Five questions your RFP shouldn’t go without

Bart-Jan Verhoef
Publish date

Poor support, diluted attention, untransparant rates… You’re done with it. You are chronically dissatisfied with your web- and software vendors. And you’re not alone.

You want something better. Badly. Unfortunately though, just like many other organizations, you are bound by a strict procurement procedure. And so you’ll have to write out another RFP (Request for Proposal).

You are dissatisfied with your current supplier, but stuck with the same selection process that lead you to these guys in the first place. You scratch your head: How is this going to turn out right this time?

The slick supplier and the reliable partner

Seeming as most RFP’s are a lot alike, and as the same goes for how responses are weighed, it’s not particularly rocket science for suppliers to figure out how to tell you just what you want to hear. So you’re stuck with suppliers who’ve mastered the acquisition game, but let you down once the actual work needs to get done.

It’s not particularly rocket science for suppliers to figure out how to tell you just what you want to hear. So you’re stuck with suppliers who’ve mastered the aqquisition game, but let you down once the actual work needs getting done.

Mandatory questions usually involve company size, turnover figures and due dilligence. Although most this information is relevant, none of it will prevent any of the typical issues you have with suppliers.

There is something you can do about it though: By adding the type of questions that do expose the typical signs that you might dealing with a slick supplier, instead of a reliable partner. The key is to shift focus on what’s to come after their initial courship.

Five questions you shouldn’t go without:

  1. What are your rates?
    You’ve probably already included a few budget questions for the specific project your requesting for. So what you’re likely to get back is a special offer. And little on how costs will develop from there on, or what rates will apply once you’re a regular in their orderbook.
    So always ask: Regardless of the client or job at hand, what are your rates? And if they can’t produce any fixed rates for products or services? At least you’ll know what to expect from these guys.
  2. What part of your business comes from existing customers?
    Maybe you’ve got a few question on turnover or revenue distribution in your RFP already. But are you also asking how business is distributed between new and existing customers? You’ll get a good picture on what has their attention. And about how happy their existing customers are, ofcourse.
  3. How are you going to address this project?
    No doubt you’re already asking suppliers for specifications, resource information and (pencil) planning. All based on their assumptions on information you are providing.
    Which is great for a first impression of the possible impact on budget and schedule, but isn’t going to tell you anything about their problem solving abbilities and ideation. Or whether they are capable of thinking ahead and propose the approriate steps. So ask them the open question: How are you going to address this project? And see what they come back with.
  4. What’s your customers NPS?
    Client references are often asked for. But if not, you need not worry: There’ll usually be the unsolicited name-dropping anyway. But what do you get from knowing they once landed a job with those appealing names? You don’t know if the job was done properly. Or still gets properly looked after.
    So consider asking for the NPS (Net Promoter Score) of those clients. And who within these organiazions you can give a call about their experiences. They don’t track customer NPS? And they are “unfortunately not able to give out other clients’ contact details. For privacy reasons”? Well, you do the math.
  5. How is your staff turnover?
    Next to asking how many people are working at the suppliers office(s), it’s not a bad idea to ask about their staff turnover. For one, it’s good to get an impression of how likely it is that the people you’re going to work with on important projects will still be there in a years time. But perhaps even more important is what staff turnover tells you about their organizations health.

By now you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of what questions you can ask potential suppliers. So you can prevent another dissapointment. Because even with a strict RFP process, it’s not impossible to filter out the slick suppliers and find a reliable partner. As long as you make sure you get the most out of what space is available in your next RFP to look for signs of which of the two you are dealing with. And who knows, perhaps it’s the last RFP that you will ever need to make.

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