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Starting Off Strong: 5 Tips for Issuing an Effective RFP

Starting Off Strong: 5 Tips for Issuing an Effective RFP
Posted on Tuesday, January 15, 2019 by Rae Shanahan

January is here and that means it’s time for new beginnings and fresh starts, including with your benefits technology.


Maybe you hit some snags during Annual Enrollment last year and want to see what other solutions are out there. Maybe you had a great experience and are looking for similar services but need to evaluate price points. Whatever the motivation, if you’re an HR professional looking to make a technology change, now is the time to assess potential vendors to make sure your organization has the tools your employees need to successfully enroll in, manage, and understand their benefits.

But issuing an RFP can be a daunting task — it has to help you glean meaningful information so you can make responsible decisions. What can you do to ensure you’re asking the right questions and, just as importantly, getting the right answers? Start with these five tips for an effective RFP:

  1. Just looking? The first question to ask yourself is, are you ready to evaluate proposals from vendors, or are you seeking information to decide if proposals are necessary? If you’re not sure of the criteria you have in mind — i.e., what service you need or what product your organization was lacking last AE season — it may make more sense to issue an RFI, a request for information, instead of an RFP. Vendors will still share valuable details but it’s more of a fact-finding activity rather than choosing a vendor.
  1. Say what you mean. If you’ve chosen to issue an RFP, your guiding principle should be to avoid vague questions. Whether you’re asking vendors about their prior experience or their communications capabilities, the more specific questions you ask, the more relevant answers you’ll receive. And while all RFPs will require a degree of follow-up questions, asking vague ones in the first round will only waste time — both yours and the vendors’ — by making it necessary to ask additional clarification questions after the initial responses are received.
  1. Use numbers. How can you make your questions specific? Use hard numbers. Do you need call center support? If so, ask if a vendor can handle a specific number of calls in a certain amount of time. Perhaps you’re looking for an enrollment kit to be printed out and mailed to your employees. Specify the number of pages you want to see printed, the number of employees at your organization, and how many states the kits would be mailed to, and you’ll gather much more valuable responses from vendors than asking an open-ended question.
  1. Get IT involved. Data security must be paramount in your vendor evaluations. Rather than asking yes or no questions about audits or security protocols a vendor may have in place, engage your IT department while you’re in the process of drafting RFP questions. Find out specific capabilities that need to be evaluated before you issue the RFP, and check with your IT colleagues about what documentation they will need to make a thorough assessment of vendor capabilities.
  1. Practice what you preach. We just talked about the importance of asking specific questions to get detailed information from vendors. But communication really is a two-way street, and for vendors to understand your organization and your needs, you have to share specific information with them up front. Provide data on the size of your employee population, and explain your current benefits state as well as where you want to be. Clarity from your side will help vendors craft the most relevant responses, which in turn will lead to more efficient outcomes for all involved.

Read more about what not to ask in your next RFP below!