Time is a precious commodity in every business office.
When it comes to RFPs, borrowing from other districts or re-using templates are go-to strategies to save time on this cumbersome task. Why reinvent the wheel, right? A concern arises, however, when you are merely “going through the motions” to meet legal requirements, and not tailoring the documents to maximally benefit your district.
It is also easier to default to using a Group Purchasing Agreement (GPO). Many CFOs struggle with the tension of taking the time and personnel to complete a strategic RFP vs. using already-negotiated GPOs. Let me assure you that while some GPO agreements can be appropriate, they don’t always offer your district the value and savings that could make a huge difference in operational efficiency.
The best way to conduct an RFP, and save time and resources in the long run, is to keep in mind the following important steps:
Get stakeholder input.
Beware of letting the procurement office conduct the RFP in isolation. While the business office may process and pay invoices, it’s the functional leaders directly utilizing the services who have the relationships and know the district’s needs. Use these stakeholders to analyze the current vendors. They can identify whether response times are on point, the strength of customer service, and other intangibles. In addition to what they are happy with, ask what changes they would ideally like to see; not only to reflect the current situation but where the district may be moving in a few years.
Identify must-haves up front as binary questions.
Again, interview stakeholders to determine non-negotiables based on past, present, and future needs. Also identify those “nice to haves” that are not crucial but would add value to the contract.
Another tip as you’re listing your requirements is to frame them as binary questions; that is, answered with a “yes” or “no.” This strategy makes it much easier to score the RFP. Leaving questions open-ended results in much extra time needed to wade through and evaluate the response.
Ideally, the RFP should be written with a final contract in mind; for example, if the vendor agrees to everything in the RFP, the contract should be able to be finalized without much editing.
Market-test to make sure you are getting the best.
If there is one piece of advice I could give the CFO of any district, it would be to market test the commodity before going to RFP. Market testing is what ultimately drives your decision-making process. It lets you compare apples to apples whether your current vendors are giving you the best deals. You may find that you do need an RFP, or not if your current vendor or GPO agreement is sufficient. The only way to determine this is through market testing. Please refer to my previous article on market testing for details on how to complete this process
Seek out a consultant.
Procurement consultants can provide great value to the RFP process. They are experts whose call it is to give districts the best ROI. They often source the same category multiple times per year, so bring an ability to benchmark pricing that no single district has. A consultant can also market-test on your behalf without having to go through the state requirements for an official bid. Think of a consultant as a “thought partner” that saves valuable employee time and energy. There is little, if no cost to hire a consultant, as the savings realized way out-measures their fee.
The bottom line is that while it may be tempting to “save time” by simply recycling RFPs, you’re not really saving anything. You’re most likely squandering resources that could have been spent optimizing strategic spending.