It’s the golden rule of writing.
The secret to a successful document is to consider your audience.
For procurement documents, it means you need to address the different needs of:
- the vendors and service providers who’ll respond to your request
- your internal team (or possibly consultants) who’ll evaluate the responses.
To address both of these needs, it’s essential for you to consider how vendors and service providers will interpret and use your procurement document.
After all, they’re the document’s primary audience.
And the quality of your request to them has a direct bearing on the quality of responses you’ll receive.
Be clear about what it is you want
The procurement document (or suite of documents) is one that is guaranteed to be read and re-read. Members of multiple bid teams are going to repeatedly pore over each and every section.
So you need to be crystal clear about:
- what it is you’re asking for
- how you specify it
- how you explain what you want from respondents
- how you describe (or provide) the way that information is to be presented.
I’ll go out on a limb and say that at least one of these aspects (sometimes all of them) is not addressed very well (I’m being polite, here) in the many procurement documents I’ve seen.
How not to do it
I’ve seen RFPs where Part A doesn’t mention what the request is for, and just launches into the conditions of tendering.
There are the ones where schedules to be completed and returned are in the middle of the document … a PDF document.
And it’s very frustrating when, within the same response schedule, most response requirements have spaces for answers to be provided, while other response requirements are stated without any indication of how or where the answers are to be included.
I remember an RFQ which explained how and where to lodge the response, neatly set out under the heading Lodgement of Offers. But the closing date and time were buried in text three pages later. That’s neither logical nor helpful from the respondent’s point of view.
How to do it
Think about taking readers on a journey.
This is particularly important in complex documents like RFPs and RFTs.
You need a well thought-out structure, which keeps all related information together under clear topic and section headings.
And you need to clearly and consistently stipulate your requirements for the responses.
Remember, the procurement team isn’t your primary audience
Your organisation most likely uses a template to create procurement documents. Now, I love templates. But they need to be developed with some forethought.
(If you don’t have them, it’s worth developing templates for your RFIs, RFPs, RFTs, etc.)
Don’t be afraid to question the structure and wording of a template just because it’s the one that someone, at one time, decided was the right one for the organisation.
The people deciding such things might be procurement experts (or, if you’re really unlucky, lawyers), but they aren’t always documentation experts.
And besides, you’re the expert in knowing what you want to buy and how you’ll know you’re buying the right one.
Remember, the primary audience of the document isn’t the procurement team (or those lawyers). It’s the vendors and service providers you want responses from.
Sure, there has to be all sorts of stuff in the document that ensures a valid tendering process is explained and followed. Just take care to write it and structure it in a way that benefits the primary audience: the respondents.
Which reminds me of an RFP I worked on …
Picture this: I arrive at a client to help put together an RFP, and I’m given the latest version of their template. The version wasn’t 1.2 or 3.0 or anything standard like that. It was ‘latest version’. Latest version!
This made me concerned about the quality of the template.
Thumbing through it, my concerns were realised and I knew I was in for a struggle with this client’s procurement team.
What I wanted to do was make the document as easy as possible for respondents to read, understand and use, and by doing so help the evaluation team with the task ahead of them.
I think my constant question of ‘what does this mean?’ (accompanied by a pained expression) eventually paid off — I was able to make wholesale changes to the document.
As it turns out, I must have done something right because I was asked back to assist with other RFPs.
What would vendors and service providers say about your procurement documents?
So, off you go; now is the perfect time to start a review of your procurement document templates.
If you don’t have templates, then start developing them.
And here’s a thought: why not ask people who have responded to your RFPs how easy they found them to read, understand and use?
Go on, I dare you.
Do you want better procurement documents?
This post is one of a series. Read the rest and find out:
- how to get the best results from your RFPs and other procurement documents
- the secret to successful procurement documents
- 4 ways to make them clearer
- 3 tips to improve your response requirements
- how to get better results with the right templates