Change is inevitable, so might as well embrace it. Over the past ten years, we have lived through unprecedented change, driven by advances in technology, the pursuit of sustainability, shifting demographics and economic volatility.  As a result, we have seen a dramatic impact on the way that we live and work, which has forced evolution of the way we design space. And yet, in the midst of such remarkable change, the RFP process remains virtually unaltered.

RFPs often treat goods and services as a commodity, rather than a strategic business partnership with long-term impact and value. In our personal choices, we all understand the cost-to-benefit “value equation” in selecting the cars that we drive or the homes that we live in, so why do we not apply the same standards to qualifying key business partnerships? Yes, companies care about cost, but they also want value and quality. And more and more companies are realizing that image, brand and aesthetics matter. Yes, Design does matter!

Corporate accountability obligates companies to use due diligence to ensure competitive value, but there’s a better way to get results than dusting off the same RFP that’s been used for 20 years. Times have changes, and so should the RFP. The traditional method of assessing space needs, analyzing building options, qualifying workplace design services and finally building, furnishing and operating workplace solutions is no longer guaranteed to accomplish the desired result.

Why?  Victor Lombardi of Razorfish noted,  “Clients writing RFPs have a difficult task: they know they need outside expertise, and yet they have to describe what they want without having the needed expertise.”

So how do we write a better RFP?

While most firms would far happier if customers reviewed the fiel, and then selected the provider that best meets their needs and mirrors their business philosophy, unfortunately, it’s usually not that simple.

What does an RFP do?

  • Define project goals and objectives
  • Outline the proposed process to achieve it
  • Define the baseline qualifications / team requirements
  • Define fee structure and the proposed evaluation process

What should an RFP also do?

  • Define Company background, current culture and the intent of the project
  • Clearly define a core scope of services
  • Allow respondents to illustrate Team chemistry and “raise the bar” by outlining unique value
  • Question and qualify long-term relationships

To be clear, it is not only the RFP that needs to change, but the attitude of those responding. Firms want to know who their competition is – and that is appropriate. In what other level of life do we compete without knowing our competition? It’s only fair to know who you are competing against, so that you can determine the odds, the risk, and whether or not it’s a level playing field and knowing the evaluation factors can help determine if it’s an appropriate opportunity to invest in. Those that step up and give 110%, despite the perceived “upper hand” of an incumbent, just might deserve a closer look. At the very least they will keep the existing service provider on their toes! And who really wants to review a lengthy response from a team that is not giving their all to win?

The design process has evolved, so should the scope of services.  A broad range of experts can influence the success of any project, and the weakest link could define the standard for the overall result:

  • Real Estate Services
  • A&D Firm (workplace innovation, strategy)
  • MEP
  • Specialty Consultants (IT, AV, sustainability)
  • Furniture (manufacturer, dealer)
  • General Contracting / Construction Management
  • Move  Management
  • Change Management

A less-than-effective evaluation of any one of these team members could dramatically impact the result.

So how do you qualify experts without being an expert?

Step One (Qualify – objective)

  • Evaluate basic team qualifications
  • Firm / Team experience
  • Core competencies
  • References

Step Two (Quantify & Qualify – more subjective):

  • Evaluation of Pricing – not just the lowest cost, but best value
  • Team presentation and “fit” – which team do you want to work with?
  • Effort expressed in understanding the opportunity – who stepped up?
  • Unique and creative project approach and compensation model – a better way?

And one final thought – many RFPs prefer to pull pricing out and make it a three-step process. If you went shopping for a penthouse condo and a basement apartment on the same day, people would raise an eyebrow. Let’s be candid, price is always a key component of assessing service providers, so let’s keep it firmly in the equation and determine best value and not lowest cost.

Let qualified, informed, competent respondents compete fairly and enthusiastically for a well-defined core scope of services, with the ability to “spread their wings” and show their unique abilities and everyone will all end up happy. The most brilliant real estate, design and furniture solutions are useless if they do not properly address the Client’s needs, and it all starts with the RFP.

By Kay Sargent is Director of Workplace Strategies at Lend Lease  and Mark Jones, Vice President, Newmark Knight Frank Devencore.