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12 tips for evaluating RFP responses

Buying teams should streamline the request for proposals process to find a suitable vendor. These tips can help an organization evaluate RFP responses effectively.

Creating a repeatable and scalable process is important in many areas of life, including software request for proposals.

The process of evaluating RFP responses is a critical step for software buying teams. The goal is to narrow down the number of respondents to the best candidates who will then move to the next stage of the vendor evaluation process. Ideally, the RFP team grants a demo opportunity to only those vendors who score high in the RFP evaluation.

Here are 12 essential tips to help software buying teams evaluate RFP responses in an objective and consistent manner.

1. Engage multiple stakeholders

Software buying teams should engage company stakeholders from other departments to bring together distinct perspectives as part of the evaluation process. Different teams and employees within the company will have various needs, and those insights may prove to be critical at this stage.

2. Establish an internal process

During the evaluation process, participants need to follow certain rules. Establishing clear guidelines at the start could help reduce the possibility that the evaluators will introduce any errors that might jeopardize the process. For example, to create a standardized process, one guideline might be to prohibit evaluators from contacting a vendor directly to ask questions or share additional information not contained in the RFP.

3. Assign a vendor contact

A single point person -- one evaluator who speaks with all salespeople -- is a good best practice. They can ask additional questions as required on behalf of the evaluation team or provide additional data to vendors. Having a single point person enables question consolidation, cuts down on the potential for repeat questions and limits the personal bias each vendor can have on the team, since only one software team member connects with them.

4. Include a response template

Buying teams can simplify the evaluation process by providing vendors with a template to submit responses. Since an organization's requirements might be numerous, standardizing the format vendors use to submit responses enables easier comparisons across vendors.

5. Follow the submission process

The buying team and vendors should follow the submission process outlined in the RFP. This might include key dates, the procedure for selecting vendors and other critical actions. When changes are required, buying teams should notify the respondents. RFPs often include a line indicating that the company reserves the right to make changes based on their own needs, but vendors might spend a lot of time completing a response and deserve to know of any material change.

6. Create a template for evaluator assessments

Templates make it easier for evaluators to understand expectations. This step simplifies the process of combining and comparing all evaluations. If evaluators record responses in different formats, comparing one evaluation to another can become time-consuming and detract from the work of selecting suitable vendors that will move to the demo stage.

7. Review vendor-provided material

The RFP might have a lot of documents and materials to review. It's therefore important that each evaluator reads all the submitted materials closely to do a thorough and unbiased evaluation.

8. Evaluate vendor suitability

The key to successfully evaluating a vendor is to understand how their RFP response meets your organization's needs. Vendor rankings can be greatly influenced by knowing which requirements can and can't be met. Buying teams should consider whether the vendor will partner with third parties. Review each vendor's response to validate that they provided enough detail to judge their response fairly.

9. Hire external support

An external consultant familiar with the type of project under consideration might help identify areas with incomplete responses or where additional questions are needed. Consultants might be able to suggest additional questions to ask vendors if they weren't initially involved in developing the RFP.

10. Understand estimated fees

Look for clarity in the RFP response related to fees, payment schedule and managing change requests. Project cost can easily spiral if it's unclear what the vendor intends to charge for the project, and how additional requests will be priced.

11. Review the recommended timeline

Review the suggested timeline for the project, including the commit date to meet the go-live date. Be wary of aggressive timelines since that might be a tactic to win the bid.

12. Analyze vendor details

Large projects require a strong partnership with a vendor. Carefully review each vendor's information about their business, such as how long they've been operating, how many employees and customers they have, the number of times they've successfully completed a similar project and so on. A critical part of the RFP evaluation process is knowing these key details about a vendor.

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