Tips for RFPs Part 2: Treatment, Technology & Tools
In Part One of this blog series we discussed some tips for building a clear and approachable RFP through your timeline and technical aspects. While providing sufficient time and details goes a long way in obtaining high quality responses, there’s still plenty more you can do for your RFP process. This includes ensuring a fair evaluation of incoming responses and making the process more manageable for your district by using available technology and tools.
We know that what makes an RFP an “RFP” is that it must be conducted through a competitive bidding process. In order to do this it must ensure an even playing-field, or “fairness”, to whatever extent possible (otherwise, the RFP is simply a gesture). The treatment of vendors/suppliers is arguably the core of an RFP and consists of visibility, accessibility, and reasonably achievable criteria.
Visibility– The public has a right to know which RFPs are out and accepting responses which is why many vendors are proactively signing up for bid notifications. With the amount of school districts advertising bids daily, it’s impossible and unrealistic to check up on each and every one of them. Especially if a supplier or vendor operates nationwide. By having an online bidding system or vendor system, email notifications can be sent directly to dozens, if not hundreds, of potential vendors for you. It doesn’t need to be a guessing game.
Accessibility– Many districts have implemented programs that are designed to assist small, local, minority and veteran owned businesses, either through targeted solicitations, or participation goals. Districts have the capacity and resources to fruitfully contribute to businesses that may not have otherwise been able to partner with such large organizations.
Evaluation Criteria– A score sheet or weighted list of all the critical variables to making the award determination should be reasonable and clearly defined. Vendors want to know how the district is going to make their decision and while districts do reserve the right to select whichever vendor(s) best fits their needs, it’s still important to have verifiable criteria for doing so.
Ensuring a competitive bidding process is about taking all steps necessary to avoid any chance of appeared vendor favoritism, as this could lead to more questions or even discouragement from prospective vendors. It’s up to the district to evaluate their process so that their decision is not based on convenience, but on the overall benefit it gives to their schools, their budget, and their community.
The times are changing and there is hardly anything you can’t do online. There are online services that exist for everything related to RFPs and many school districts are moving towards it. Taking advantage of today’s technology is going to save your district time and money, while also saving some trees. Here are some reasons why going digital can be a great thing for your district:
Improves your response rate – By going online your RFP will reach more vendors and you can count on more qualified responses. Don’t miss out on potentially great suppliers because of a Fedex or UPS delay!
Reduces human error – Most bidding softwares are able to calculate and compare vendor responses for you so that you can have a more accurate evaluation. It also helps with reducing response variability because it is much more difficult for responses to stray when you have an online format. With an online format, vendors will be required to respond according to your set-up and structure (via document attachment, drop down menus, multiple selections, number entry, etc.)
Reduces Paper Waste- Responses for software products can definitely get lengthy due to all the system and technical questions involved. My responses, those that are mailed, can go up to 230 pages after all is said and done. With online responses, vendors can attach company documents, upload signed pages, and have all of it saved in the system. This results in less paperwork for us and the districts.
Saves time– Nowadays we often correlate the word Online with Instant, and while not all things are as instantaneous as we want them to be, we know it’s still a timesaver at the end of the day. With an online bidding portal, you instantly send out clarifications or addenda on your RFP. On the vendor’s side, it’s not fun to receive an addendum by snail mail the day after we’ve already finalized and shipped out our response. The content of the addenda could easily be a game-changer and have us all panicking.
If these points weren’t enough to convince you to start researching bidding software now, then the least I can do is reiterate how impactful it is to simply cut back on paper. Simple changes such as double sided printing or leaving out unnecessary forms can make a huge difference in the preparation and evaluation of your RFPs.
Lastly, I’d like to remind you that you are not alone. There are businesses and professionals out there that you can utilize as “tools” to help you develop (or even manage) RFPs for your district.
Consultants– Consider hiring a consultant, or a consulting company. Many organizations are dedicated to managing the K-12 procurement process and can advise you on top-to-bottom RFP requirements as well as review and manage RFP responses. They encompass professionals that are experienced with school district purchasing operations and requirements. This can help reduce the workload on your staff and ensure that your purchasing needs are in good hands.
Co-ops- School districts can also take advantage of local or state purchasing cooperatives. Members can enjoy a variety of benefits from cooperative agencies, including procurement facilitation. Cooperatives have the ability to combine the purchasing power of all their member districts in order to obtain the best value on products and services needed by schools. They will not only prepare the RFP for member districts, but they will also handle the entire process as a normal school district would, which could save you time and money.
Industry Experts– It doesn’t hurt to ask technical experts, such as manufacturers or specialized vendors, for technical recommendations. They’ll know how to guide you in determining the best specifications for your district’s Product or Service needs. Just as a doctor would prescribe medication, experts will start by asking questions in order to understand your needs and challenges. Taking this pre-RFP step can help you put together more precise details in your RFP to get you closer to obtaining the most responsive proposals.
Networking – If you aren’t sure where to start or how to decide, go out there and ask your colleagues! By talking to other food service professionals you can find out the kind of process that they use for RFPs or even ask them about their experience with certain services or products that you’re considering. School Nutrition conferences can be the best time to do this because you’ll have access to professionals in your field from districts far and wide. (We have tips for that as well:https://primeroedge.com/conference-dos-donts/)
Now with these tips in mind you’ll be able to create RFPs that will get you manageable, high quality responses and you can get back to focusing on your students.
If you have PrimeroEdge Inventory or are considering an Inventory management solution, we offer a Bid Analysis Tool, a secure online system to create and manage bids for your inventory items.
Alessandra is the Marketing & RFP Team Lead at Cybersoft. She holds a Bachelors in Business Administration in Marketing from the University of Texas at Austin and has been in the K-12 space for over eight years.