Hello there, I’m Helene, and this is the fifth episode of your favorite series: “How to buy consulting services like a pro.” I will answer the question: “Where to get started on an RFP?”
But before going into that, here is a brief recap of our previous episode.
The Request for Information (RFI) is a crucial technique for exploring the consulting industry and learning about available services. And while “brain-picking” (free consultation) might be useful sometimes, it’s best used sparingly and for short bursts.
Projects at the ideation phase may need an RFI procedure or internal workshops to define the issue to be solved. When the problem is defined, a request for proposal (RFP) can and should be drafted.
When you are unsure about what approach to use, an option is to first send out RFIs to a large pool of potential consulting firms and in a second round, send out RFPs to a smaller pool of potential consulting firms.
Whenever possible, limit the project’s scope to the must-have, but give the submitters some leeway to be creative. This will help keep your RFP process on track. Keep in mind, too, that limiting the number of consultants invited at each stage will speed up the process overall, and make sure they will submit their best proposal.
Check out last week’s episode of Smart Consulting Sourcing! Our podcast is available on all of your favorite platforms, including Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube. If you’d rather read than listen, the entire transcript is available in the Thought Leadership section of our website consultingquest.com.
Now It’s Time to Take Up Today’s Topic – Where to Get Started on an RFP for Consulting?
Before diving into the technical aspects of writing an RFP, which will be next week, let’s cover a few crucial elements vital to any successful RFP. Although these prerequisites may appear basic, they are the foundation for drafting and submitting high-impact RFPs- so don’t overlook them!
Putting Together a Great Team
First Thing First: Start with the right Team. There are many reasons why this is an important step in writing an RFP. Let’s take a step back for a minute. When you write an RFP, your goal is usually to find external support to solve a problem. We all agree that the main purpose is to find a solution. Now, we want a solution that works, sticks in the long run, and doesn’t create problems of its own, correct?
So now let me break down what we just agreed into three objectives:
∙ A solution that works, means finding the right consultants that will bring impact and value.
∙ A solution that sticks, in the long run, means that we will manage the change for the very start of the project to ensure the main stakeholders are on board.
∙ And, finally, a solution that doesn’t create problems means that we will stick to the budget, respect company policies, and processes, get the necessary approvals, manage the project, and manage the contract.
Who can help make sure we meet those three goals I just listed?
At first, we must involve those who are most familiar with the project’s subject matter. I mean the project manager, who will be in charge of the project’s day-to-day operations, as well as the project sponsor, who owns the budget and is accountable to the organization.
We also need the project to be successful. So, we must include the key stakeholders if we follow good project management and change management practices. Those who will be affected by the project but aren’t part of the project sponsor’s division, department, or Business Unit. Last week, we discussed how stakeholders are pivotal in determining the success of a project – they can make or break it. We also concluded that the RFP process is an excellent chance to commence “selling” your project to your teams and set off on the quest! So, don’t overlook this opportunity.
Last but not the least, we want the project, and by extension, the sourcing process, to be seamless and compliant. The procurement department must be involved, as well as the finance and strategy departments if the project is particularly large or strategic. Involving them from the start will save you time and energy in the long run.
And with that we have all the right people assembled before us, representing both business lines and procurement.
Allocating Tasks and Responsibilities
Now that everyone is in attendance, let’s assign tasks and get to work.
Business lines are tasked with defining the needs, articulating context and problems to solve, and relaying expected outcomes. Although procurement is responsible for developing and reforming requirements in an RFP document, it’s ultimately up to business lines to validate its contents. This can be seen as a collaborative process between both parties involved.
Let’s focus on the principal responsibility of procurement for a moment. Despite being expected to lead, our job is actually more about guiding and facilitating. We ensure that every step in the process is compliant with company policies and processes, remind people when steps must be taken, assist businesses with creating goals and objectives for projects as well as clearly communicate desired outcomes. It’s important to ask questions here and challenge ideas; however, we must also remember that they are knowledgeable in their own right – let us use our influence positively! Let’s be influencers! You don’t need to upload YouTube videos or TikTok dances – all it takes is just being a positive force for change, inspiring creativity, and generating ideas. How does it sound?
4 Attributes of That Perfect RFP
We have the perfect team that knows what to do. So, how can we create an effective Request for Proposal? Let me give you 4 words: clear, realistic, simple and formalized. These are all characteristics of a superior RFP.
Your RFP must be clear, concise, and accurate. Only include the details that are absolutely necessary to describe your project, so it can be understood at a glance by newcomers. Make sure you specify deadlines and expected results as well. If your project is complicated, opt for an additional briefing step between sending the RFP and sending the first proposal instead of writing a lengthy document. I have seen 10-page RFPs for a simple strategy project. This is a waste of time and energy.
