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Before Launching Your RFP, Communicate with Internal Stakeholders [SERIES]

Hillary Femal

This is the second post of our series on pallet RFP best practices. Check out the first article on hosting site visits for bidders.

Without the engagement, understanding, and alignment of internal stakeholders, the RFP process may not achieve the desired results. Here's how to communicate with all stakeholders to ensure everyone is working toward the same end game.


One of my favorite quotes from management guru Peter Drucker has to do with communications: 

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”

As an experienced sales professional, I’ve learned first hand how true Drucker’s statement is, whether it’s watching the body language of my audience while presenting a proposal or understanding market conditions and how it’s affecting a prospective customer’s decision making.

But there’s a new truth that has emerged in the increasingly digital world in which we do business: you can’t assume everyone can “read between the lines” and walk away with the same critical information. This is true in small companies as well as larger, widely dispersed organizations; we all rely on electronic communications. Today, we have to over communicate and seek input from all stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page and working toward the same end game.

This is particularly crucial in request for proposal (RFP) situations. The procurement team may have a clear vision for an RFP, but without the engagement, understanding, and alignment of internal stakeholders, the RFP process may not achieve the desired results.

That’s because an RFP with unclear drivers and goals will lead to submissions that vary widely, making the decision making process a nightmare and the end results questionable.

Before setting out on your next RFP, make sure you communicate with internal stakeholders so everyone “hears” and acts upon the same message.

Step One: Engage and Include

Step one in this process is understanding and defining the drivers, objectives, and desired outcome of your RFP to secure stakeholder alignment. You need to go beyond the procurement team to include end users of the pallets, finance and ops. And this isn’t just one-way communication. Think about who in your organization has the most to gain or lose from the prospective supplier, and thus from a successful RF­P. Input from stakeholders is critical to understanding drivers and setting accurate goals.

Set up short meetings, conversations, or listening sessions with key leaders and departments. And while leadership input is crucial, go beyond and talk with the “boots on the ground” to understand any additional factors that impact your business. Individual contributors may be unaware an RFP for a new supplier is underway and have unique insight. They could share other problems – or opportunities for improvement – that a prospective supplier just may be able to solve.

Step Two: Understand What’s Important

What’s driving your RFP may be obvious to you, but not so clear to others, particularly those far afield. Having buy-in on your drivers is key to setting goals and ultimately a successful RFP. Here are typical drivers:

  • Dissatisfaction with current supplier.
  • Financial pressure such as the need to reduce costs, identify additional revenue streams or gain operational efficiencies.
  • Merger/acquisition or other expansion of operating locations that has brought new sites to your existing program or created the needs for a national program.
  • Changes to your pallet specifications or the addition of new pallet specifications to your existing purchases.
  • Desire to centralize pallet purchasing to ensure transparency of purchasing volumes and costs, deploy best practices across all operations or identify a vendor that better aligns with your culture or operations.
  • Outsourcing – desire to mitigate market fluctuations and manage costs through outsourcing of pallet program and/or related labor, or to move on-site operations off-site.

Step Three: Align and Set Goals

Next, get on the same page. Set goals based on the agreed upon drivers. Here is a list of questions to help start the discussion:

  • What does the ideal pallet program look like for each internal stakeholder group
  • What benefits will the ideal pallet program bring to each group?
  • What works in our current pallet program? What specifically do we want to change?
  • How much change are we willing to undertake? Do we want the same program with a different supplier(s) or are we open to new ideas?
  • How will we know if our new pallet program has succeeded? How will we measure the value?
  • What are each stakeholder group’s “must haves” in a pallet supplier?

Once these questions are answered, the procurement team should have a wealth of information to formulate and communicate very specific requirements for potential suppliers in the RFP. The clearer the communications, the less people have to read between the lines to determine what isn’t being said in your RFP and the more consistent the bids. And that’s something we all benefit from in an RFP!

Our next topic in 48forty’s RFP informational series addresses how to build a realistic timeline for an RFP.