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Maximize Research Results by Starting with an RFP, September 2018.

Maximize Research Results by Starting with an RFP (Request for Proposal)

By Tom Neveril, Storybrand Consulting

September 8, 2018

Perhaps you’re familiar with the following situation: Your organization has decided to pursue a research study which will require an outside firm. You may or may not have agreed to all of the objectives of the study, but everyone has agreed on one thing: “We need to get some proposals and costs.”

Why are written RFP’s important?

It’s natural to consider skipping the written RFP step, given our ever-increasing needs for speed and productivity. However, the alternative route to setting up a project; separate phone calls and/or emails, is risky. It tends to sacrifice the level of consistency and detail communicated to each bidding firm. And it allows those firms to take the lead on establishing joint responsibilities (which should be established by the “buyer”). Most importantly, skipping the formally-written RFP means sacrificing two key benefits:

  • Prioritization.  The process of writing an RFP puts the research need into “bigger picture” perspective. Written words beg critical questions: Why is this important? Why not something else? Why now? What could we do with that information? These questions bring current business priorities into the discussion. And when current business priorities drive the research priorities, the results tend to be more practical.
  • Time efficiency.  RFP’s offer an opportunity to clearly define the objectives and expected results, as well as the criteria for evaluating proposals. This reduces the risk of misunderstandings and streamlines the selection process.

So what exactlyshould a written Request for Proposal include?

1. Organizational / Business Objective(s) Driving the Research:

This should begin with brief descriptions of the company, its overall mission, relevant events in its history (like a change in direction), and perhaps industry or social trends affecting the current situation. Then it should proceed with a concise statement of the organizational or business objective. Specific, measurable goals are often helpful.

Example Business Objective:

  • “With current sales leveling off, Widgets-R-Us wants to expand their customer base to include more new users.”

2. Research Hypothesis and Objective: 

Once the business objective has been stated the next question might be, “What do we need to know to reach that objective?” Using the widget example, we might ask, “What is going to motivate first time trial from non users.” And therefore, the research objective might be: “…to understand the non users’ perceptions about first time trial.”

While a broad objective like this is appropriate for comprehensive studies, it might be inefficient for others.
The best way to focus and refine the research is to create a research hypothesis. A research hypothesis puts forth a hypothetical strategy (for achieving the business objective) and invites research subjects to reactto it, sharing their associations, perceptions, and opinions. This focuses and simplifies the research objective; which becomes about ‘proving or disproving’ the research hypothesis.

Example Research Hypothesis:

  • “Widgets-R-Us can expand their customer base by launching a new ‘xyz widget’, because the ‘xyz’ feature will motivate trial by current non-users.”

Resulting Example Research Objective:  

  • “The research will determine whether ‘xyz’ feature is most attractive to current non-users.”

3. Research Target Identifiers:

Having identified a best guess hypothetical strategy and research hypothesis, the research target must be selected to accommodate that best guess strategy.

  • Demographics (gender, age, job title/responsibility, educational attainment, geographic location, household size, marital status, etc.)
  • Psychographics (specific attitudes, preferences, dislikes)
  • Behaviors (product usage patterns, lifestyle pursuits, media consumption habits, etc.)

4. Specifications for Proposal Writing and Selection:

Required details about the content, submission process and evaluation process of the proposals should be included.

  • What contact information must be provided?
  • What areas of credentials must be included?
  • How should proposals be submitted?
  • Are there times when staff will not be available?
  • Are there certain staff who should be contacted regarding the proposal selection process?
  • What role does previous experience play –with target, industry, etc.?
  • When will the ‘winning’ proposal be selected?

5. Parameters for Methodology:

Business-driven methodology parameters for the project should also be identified:

  • Geographical considerations, i.e. certain markets must be explored or avoided?
  • Are there certain types of people or organizations that should be engaged or avoided?
  • Are there any sources of proprietary or existing data (e.g., target databases) that might be helpful?

Importantly:

  • RFP’s should not provide any further specifications about the type of methodology. For example, research RFP’s often suggest –or worse, dictate—research methods like focus groups, phone interviews, mobile device surveys, etc. This eliminates the possibility of introducing a new approach that might uncover valuable insights.

6. Deliverables Specification:

List the requirements for project deliverables.

  • Are there scheduling needs –do the findings need to be delivered by any certain date/time?
  • How many reports need to be created?
  • A topline and/or final report?
  • How extensive must the data citations be?
  • How extensive must the data be?
  • Does the data need to be in any format?
  • Does the report need to be presented in person?
  • Does it need to be distributed to certain people?
  • Does it need to be formatted in a specific software program?

The Final Benefit of the formal RFP process:

The obvious overall benefit of investing time and effort in a formal RFP process is the establishment of high expectations from prospective bidders. But what is perhaps less obvious, and yet equally important, is the expectations that well-written RFP’s set among your colleagues. They are invariably more enthusiastic about the project, more willing to contribute and more inclined to respect your work.

And what could be more important than that?