Next, your RFP needs to be realistic. I get it, you have ambitions for your organization. But you also need the consulting firm to be able to make it happen to you. That is the A in Smart objectives, right? Attainable. If you are not sure about the feasibility of your project, you can also organize a short RFI round with a couple of consulting firms and test the waters.
Now let’s talk about simple. Even if you are a big fan of Marcel Proust, try to control your lyrical musing when writing an RFP. If Proust’s name isn’t ringing any bells, allow me to introduce you. He is a renowned French author and his works are infamously known among French school students for their lengthy sentences.
Believe it or not, I once had the unique opportunity to view an authentic Proust manuscript while my mother was employed as a curator at the National Library in Paris. It contained pages that were individually pasted and added into small notebooks, with some sheets reaching up to one meter in length when completely unfolded! That was incredible.
So back to our RFPs, Clarity often walks end to end with simplicity. Moreover, when you collaborate with global companies, it is likely that the expert examining your RFP isn’t a native speaker. Despite being fluent in the language, they could struggle to understand uncommon vocabulary or complicated syntax.
And finally, it is essential to formalize your RFP. As I have previously mentioned, an RFP serves as a reference for the consulting firms you bring in on this project. There are countless potential solutions that could address any given problem. By formulating and detailing what exactly you need from them and laying out expectations accordingly, you will help ensure that all involved parties stay laser-focused on your goals.
How To Look at the RFP Process From An Innovative Perspective?
Let’s switch our mindset! Instead of seeing the process as finding a supplier, look at it from an innovative perspective. Procurement professionals – if you’re with us today – don’t be held back by traditional RFPs and remember that this isn’t all about making purchases… It is really about problem-solving for your company. Take a fresh approach to the challenge and let creativity take center stage in overcoming obstacles.
Let the consulting firm know about the why, what, who details of your company. Give them the big picture. Provide all the information that will enable them to understand what your company is about, not just the problem to solve or the department to help. Also, give where you stand and what you have done before. Context is key in framing solutions in consulting. Reveal a bit of you, and if you are concerned about confidentiality, then sign an NDA. Better, always sign an NDA before you give any information about your project. Think of it like setting up speed-dating: give them just enough information for both parties involved so they can determine if there might be something special between you two!
Pay attention to what I’m about to say: Be open-minded and embrace creative solutions. Even though we all know that you, the former consultant turned executive, can fully complete this project on your own–you’re not going to. Another consultant is taking charge instead who likely has an alternate strategy than yours. That doesn’t mean it won’t be successful! If you don’t trust their methodologies, then simply don’t hire them for the job.
It’s just like sharing domestic duties with your partner. You must be okay that they will do it differently than you, otherwise you’ll end up doing all the tasks by yourself. (Perhaps, one of the best advices ever received from your mother).
In crafting your RFP, provide sufficient information to steer potential consulting providers in the right direction while still allowing them enough flexibility to develop a unique and original solution that goes beyond what you expect.
Focusing on procurement once more, when you are helping to create an RFP for consulting services, be sure that the consultants have all the information they need to generate a proposal that answers three critical questions: Do these consultants understand our challenge? Are these consultants capable of tackling it? Will we collaborate well with them?
So, we come to the end of our conversation. Ready for your takeaways?
For a successful request for proposals (RFP), get together the appropriate team by including project managers, project sponsors, key stakeholders, procurement leaders, and of finance and strategy, if the project is strategic or important.
While business lines define the needs and expected outcomes, procurement is in charge of developing requirements compliant with policies and processes.
Develop a successful request for proposal (RFP) that is clear, realistic, simple, and formalized. Include only the necessary details; specify deadlines and expected results; ensure it is attainable; opt for a briefing step when it is complicated; use straightforward language.
Make sure you include enough information for the consulting firms to understand your challenges and goals faced by the company and what you expect from the project.
Embrace innovative approaches to problems while maintaining an open mind and creative spirit.
And that’s the end of our session for today! But don’t fret, because next week, we’ll finally delve right into the nitty-gritty of crafting an RFP. I’m sure you’re ecstatic to discover what goes into it and how to create a successful one from start to finish! So join us as we let you in on all the secrets behind writing a compelling RFP for consulting.
Until then, stay safe and happy sourcing. If you have any questions regarding today’s topic or any consulting procurement-related topic, remember you can always contact me directly on LinkedIn or by email because I’m always game for a chat.
Bye and see you next week, au revoir.