What goes into a request for proposal (RFP)?

Typically, large organizations use a request for proposal (RFP) to find the right vendors for various services. It’s a way to gather a lot of information all at once about prospective providers and set a baseline for evaluating their services. No matter what type of software you’re looking for, RFPs can be a good place to start.

The concept of an RFP

Many organizations see the request for proposal as an easy way to get information from all vendors at once. Here at Frontline, we’ve seen hundreds of RFPs of all shapes and sizes.

Well-made RFPs help move the procurement process along in an organized way. More often, they become a burden to both the client and the vendors.

Downsides of requests for proposal

Here are the pitfalls we commonly see with RFPs:

Too much information is as bad as not enough information.

Vendors like to jam as much information into their responses as possible, both to talk up their strengths and to mask their weaknesses. Eight pages of questions can easily turn into 40 pages of responses, which ends up being about as useful as highlighting every sentence in a textbook.

RFPs become “check the box” exercises.

Many organizations equate more features with better. That’s why RFPs often become massive lists of every conceivable software feature, And most likely you don’t need these add-ons.

This naturally leads to an evaluation process where you look to see which vendor has the largest number of boxes checked, losing sight of which boxes are critical and which are superfluous. Ironically, more bells and whistles can actually lower the usability of software, as more buttons and options cause confusion and raise the risk of user error.

User experience and support matter.

It’s very hard to learn about user experience and support through a request for proposal. And those are two of the most important factors to consider.

We never outsource any of our support functions, so our service team becomes an expert in your EHS needs over time. These things ultimately matter a lot more to the people actually using the software than the number of boxes checked.

RFPs won’t answer questions you didn’t know to ask.

Most RFPs have a question at the end inviting the respondent to share any additional information they think would be relevant. That tiny afterthought of a section is the only place where you’ll potentially find out about features and services you didn’t know to ask about. Unfortunately, most vendors put little or nothing into that section, since they have no way of guessing what you do or don’t know.

Appropriate times to use RFPs

Ideally, you should only use a request for proposal under a specific set of circumstances:

  • You have extensive experience with third-party software and know exactly what to look for.
  • You have the resources to dig through hundreds of pages of responses and find the important stuff.
  • You plan to use the RFP as just a supplemental component to a more holistic evaluation.

Outside of these circumstances, you’re probably better off scheduling a demo instead. An RFP is not a panacea, but it can still be a useful tool for certain organizations under the right conditions.