When clients issue RFPs for business continuity services that are vague and contradictory, the result is a disappointment for the client and bewilderment for prospective BC service providers.
In today’s post, I’ll share seven tips to help you create RFPs for BC and IT/Disaster Recovery services that will result in your receiving responsive, high-quality proposals that truly address your company’s needs.
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The RFP (Request for Proposal) is often the first step in a company’s journey toward accomplishing a major project in business continuity and IT/DR. However, in many cases, it is also the first step on the road to confusion and frustration.
SHIPS THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT
Here’s the funny thing about RFPs: They are written by organizations that are seeking expert assistance. Then, they are issued to firms that are in business to provide that type of assistance—and yet the two often pass each other like ships in the night.
The reason, in a nutshell, is: BC consultants cannot read minds.
Nor can a BC consultant wade in and randomly start making the critical decisions that every organization must make for itself.
To write a good RFP, an organization must first make certain decisions about its goals, then it must clearly express its wishes and objectives.
WHY THE LARGE VARIATIONS IN ESTIMATED COST?
The lack of this kind of information is the main reason for the situation where one BC firm says they can do the job for $30,000 and another says they can do it for $150,000. Why the big difference? Is one firm desperate for business and the other one trying to chisel you? Most likely the RFP was unclear, and the two firms interpreted what the customer wanted in wildly different ways.
Is it really common for RFPs to be that muddled? I have seen thousands of them over 20 years, and the answer is, You bet.
Sometimes companies even ask for things in one part of the RFP that they explicitly say they don’t want in another part of the RFP.
It’s enough to blow a BC consultant’s mind, and not in a good way.
We consultants don’t know how to respond if we can’t tell from the RFP what the customer is looking for. It leaves us with the choice of passing up the opportunity or guessing at the customer’s intentions.
ASKING FOR CLARIFICATION
Theoretically, there’s a middle option of asking for clarification. Sometimes this leads to the customer providing helpful new information. Sometimes it leads to them making unwarranted expressions of irritation toward the consultant, or even accusing them of not knowing what they’re doing.
This situation is bad for the prospective client as well. When a company issues a vague RFP, it tends to reduce both the number and responsiveness of the proposals they receive. It lessens the likelihood of their finding the firm that’s the best match for their project in terms of capability, timetable, and budget.
COMPARING APPLES TO APPLES
In contrast, clear RFPs will lead to broadly similar proposals, allowing the customer to compare apples to apples in making the decision about who to hire.
So do yourself and your company (and the BC consulting firms you interact with) a favor and think carefully about the RFPs you produce.
The clearer your RFPs are, the better the results will be, and the better off your company will be.
SEVEN TIPS FOR WRITING BUSINESS CONTINUITY RFPs
What’s the right way to write an RFP for business continuity and IT/DR consulting services? Here are seven tips that spell it out:
1. Make sure your proposal makes sense.
You’d be surprised at how often a proposal just doesn’t make sense. You should be using recognized BC terminology and methodology in a manner consistent with how they are used in the industry. If you say in your RFP that you want a BIA, you should know what a BIA is. The RFP should also be clear and internally consistent. An RFP is a communication issued to a community of professionals who speak a common language. Your RFP should be in that same language. Don’t try to fake it if you’re not sure. It will just cause problems down the line. Either do the research or get help. (See Tip 7.)
2. Know what you need.
Do you need a BIA? An IT recovery plan? To set up a crisis management team? If you have already figured out what you want, then you’re ready to write the RFP. If you haven’t, then you aren’t. In this case, you could consider writing a different, narrower kind of business continuity RFP. An RFP focused on getting help in figuring out what you want or need. (Yes, this is an option. See Tip 7.)
3. Identify the size and scope of the engagement.
The consultant needs to know how big the project is. The RFP should state how many business units will be involved, how many BIAs you want to be done, and so on. An accurate statement of the scope is a prerequisite for an accurate estimate of the expense.
4. State any limitations or restrictions.
In your RFP, you should state not only what is to be done but what isn’t. Are there limitations on the budget? On travel? Tell the consultant where they should stop and what they should skip.
5. Be clear on dates and stick to them.
The RFP should state clearly when questions are due, when proposals are due, and when the company will make the selection. Then it should keep to those dates.
6. Communicate the same message to all prospective consultants.
It is critical that one clear message goes out to all possible suppliers so there is no confusion as to the expectations. For example, when consultants have questions and send them in, all of the combined questions and answers should be sent in one communication to all prospective suppliers, not just the one asking the question. You want everyone to have the same information.
7. If in doubt, get help.
As you probably realize by now, writing a good, clear RFP for BC consulting services takes a degree of knowledge and expertise. Some companies have it, others don’t. Did you know you can hire a BC consultant to help you develop a BC RFP? You can even establish ahead of time that that consultant will not be a contender for the final contract if you prefer. (It might turn out that you’re so impressed by the job they do with the RFP that you want them to handle the larger job.)
If you and your company are not experts in BC, you have an option other than doing nothing or sending out vague and contradictory RFPs. You can get someone who knows the field to help you sort out what you need and want. This way you can devise an RFP that other BC consultants will understand and can respond to with confidence and in detail.
REAPING THE BENEFITS
In seeking business continuity consulting services, organizations that issue clear and internally consistent RFPs tend to receive a greater number of proposals. Those proposals tend to be more detailed, responsive, and attractive. Follow the tips above to improve your RFPs. Your colleagues in the BC community will thank you, and you and your company will reap the benefits.
For more information on business continuity RFPs and other hot topics in business continuity and IT/disaster recovery, check out these recent posts from BCMMETRICS and MHA Consulting:
- Dancing the Tango with Your Business Continuity Consultant
- Good Client, Bad Client: How to Treat Your BCM Consultant and Why It Matters
- Life in the Fast Lane: 7 Tips to Help You Implement Your BC Program Quickly
- Start Here: The Business Continuity Management Guide for Beginners
- The Cost of Calamity: How Being Unprepared Can Harm An Organization