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Procuring Services – Are You Asking The Right Questions?

Procuring Services – Are You Asking The Right Questions?

There is a simple mistake many Managers (or their procurement departments) make when writing the Request For Proposal (RFP) questions for services. I've seen it time and time again, having written my share of proposal responses both for past employers and for clients. I’ve also seen it when assessing procurement practices, procuring services and helped clients with their evaluation process for their own procurement initiatives.

What’s the simple mistake? Not asking the right questions.

I've learned that the quality of the questions you ask is critically important to your evaluation process, to differentiating suppliers and make it easy for them to respond to your RFP (yes, that's important!). It’s also important for your evaluation. It's one of the key ways you establish whether the supplier is capable of delivering what you need.

And yet it's something that is frequently done haphazardly and without a strategy for getting information you need to assess an individual supplier or compare important differentiators so you can select the best possible supplier.

Even worst, you are probably asking questions that quite frankly, don't matter. Especially if you have pre-selected the bidders using a formal Request for Qualifications (RFQ) or by reputation.

Don't ask basic questions about whether they can deliver the services - you should already know this, or you wouldn't invite them to bid.

Ask questions about things that will differentiate the bidders on topics that actually matter to you or are critical to success. Consider issues you’ve had before with service providers. Look at where your organization and requirements are going, assess the critical stages or elements of the service. Then formulate questions that get at those specific areas.

The questions you ask should be short, clear and concise. Don't ask a question with several sub-questions buried in it. If there are sub-questions, separate them out into separate items or use a list to indicate the items you want them to cover.

Always ask them to demonstrate what they are saying to you with specific examples or specific past experience. Ask for a copy of documents or at least confirmation that they exist and a table of contents. Make them tell you if they are developing something specifically for you or if they already do it for other clients.

Try to tell bidders the intent of your question where possible and word it so it is easy to understand and interpret. Don't make them guess what you want. Procurement isn’t a game where you are trying to trip them up. If they know what you want, you are likely to get a better response and more consistency between bidders, making it easier to evaluate.

Also, be careful about how you ask things. I've seen an RFP ask for a ‘detailed summary' of how a bidder provides a service. What exactly is a ‘detailed summary' and is it even possible?

Finally, give relatively tight page limits, along with minimum font size and margins. Shorter RFP responses are easier to evaluate and will force the bidders to eliminate most of the marketing fluff while giving you solid information you can use to evaluate. It's harder for the bidders, but it will make it easier for you. Mark Twain once said "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead."

About Michel Theriault

Michel is the founder of Success Fuel for Managers. He is an author, speaker and consultant focusing on topics relevant to Managers and aspiring Managers in businesses of all sizes who want to get results, get attention, and get ahead. He is also a contributor to Forbes and AllBusiness Experts . Michel is available for speaking engagements, training and consulting. Connect with him or send an email.

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