Requests for proposals – Get the best value when asking for services

Timo Liebig

by Timo Liebig

You need a service for a certain aspect of your biopharmaceutical development program? Depending on your needs, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the wealth of service providers out there. If designed well, a simple tool can be of tremendous help to you: A request for proposal (RFP) document. All information required for the service provider to generate a work proposal in line with your needs should be captured in that document. 

RFPs commonly contain at least the following areas: (i) scope, (ii) timelines, (iii) pricing and (iv) deadline for responding to the RFP. 

In the project scope, the services you require should be thoroughly with all necessary details to understand the needs. You may need input from other members of your organization to adequately describe the services you require. Operational or logistical aspects are often assumed to be trivial, like the transport of goods (e.g. samples for analysis) across countries, which can be a logistical and tax procedural nightmare. Make sure you ask which responsibilities your service provider shall take over and what remains under your control. 

Next, spell out by when you need the services. Do not wait with samples ready to be shipped and ask for an analysis next week. This will likely result in a bad outcome even if you find available service capacities ad hoc. Consider that simply due to resource constraints most services may require significant lead time, so plan well ahead. In addition, you want to run a thorough selection process, which also requires time. Make sure you align with your team upfront on the most important drivers for selection, i.e., previous vendor experience, meeting a specific timeline etc. This will facilitate your selection process down the line. 

The price should automatically be included in the resulting proposal, but you may want to request that specific cost components are highlighted, e.g., underlining costs that will arise but are not included (like raw material costs, handling fees or any potential penalties). If those costs cannot be precisely described, they should at least be included as estimates based on previous experience of the service provider.  Be cautious not to make pricing the most important factor in the selection process; quality and timelines or additional factors can be at least as important!  

Last but not least communicate the deadline by when providers shall submit the proposal and by when they can expect feedback. This will manage expectations and gives the other side the opportunity to provide timely feedback if a proposal cannot be generated at the expected due date. Be realistic with the timelines. Usually, the providers should have 2-3 weeks to create a proposal tailored to your needs. Also allow for additional time you may need for clarifications related to the proposals. Refer to Figure 1 for an outline of a potential vendor selection timeline.

Figure 1: Roadmap to vendor selection

Consider running a two-tiered process, e.g., receiving proposals from 5-10 providers and doing a more thorough analysis of the best 2-3 to select your final provider. Spreadsheets documenting your selection process with pre-established key selection criteria will streamline the process. 

Creating RFPs that allow you to find your most suitable service provider with free capacity can be cumbersome. Benefit from our years of experience to ask the right questions. We will design an RFP in close collaboration with you to maximize quality and speed for your development program. Boost your program with our knowledge and get in contact with us. 

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