Some would argue the Request for Proposal (RFP) process for facility services is broken. In our hurried world of information overload, RFP’s are born quickly and unnaturally as Frankenstein-like documents, grafted together from dissimilar service RFPs.
You learn this quickly when you see the stitches and scars left from old body parts having been grafted into the new RFP. You end up with disfigured references like “Unarmed janitorial services” (yes, that was in an actual RFP). The blunt surgery involved in the brutal stitching often results in muddled, generalized and imprecise specifications within the RFP.
Then there is the buying cycle. Buyers work to speed up the buying cycle compressing the cycle into a short time span (1 to 2 weeks). In a compressed time and with imperfect RFP documents, contractors must assess needs, price and value the service in an unnatural, artificial way (from spreadsheets) spawning an offer (or offspring) that bares resemblance to Frankendad’s gangrened, square head. Proposals become data dumps of boilerplate—fat with words, but starving in solutions. And prices tend to be all over the board.
Do your RFP’s resemble a Mary Shelley Frankenstein novel? If so, here are three tips to improve the process:
Many buyers use the RFP to vet all possible contenders. That can be a costly mistake on both sides. Buyers spend time wading through unqualified providers and vendors spend money putting the proposal together. In Varsity Facility Service’s janitorial division, our average cost to prepare a proposal after legal, risk management, marketing and sales touch it, (and after managers and sales people attend bid walks) is $1,600 per proposal. When anyone and everyone is allowed to bid, the smart and best quality vendors learn quickly to focus on the business where their distinctive value can be recognized. This leaves buyers with best of the worst. Prequalifying ensures you have the best contractors to provide you with solutions. Prequalify yourself or select a third-party certified company using ISO, JD Powers or ISSA’s CIMS process.
TIP #2: Stop the Fluff — Go Evidence-Based
Tip number two is how you can insure you stop gaming from those responding to your RFP’s. I call this tip the Evidence-Based RFP. Instead of having them respond philosophically to your qualification questions, require evidence. In my years of hiring people, I found that a candidate who could provide multiple examples of a behavior in both specific and significant terms, was one of the best indicators of whether that person truly possessed that competency or behavior and therefore would manifest it on the job. Those who could only provide me with philosophical generalities typically did so because they didn’t possess the behavior, skill or knowledge or it just wasn’t a strength. I found that the same is true of a company. Make your RFP’s evidence based.
TIP #3: Situation-Based RFP
Broken RFP’s are time consuming because of all the effort to assure perfect, legally tight compliance. The focus on compliance consumes time and takes away from understanding and finding solutions. Most often, buyers think they already have the solution and try to describe it to the contractors in their carefully detailed RFP. Then they try to assure their solution through verbose legal wording. Why put the burden on your internal purchasing or facilities groups for generating solutions? That’s why you outsource to experts or specialists?
We are not stuck in a box. There is a better way. That better approach is what I call Situation-Based RFPs. Here is what a Situation-Based RFP looks like. Instead of focusing on compliance, the RFP focuses on the buyer’s market needs. The RFP is structured to motivate vendors to be true partners in meeting their needs. And it gears the RFP to generate solutions.
Situational-Based RFPs describe the buyer’s business situation and describes how their current facility service fits into the problem, whether it is commercial cleaning, tier one maintenance or handyman services. The situation-based RFP then asks for solutions. For example, a buyer who has customer-facing facilities and is experiencing a branding problem would frame the janitorial or maintenance RFP around improving the appearance of the facility. A company that is in decline would frame their problem around a cost reduction strategy.
By focusing the RFP around real business problems and allowing the contractors to present solutions, not only do you get free, multi-perspective consulting, but you also get real comparison in terms of knowledge, expertise and competency. This leads to deep insight into how the competing contractors will solve problems and partner with you when under contract.
In 2011, Marc's team won the large company category, "Best in the Industry" marketing materials from the Building Service Contractor Association International (BSCAI). Marc also directs Varsity's proposal writing, sales process and tools development, marketing campaigns, corporate website SEO performance and customer support center.
Marc has spent his career developing strategic capabilities that enhance value to customers and the company. A Lean Sigma Green belt himself, he developed the company's Lean Sigma offering, providing an innovative solution to customers' need to lower cost while raising quality. He led the development of JanOPS, an industry-leading janitorial operating system, which brings standardization and service consistency to large campus and geographically disperse national accounts.
Prior to this position, Marc was responsible for strategic management at Varsity. He has initiated or directed multiple strategic technology initiatives, ranging from a corporate website, a corporate intranet, a web/smartphone based quality control system, a learning management system, a corporate content manager and knowledge wiki, salesforce.com deployment and customization, and an Android app which facilitates the GROW sales process he has developed.
Marc is the author of several leadership and management training manuals, field guides, marketing collateral and case studies. He speaks Portuguese and Spanish and holds a bachelor degree in English/Technical Writing and a Masters of Business Administration in Finance from Idaho State University. Marc enjoys mountain biking, skiing, fishing and golf. He is happily married, and he and his wife Victoria enjoy raising and spending time with their four children.