How can you ensure your RFQ stands out?

I was reminded just how confounding the requests for qualifications process can be when my architecture firm recently received 14(!) such requests from the same municipality in one day. Each of those requests included the same deadline, which forced us to limit the number of responses we provided to the city.

RFQs, as they’re often called — also requests for proposals, or RFPs — are invitations for architects to submit their firm’s qualifications to design a specific project. Based on the qualifications received, the client then typically identifies three to five firms to interview and ultimately awards the job to one of them.

RFQs usually (but not always) are issued by the purchasing department for a city, county, university or other public entity, and the number of involved staff members with RFQ experience can vary dramatically. As a result, some RFQs are more appealing to responding firms based simply on how they are written and the information they request.

Our firm and our competitors receive RFQs on a daily basis, and responding to them is the primary role of people in any architecture firm’s marketing department. In fact, it’s not uncommon for companies to spend many thousands of dollars in staff time working on a single RFQ.

With that kind of effort required, a quality RFQ that is well written and organized, requests only information relevant to the specific project and provides reasonable deadlines is much more likely to result in a quality response. This is because design firms can only respond to so many RFQs at any given time.

The economy also can be a major factor in the RFQ response rate. In robust times, more entities undertake construction projects, and design firms subsequently receive more requests. The opposite is true in a downturn.

During busy times, though, firms sometimes have to be selective and attempt to discern the RFQs that provide the most likelihood of resulting in strong working relationships and positive outcomes for both the firm and the client.

10 Elements every RFQ should have

How do you grab our attention? Here are 10 elements every RFQ for a public project should include:

1. Definition of the owner (city, county, university, etc.) and operator (if different)

2. Project background

3. Scope of work

4. Project goals and objectives (timeline, financing, etc.)

5. Deliverables (hard copies vs. electronic copies or both)

6. Page limits

7. Desired number of proposal copies you’d like to receive

8. Decision-making criteria

9. Address of where to send RFQ responses (do not use a P.O. box)

10. Deadline day and time (Example: Thursday at 2 p.m.)

Five more tips for RFQ success

Additionally, here are five tips to help your RFQ stand out and be considered a priority request.

1. Only request what you really need. Some RFQs require design firms to provide a lot of data that might not be relevant to the project in question or could be more easily covered in the interview (more on that in a future post). Public procurement in most states is a highly regulated process with respect to professional services, so be aware of the rules in your state. For example, it is often illegal to ask for fees until after a qualifications-based selection has occurred.

2. Avoid overly relying on a template created from multiple sources. No two RFQs are the same, because no two projects are the same. Combining pieces of multiple RFQs from different projects to write a new RFQ is a haphazard strategy that can lead to a confusing request. As a result, some qualified respondents might struggle to respond or even pass in favor of the RFQ in their other hand.

3. Share how you would like the proposal to look. If, for example, you don’t set a page limit, some firms might submit a 100-page proposal that nobody on your team has time to digest. An ideal page range is between 30 and 50 pages, which should be enough to allow most firms to provide the information requested in a graphically appealing format. You will save yourself time if you identify how many sheets of paper are acceptable on a double-sided print response. Otherwise, we’re going to ask that question.

4. Allow a minimum deadline of three weeks for firms to respond. If the project schedule has room for more time, consider stretching that a little. Doing so will allow interested firms to provide a more comprehensive response.

5. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t receive the hoped-for number of responses.  As stated earlier, firms inundated with deadlines might not be able to respond to every opportunity, even if they are interested. They might be unable to provide the specific information requested within the given timeframe, or they may have trouble understanding the RFQ. When in doubt, consider calling a trusted peer or reputable firm to request an example of an effective RFQ similar to your project. Doing so can save you lots of time and make your RFQ more desirable to a greater number of design firms.

Next time, I’ll focus on how to make the interviewing process most effective for both project owners and architecture firms.