Strategic Procurement: How to refine your RFP process to position your team for exceptional outcomes

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  • Strategic Procurement: How to refine your RFP process to position your team for exceptional outcomes
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Taryn Harbert


Taryn Harbert


Future Thinking , Perspective
Market Insights

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‘Strategic Procurement: How to refine your RFP process to position your team for exceptional outcomes’ can be found on page 52 of the 2020 edition of Perspective, a compilation of insights from members of the RLB team around the world.

Faced with constant pressure to reduce costs and increase efficiency, organizations are continually seeking ways to deliver their products or services in ways that are quicker, cheaper, and better. To support these goals, procurement teams find themselves hyper-focused on crafting processes that offer value, enhance competition, and maximize the chances for success.

The advent of e-procurement programs (many with attractive track records) has allowed companies of all sizes to adopt standardized procurement methods and tools. While this approach is well suited to some applications—such as purchasing office supplies or equipment where numerous suppliers compete—its usefulness is limited when it comes to more complex and specialized procurements, such as those for professional services.

A strategically planned procurement process can maximize results for all parties. The elements of a successful campaign are summarized below.

Ensure Internal Coordination

  • Map out objectives. Lay out the organization’s goals in the RFP: discuss the aims of the procurement with the team in advance, outline in simple terms how the procurement relates to the organization’s goals, and explain what role the selected contractor/consultant will play in advancing these objectives.
  • Involve stakeholders. Ask key individuals who will play a significant role in the implementation phase—especially those who are not part of your organization—to participate on the interview panel. Engaging them early in the process will pay off down the road; establishing a relationship with people gives them an investment in the outcome.
  • Know the rules. Make sure someone on your team has a strong understanding of the legal statutes, codes, and other policies and procedures that will govern your process. Federal, state, and local guidelines apply here, as well as your organization’s internal policies.

Facilitate Communications with Proposers

Clear, timely, and complete communication with all stakeholders—before, during, and even after the process—sends a strong signal to all about your professionalism and engagement in the project, and ultimately attracts high quality submittals. Here are some tips on being a proactive communicator:

  • Outreach in advance. Before issuing the RFP, get the word out that it’s coming. More interest = more competition = better chance of success. Local industry event organizers are always looking for speakers with relevant, time-sensitive content, and yours may be exactly what they are seeking. Done right, these presentations provide an opportunity to convey what you’re looking for in an informal setting that’s much more engaging and compelling than the paper (or digital) RFP document.
  • Accurately describe the project. Sure, it would be great to find a team that has done exactly what you are looking for, earlier this year, in your market…but if your requirements for “similar” experience are too restrictive, you will only limit competition. Structure your RFP in a way that defines your needs in general terms, and avoid being overly specific.
  • Allow adequate turnaround time. Proposers need time to develop quality proposals. Depending on the nature of the RFP, this can range from a few weeks to several months.
  • Encourage dialogue. Provide an opportunity to ask questions about the RFP and invite all parties to submit their questions. When you respond, provide your answers in writing to everyone; a website that’s updated on a regular basis is an excellent forum for this kind of communication.
  • Be transparent. Lay out your process clearly in the RFP, include a schedule (and stick to it!), and don’t be afraid to over-communicate.

Assemble an Exceptional Team

Executives and managers can provide great added value to their organizations by taking a hands-on role: collaborating with their procurement teams, working together to produce a thoughtful, strategic approach that clearly communicates desired outcomes, and aligning the RFP process with the organization’s goals. Two positions are key to ensuring a project’s success:

  • Project champion. A robust senior leadership presence can be transformative. An effective project champion oversees the process, collaborates with the internal team, and is visible throughout the process. Proposers will see and appreciate this involvement, recognize the work is important to your organization, and be motivated to invest more time and effort into crafting a proposal that hits the mark.
  • Procurement manager. RFP teams are usually led by a Procurement Manager, whose judgment and business savvy will be central to finding the best and brightest talent. Invest in hiring capable, qualified individuals who are positive team players with experience running successful procurements.

Successful procurement management isn’t only about efficiency; it has a significant personal component that no automated process can replicate. Handling your project with intelligence, perspective, and empathy will yield optimal outcomes for all.