paper without proofreading it (I hope) – and you should expect RFP responses to be free of sloppy grammar or spelling issues. Especially if an agency will be in charge of creating your content, you want to see that expertise shine through in its RFP response.
- Trust your gut. If the RFP response feels cookie-cutter, it probably is. Enough said. You invested the time in researching their agency and creating the RFP. You should expect the agency to invest the same level of effort if it is a suitable partner.
The output of reviewing the RFP responses is to narrow the field down, so be sure to be critical. Don’t hesitate to reach out to an agency to seek clarification on any questions you have about their answers. And if you’re having trouble selecting service providers to move to the next round, you can always use my favorite question to judge respondents: What would you have done differently if you had responded to the RFP?
I look forward to reading your reaction and other tips you have in the comments section!