Help Me, Help You — A Project Engineer’s Take on RFPs

Written By: Ahmed Arif

Help Me Help You
End users… can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. We love our customers. They keep us in business. More importantly, they make the world go round. BUT, we do need to talk…

In this day and age, it’s absolutely crucial to develop a sound Request for Proposal, or RFP. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for custom-built equipment, an automated system, consulting services, etc., there are several key advantages to taking the time and effort to create a good RFP, such as:

  • Comparison: There is no way to compare vendors “apples to apples” unless you spell out what you want to compare us on. If you are too vague, vendors will interpret BOMs (Bill of Material) differently, defeating the purpose of an RFP.
  • Fewer Surprises: Writing a sound RFP means you are less likely to run into surprises once a vendor is selected. Let’s face it. No project in the history of HISTORY has gone 100% perfect.
  • Time: The better the RFP, the less time it will take to get your quotes back. It’s a win-win!

As you read along, you will notice this article is not a how-to on RFPs. Instead, it is key information that you should think about as it relates to your projects. I don’t need to waste your valuable time telling you how to write an RFP. There are numerous templates on the web you can download, or you can revamp your existing ones.

Some of you have corporate-driven RFPs that follow a specific format, and that is great, especially if they are clear, concise, and properly organized as they relate to the desired objective. If you don’t have a specific RFP format, developing one that is well-written will take time and planning; however, the benefits of being able to compare proposals which use a common format will make your job much easier when it comes time to select a qualified vendor.


Detailed RFPs will allow you to better compare vendors apples to apples.

A word of caution–if your company has technical specifications that vendors are to follow (especially if they look like the Manhattan phone book…you know who you are), it is advised that you take the time to find the tricky areas that might contradict some of your RFP requirementsor are major areas you want the vendors to pay close attention to. Failure to do the aforementioned will result in questions from all vendors that pay close enough attention to your RFP to notice the potential issues, OR WORSE they miss it all together — and that is a lose-lose. This also goes back to ensuring you get quotes that are comparable from all the vendors.

When writing the RFP, make sure to explain how the awarded vendor will be selected. Often times it is assumed that price is the deciding factor, but more and more companies are making the decision based on lead times of equipment (or overall completion date) as it relates to the bottom line. If there are other variables that will affect the final decision, make sure you mention that.

Finally, if you don’t know what you want or how to do it, ask your trusted vendors to come in for a vendor meeting. Describe what you envision, but also clarify that you’re not sure what you want. Ask vendors for ideas, suggestions, and possible solutions for your problem. Most integrators are willing to take a couple of hours to help you. Keep the meeting informal, and make it clear you are at the infant stage of the project. Be upfront, open, and honest.

Ahmed joined Bastian Solutions in 2008 as a Project Engineer and as since served in various roles including outside sales, project engineer, and project manager. Before joining the team, he received his BS in Mechanical Engineering Technology at Purdue University. Today, Ahmed is Regional Manager of Bastian Solutions Indiana and Chicago.

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