Let’s be honest. No one likes writing an RFP. They’re complicated documents whose outcomes have far-reaching consequences.
But, sending Request for Proposals (RFPs) to potential fulfillment providers is without a doubt one of the best ways to gauge what each company offers, how their corporate culture works, and whether or not they provide fulfillment solutions aligned with your needs.
So, if you’re writing one, you want to do it right, to avoid miscommunication between your company and potential partners, to make sure you are evaluating the respondents on the right criteria, and ultimately so you can make the best and most-informed decision possible through this critical business process outsourcing exercise.
Ready, Set … No Wait
Before you commit the time and effort needed to produce an RFP, you need to ask yourself a difficult question: is your company ready for change? Many companies expend significant resources planning for change but never follow through because, when push comes to shove, change is uncomfortable and scary. If your company isn’t ready for change, put off writing RFPs until you’re fully committed.
Limit the Playing Field
In theory, you could send your RFP to dozens of potential fulfillment partners, but in reality, this isn’t practical. You don’t want to be overwhelmed reading, analyzing and comparing multiple proposals. Make a short-list of four or five vendors you feel match your needs and submit the RFP to them.
Do some research before you submit RFPs. Send out Requests for Information or call the companies directly and ask questions. If you have specific restrictions or requirements on who you do business with, make sure RFP recipients match these requirements. For instance, if your company has a strong environmental policy, you may only want to work with similarly minded companies.
Define Your Objectives
In order to receive a proposal meeting your needs, you need to provide potential partners with as much information as possible. It’s tempting to hold back — much of the information needed is highly sensitive.
Your potential partners need to understand your goals, objectives and company history. They need hard data on fulfilled products, peak order times, customer service policies (and feedback) and volume information and need to know if you want to outsource just your fulfillment business or if you need other professional services like customer service or ecommerce hosting. Given the delicate nature of this information, your RFP should include a nondisclosure or confidentiality agreement.
Define Needs, Not Responses
Define your needs – the results you want delivered and your overall objectives – in the RFP, but resist the temptation to restrict how vendors respond. Some companies insist proposals meet strict formatting criteria. Doing so hampers the vendors’ ability to respond to your needs.
Let vendors provide their proposal however they want. This gives them freedom to comment on your existing processes or suggest solutions you haven’t considered. It also gives you opportunity to discover how the vendor works, how future materials may be presented, and whether or not the company’s “personality” matches your own corporate culture.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t ask companies to answer specific questions. If you want them to explain how they ensure customer satisfaction, maximize program visibility or reduce time to market, ask these questions outright in your RFP. Just give vendors a chance to answer in their own way. You should also make certain you define and communicate critical dates including a time frame for engaging in due diligence or fact-finding dialog with the vendors, deadlines for final submission and dates when decisions will be made and communicated to participants.
Create a Standard Quote Form
While you want to give potential vendors some freedom with their proposals, it is imperative that you provide a standardized quote form so you can quickly compare each vendor’s pricing and fees.
Keep Communication Open
Stay in communication with potential partners during the proposal process. They’ll have questions for you, and how well they communicate helps you decide if the vendor fits your needs and work style. Open lines of communication result in more detailed and specific proposals, which in turn help you make better service decisions.