How to Master the RFP Decision Making Process

What Your Evaluators Should be Looking for in Vendor Selection 

In his play, The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare warns that we are “not bound to please thee with my answer.” What the great writer may have been trying to say was something we all wish our vendors would take to heart when responding to a request for proposal (RFP) — don’t tell someone what I want to hear just to please me — but rather, tell me the truth! 

As an evaluator, you are on a mission to find the truth — and, hopefully, a vendor who can help you solve your agency’s challenges. And while I have great confidence in the ability of many government evaluators who “can handle the truth”— to play on a more recent movie classic — not all vendors provide the opportunity to easily find it.  

So, what’s an evaluator to do? Here are a few lessons we’ve learned on both sides of the RFP scoring pen. 

  1. Does the vendor meet all the requirements in the RFP, including things like standard evaluation criteria, performance expectations, experience and capabilities? Surprisingly, we sometimes see submissions that don’t fully meet or even address all the RFP requirements. 
  1. Does the vendor appear to understand your overall objective? While vendors may argue that some RFPs are harder to read than Hamlet, we coach our clients to fully digest the RFP’s overall objectives and start from there. 
  1. Is the vendor well versed in industry trends? Shakespeare was known for being a man well attuned to his time and place. Look for vendors who share their knowledge of the industry you both work in, or better yet, have authored a few sonnets of their own on the subjects you both care about the most. 
  1. Is the vendor talking too much about themselves? Shakespeare had a few choice phrases for the prideful, but you have a scoring sheet! If the vendor talks more about themselves than you and your Agency’s goals, they probably won’t make it to the second act.  
  1. As you’re reading their response, are they instilling trust? While most RFP responses won’t ever get to the level of helping you decide “to be or not to be”, they should at least instill a level of trust in the vendor responding. Do you believe what they’re saying? If you don’t, then working with them will be no “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” 
  1. Do they appear to fit in with the culture of your agency? Some of Shakespeare’s characters never worried too much about “fitting in”. But every vendor who responds to your RFP should. In fact, we tell our clients that one of the most important qualities that they must convey in their RFP response is to make sure they help evaluators see that they will be a good overall fit to work with on a regular basis.  

Afterall, vendors who don’t follow these recommendations, may hear the evaluator say: “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow.” (Romeo and Juliet). 

Ted Koval, PMP is a Proposal Manager and Writer for The RFP Success Company and has served as a senior government and communications leader with nearly 30 years of proposal management, government, communications, change, and project management experience. Ted has led the full cycle proposal process, designed, and developed policy, communications, and outreach programs at all levels of state government and the private sector. Holding a Master of Public Administration Degree, he has extensive experience advising leaders on complex policy and proposal initiatives impacting millions of citizens across several states, counties, and industries. Ted is a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and has Fortune 50 consulting experience writing and managing government and corporate communications and change and programs. He is a frequent speaker on designing and executing project management, communications, and change initiatives.

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