I get lots of questions from information technology vendors and consultants regarding how best to respond to an RFI or RFP. Many are looking for a standardized RFI/RFP response template that will allow them to reduce response preparation efforts and respond to a greater number of solicitations over time.
Templates Available – To my knowledge, there are basically two types of RFX response “templates” available. The first type is merely a “shell” document that does little more than give you places to put your various items of response boilerplate. You then have to author variable content each and every time you respond to a new RFX. Not very useful. And, intstead of buying one of these templates, you could probably create one on your own in fairly short order.
The second type is less a template per se, and more like a Content Managment System (CMS) for RFX responses. The CMS approach takes more effort to set up, but it can be very useful and deliver some true efficiencies over time. For example, you could populate my eRFX tool, VendorSelect, with various text passages, text snippets, flow charts, diagrams, biographies, spreadsheets, boilerplate items, etc., and then have them available each and every time you respond to a new RFX. You can even borrow passages or other content you created for a previous response (carry it forward to your current response). The really cool thing is that you can even load a project owner’s (solicitor’s) RFX document into the tool. That let’s you pick and choose from among your stored content, and create your response to the RFX following the format of the project owner’s RFX document (which is what most project owners require). If your project owner won’t accept an electronic response, you can download and print your finished work product, and then ship it off the the project owner in paper form.
This is what I mean by CMS versus template. You’re not creating a template per se, but rather a CMS that could contain any number of templates, as well as, more importantly, content that you want to use and re-use over time. And you don’t have to use TechVendorSelect as the platform for your CMS. If your organization already has an eRFX tool, you might be able to set it up as your CMS for your RFX responses. The differences between your own eRFX tool and TechVendorSelect might include things like fewer file types supported and fewer content import and export options (including ease of use issues). However, the biggest shortcoming of other eRFX tools, when you try to use them as I describe here, is “persistence” (the ability store and retrieve information and data outside of a specific project). Most other eRFX tools will have very few persistence capabilities, if any.
RFX Document Is Your Response Template – Remember, regardless of whether you use a template or a CMS approach, the RFX document issued by a project owner (solicitor) provides the true template for your response. A good RFX will clearly state requested information in an intelligible and organized manner, often in an outline format with sections and various subsections. The outline in which information is requested is your outline for providing the requested information. If you can import the project owner’s RFX document into your template or CMS, great. Your life is that much easier.
Standardized or “Canned” Responses – You can help yourself a good deal by preparing standard responses to the information requested in most any RFX. For example, the “Tell Us About Your Company” and “Profile of Key Employees” provisions. Further, you can develop a set of RFX response Assumptions and Disclaimers (boilerplate items) that will apply in most any RFX response you prepare.
The caveat for using canned responses is that they must always be relevant, current and fully responsive. If a project ower asks for some simple information like, “State the number of projects you completed in the last 365 days,” it would not be a good idea to cut-and-paste your full-blown “About Us” response which, somewhere toward the end, provides the competed-project information. It would be worse still if your canned response, although elegant and otherwise informative, never even mentions completed projects. Also, make sure your canned responses contain current information about your company, its personnel, and your products and services. In other words, your canned responses must be updated from time to time.
Being Penalized – Remember, when you provide information in response to an RFX, your failure to respond to the true call of a question, or your failure to respond fully, will count against you. If the project owners’ evaluators find a number of incomplete or irrelevant responses, whether due to error on your part or the improper (lazy) use of canned responses, the evaluators will form negative impressions. Either your company is not serious about its bid because it couldn’t take the time to prepare a decent response, or even if you are serious about your bid (as may be evidenced by other portions of your response), your lack of attention to detail and error proofing will give the project owner concern.
Review Process – Regardless of whether you use standardized responses or complete each RFX response from scratch, be sure to review and proof your completed responses carefully. Takes time, yes, but it can often make the difference between passing or not passing a project owner’s initial screening process. If you only have time for a 75% effort to respond to an RFX, you should think about whether to respond at all. Maybe you could spend your time more profitably doing something else.