Having someone technical on your team evaluating proposals can save you from twirling out of control.
At Constructive, we’d love it if all new business could be won without going through the RFP dance, but it’s a reality we have to contend with working with clients in the nonprofit and higher education space. Rather than talk about how we respond to RFPs, I’d like to take some time here to talk about the reverse — how you, as a client, construct RFPs and subsequently evaluate the proposals that are returned, and how important it is that you have someone technical on your team as part of your process.
So You Want a… Wait, What?
We often receive RFPs where the goals of what the client desires are poorly articulated, or are so broad that it’s difficult to estimate the level of effort necessary to meet the goals of the proposed project. Sometimes you don’t know specifically what goals and needs you have for your new website, or product — only that you need something built. That’s fine, but if what you really need is a strategic partner that can help guide you to find those goals and needs, then that’s what your RFP should be about. And if that partner can also design and build it for you — even better — as they will intimately know your brand, your audience, goals, and needs.
You should be as clear as possible when describing your project: its goals, requirements, timeline, measures of success, and budget. You don’t have to dive into every requirement, but there should be enough detail to give responders a sense of what you want accomplished, and the level of effort to do so. At Constructive, we use these details as a jumping-off point for questions to refine our understanding of what a client is asking for. Including a budget is extremely important as it helps us, as a potential partner, be aware of your expectations on what the work will cost.
Sometimes, through discussions with clients about their RFP, we find that they’ve underestimated the cost because of one factor or another, and we always explain our opinion why. Often, it’s underestimating the technical effort. This is why it is important to include someone technical in your RFP writing process, making sure that they note:
- Your current platform (CMS, Database, Operating Systems)
- Hosting and whether or not you desire to stay on your current hosting
- Publishing workflows
- Security requirements, authentication and authorization
- A breakdown of the types of your content and content volume
- Any significant integrations with your platform to be aware of such as:
- Anything else of note
Along with an overview of your organizational structure and environment, technical aspirations and constraints for the project should also be noted along with any future technology plans. Having this information up front is crucial to those responding to your RFP understanding the ecosystem in which to evaluate the effort to accomplish your goals.
Potential partners should have questions for you, and you should have questions for them. If a firm doesn’t reach out with questions to refine their understanding of your needs — that should be a warning sign. Be responsive to requests to discuss your RFP in more detail. Take note of the kinds of questions that are asked, the preliminary ideas and explorations on how to achieve your goals, and the demeanor of the team you’re speaking with.
Having a technical person on your team able to distill proposed solutions presented in the responses you receive is key to understanding if a potential partner is truly aware of your needs, and that they can deliver the goods as expected. Don’t be put off if a response is outside the budget you originally intended. Ask why. If it’s because the technical or some other lift is greater than you thought, discuss this with your potential partner to see if it’s justified, or if there are ways to reduce the effort, or if there’s a way to build a platform where the challenges can be deferred appropriately to a following phase of your project. If they’ve done their homework, they’ve already thought about this and this can help guide you on possible solutions — and this ability to guide is an important factor when selecting a partner.
If you are seeking such a partner, or if you want to learn more, please get in touch!
A version of this article originally on Constructive Thinking.