Harris School Solutions reveals the truth behind RFPs, and how to get the software you really want and need.
They say that, with most things in life, you get out what you put in.
If that’s true, then what type of software company do you think is most likely to respond to a subpar Request For Proposals (RFP)?
Why You Need a Better RFP Template
If your RFP template is redundant or confusing, it can be difficult and time-consuming for companies to complete it. That doesn’t mean great school software companies with superior solutions won’t still respond, but you could run the risk of missing out on some of those better bids because you put up an extra, unnecessary obstacle for those top-tier companies.
We at Harris School Solutions, for example, consider every single RFP we get and do our absolute best to complete each bid. For us it’s all about helping schools and school officials, not worrying about how easy or difficult the RFP is to complete. Unfortunately, that may not be the case at every software company.
Another possible outcome is that a great software company submits a bid on your RFP, but the bid is for the wrong product.
How is this possible? Often, good school software companies offer multiple products that fill similar needs. These products will have some subtle (but key) differences from one another. This is how the company meets the very specific needs of its clients.
Here again, an RFP that isn’t completely clear could steer you (and the bidding company) astray.
Let’s take a look, then, at some ways you can improve your RFP template and, subsequently, the responses you receive from it.
How to Improve Your RFP Template
Shorten the RFP where possible.
The first step is to shorten your RFP template. Keep in mind that even a “short” RFP is still somewhat lengthy. But compared to other RFPs, are there some items you could trim?
Even if every bit of information you’re asking for is critically important, consider whether some of the questions included are actually asking the same thing as other questions.
Ask yourself if some of the sections or questions can be combined or eliminated.
Take a look at past bids and see if companies have been copying and pasting the same or similar information into multiple sections. If so, you’ve found the redundancies.
Be clear (with your own team).
If your team is unclear about what it’s trying to accomplish, and that ambiguity is written into the RFP, you will get the same vague responses in all of the bids, making it very difficult to distinguish between one piece of software and the next.
To get the best bids — and, subsequently, the best software for your school — everyone on your team needs to be clear and united in your goals and priorities.
By more clearly explaining your objectives in your RFP, you will force respondents to address, directly and in detail, your exact concerns. Each school software company will have to explain specifically how its software will help you meet your goals.
Add a plain-language rundown.
In order to be clear with the required technical information, schools must write their RFPs in highly formal language. This is important for legal reasons and to make sure all the specs of the software product meet the school’s needs.
But what about exceeding your needs without any or much extra cost? Most software will come with additional functionality beyond what you originally were looking for. Some will have these capabilities built in, while others offer the possibility for integrating with add-on products or services at the time of purchase or down the road for scalability.
If you don’t need or want these “extras,” it’s still important to know that you may be paying for them in the cost. By knowing what you’re actually getting, you may be able to benefit from every last bit of what the software can do. Or, maybe you can work with the software provider to scale down the product’s abilities and save some money.
Either way, you’re not going to know what you’re really paying for if you don’t include an open-ended question or two asking about it.
We recommend including in your RFP a section that, in plain language, lays out the challenges your school is facing and what the idea is behind your goal. Make it conversational but to-the-point.
In doing this, you will get a better, more accurate sense of what the software is and what it can do. Think of it as a section where companies can inform you about the “X factor” that makes their product truly unique. This will help you to distinguish between products, bids, and companies.
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