‘An RFP (Request for Proposal) is usually the first document fired out when the hunt for a new supplier begins. It marks the start of what can be a very long and time-consuming process for both commissioners and suppliers, as each side tries to work out if this is a company they could or should be doing business with. But it doesn’t have to be this way.  These 7 Golden Rules for the Perfect RFP reveal the fastest and smartest route to the most suitable shortlist.’
Douglas O’Neill, MD, Inntel


Step 1: Apply a FILTER

From the moment you start to list your requirements you are already ruling some suppliers out of the equation. This may be because:

  • They don’t work in the required geographical location
  • They don’t offer all the services you want to find in one place
  • They don’t have sufficient resources to meet your demands
  • They are not familiar with the systems you need them to use
  • Their current turnover is too small

To spare you the disappointment of finding on page 28 of a prospective supplier’s response that they can book any hotels you want but no transport, for example, you would do well to issue a Pre-Qualifying Questionnaire (PQQ).

Used properly, a PQQ will help you to profile the kind of company that will be able to meet your upcoming requirements. This should stop companies that don’t meet the stated criteria responding to your RFP, saving you the time involved in ruling them out of the process.

Step 2:  Meet face to FACE

Successful relationships are based on chemistry – especially business ones. Once you have used a PQQ to identify companies that would be able to deliver your requirements, ask to meet them. Anyone can look good on paper, so the only way you’ll really know if they are a good match for your company is by talking to them directly and hearing what they have to say about their approach to business, their values, vision and culture.

Now take stock. You have invested relatively little time in the process to date, but you are already left with a shortlist of companies that fit your criteria and you know you could get along with.

Step 3: Ask for PROOF

While you can see yourself working well with your shortlisted suppliers, you can’t afford to take anything at face value. “They seemed like good people” is not considered due diligence.  You need auditable evidence. So look at their case studies and read their references but, above all, get in touch with their current clients and ask them:

  • Do they deliver what they say, consistently, on time and to budget?
  • Did they live up to the RFP responses that won them the contract?
  • Has any part of their service disappointed you?
  • Has any part of their service surprised and delighted you?

Step 4: Put them to the TEST

If all the responses are good and their current clients are happy with them, put them to the test.

One of the major problems with any RFP is that it’s based on future business or projects. You think you know what’s involved, how it will work and what it might cost, but you can’t know for sure. As the suppliers won’t know for sure either, they will be forced to make assumptions and calculate their costs accordingly.

For a more realistic test, go with something you CAN be sure about, and that’s a historical project. Present suppliers with details of a meeting or event that you have run in the past and ask them to give their ideas and costs for that. Then you can compare the projected costs supplied by everyone on your shortlist with the bills you actually paid!

Step 5: Look for LEADERS

Now for a word of caution.

However excellent your shortlisted suppliers are at present, how can you tell if they will be just as ‘on-the-ball’ a few years down the line? The answer is to look for leaders.

Leadership has nothing to do with the company’s size and everything to do with their commitment to their business.

Leaders will have a finger on the industry’s pulse. They will have a track record in responding and adapting to change, investing in the continuing professional development of their people and staying abreast of the technological innovations that could make a real difference to your meetings and events.

Step 6: Don’t be fooled by SIZE

As we’ve mentioned in Step 5, it doesn’t matter if a company on your shortlist is small. If it meets the criteria in the PQQ, its current clients are happy, the management team came over well at the face to face and it has an industry presence and voice, it will grow.

In fact, on occasion, very large companies can be the hardest to work with. A global supplier may bring a wealth of experience to the table, but fail to adapt its own processes to meet your particular needs. And if your account is going to be small fry compared to the others in the big company’s portfolio, you may not get the fast and responsive service you would enjoy from a smaller, independent company that will bust a gut to keep you happy.

Step 7: Be very SPECIFIC

Now for the RFP!

The word to focus on here is ‘specific’. Every line of your RFP needs to be as detailed as possible, to avoid misunderstanding and reduce the number of assumptions that the suppliers have to make when framing their answers.

You can also be as demanding as you like because, after all, you need the best for your business. So if you want your supplier to give you something you don’t already have – such as a comprehensive monthly report documenting where every last penny of your budget was spent – put it down. If you don’t ask, you don’t get – and if you don’t ask now, you can’t decide it was a requirement once the contract has been awarded.

The 7 Golden Rules

  1. Apply a filter
    Send a PQQ
  2. Meet face to face
    Is there chemistry?
  3. Ask for proof
    Think audit trail’
  4. Put them to the test
    A past project is perfect.
  5. Look for leaders
    They’re the ones to follow.
  6. Don’t be fooled by size
    Big is over-rated.
  7. Be very specific
    Don’t ask? Don’t get!