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Get the Most out of Your RFP Process
Evaluating Screening Vendors: Get the Most out of Your RFP Process

By Robert Capwell  10/1/2007
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The request for proposal (RFP) process can be daunting for companies searching for a best-in-class background screening partner. However, with proper planning and execution, the RFP process will yield positive results and help the company find the best vendor to fulfill its screening needs.

Creating the Request for Proposal

To start the RFP process, determine who is responsible for creating and evaluating the components of the RFP. Put a team together that includes all of the internal stakeholders that will be affected by the result, such as HR, senior management, operations, finance, legal and even IT staff.

Laying out the RFP process from start to finish is critical; a half-baked plan could cost the company thousands of dollars in time and resources if not properly thought through and executed. Once the RFP committee is formed, an action plan complete with timelines, goals and evaluation criteria should be outlined. (Note: It is advisable to allow ample time for all committee members to provide their input throughout the entire process.)

Creating a Request for Proposal for Background Screening

    Create a team to handle the process.

    Outline timelines, expectations and needs.

    Rank factors that are most important in a screening vendor, and create scoring and evaluation criteria.

    Ask relevant questions that address the companys needs and specific industry requirements.

    If using a corporate standardized RFP, remove all questions that do not apply to the screening industry. Asking questions that do not apply to the screening industry makes the process confusing and much harder to get through.

    Note a clear timeline in the RFP for questions and answers, due dates, expected notification deadlines and contract dates.

    Keep to the timelines set. Remember others time and hard work are invested in this process as well (i.e., potential vendors). If the process runs behind schedule, notify the potential vendors and provide them with the new timeline. It saves time and limits the number of return phone calls and e-mails needed to answer status inquiries.

    Read through the RFP before sending. Are all instructions clear and concise? Are there formatting errors? Is anything missing?

    On an environmental note: Go green. Are seven bound copies of the final RFP really needed?

When crafting the RFP questions and selection criteria, remember the key elements of the background screening program. Questions should address main concerns and obtain information about the products and services that are of the most interest and concern to the company.

Start with main topics, such as scope of services, time service, accuracy, customer service, technology, security and confidentiality, compliance, and/or price, and then create questions that address issues that fall under each of these topics. If the company is experiencing difficulties with its current vendor, make sure to ask questions that address these difficulties as well to determine if another vendor can provide the solution.

Defining the companys needs through specifically crafted questions also can help narrow a search down from hundreds of vendors that make up the background screening industry. Therefore, it is advisable to create questions from scratch rather than use a boilerplate RFP questionnaire provided by the procurement department. Although some questions in the boilerplate RFP questionnaire will still apply, see if it is possible to pick and choose what questions are asked.

Uncertain about the questions to list? Ask the vendor for an executive summary or a proposal addressing the key topics outlined within the RFPs scope of services and the companys overall expectations. Regardless of the proposal format chosen, always ask for references from clients with programs of similar size and scope to help the company obtain important feedback about those experiences.

Sample Topics & Questions

Company Profile

  • What is the vendors core focus?
  • Is the vendor owned by a parent company?
  • How long has the vendor been involved with background screening?

Implementation Process

  • Technology Platform: How will the work be ordered and received?
  • Compliance: Is the vendor up-to-date with the relevant state laws? Will the vendor update the company on screening law changes? Will it follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act?
  • Security and Disaster Recovery Breakdown of Services: How do the vendors services match the companys needs? What else does the vendor have to offer?
  • Customer Service: How are the companys questions handled? How long does it take to receive answers?
  • References: Does the vendor have clients that match the companys scope of work and volume?
  • Price: Are services available as packages, la carte or both? What additional fees may be incurred throughout the process (e.g., education or employment verification fees, court fees, implementation expenses or recurring monthly fees)?
  • Viability of Vendor Company: Is the company growing and financially stable?
  • Accuracy: From where and how is an applicants background information obtained? How does the vendor confirm that it is providing accurate information? What databases does the vendor use? How is this information verified? Has the vendor been involved in any lawsuits resulting from inaccurate information?

Once the proposal format is set and questions have been created, document the expectations of potential respondents and set up evaluation and selection criteria. What components are most important to have addressed, and how will respondents answers be rated? Developing grading or scoring criteria will help ensure consistent analysis of each RFP throughout the review process.

Outline the evaluation criteria in the RFP so potential vendors are able to understand what the company is looking for and how their responses will be rated. Price is always a factor, especially when asking the Accounting/Finance Department, but remember the adage you get what you pay for. And thats not always a good thing.

Fielding the RFP: Small Steps Sometimes Forgotten

Identify potential vendors through researching a variety of sources, such as Society for Human Resource Management publications and specific industry associations and conferences. Screening industry web sites, such as the National Association of Professional Background Screeners and Preemployment Services Directory , provide listings of hundreds of screening firms. It is advisable to do research before sending out RFPs so that the company is requesting and gathering information from the vendors that have most piqued the organizations interest.

All components of an RFP are important, especially to the vendor who is reading the information and figuring out how to answer it. Reasonable and well-defined timelines and expectations will provide a higher response rate for the proposal. Clear instructions and concise information also will limit the number of questions that are asked during the Q&A period.

If the company expects potential vendors to follow a certain order or format in their responses, explain those requirements and make sure that the RFPs numbering, labeling and/or bullets make sense and are easy to understand and follow. Outline the process in the RFP so respondents know when a decision will be made, whether there will be a presentation phase and when the awarded contract will start. Most important, read through the final draft of the RFP to make sure everything needed is included and that it makes sense. Errors in RFPs can cause great confusion and often lead to misinterpretations that show up in vendor responses.

Once the potential vendors have been selected, double-check the RFP for the correct mailing and e-mail addresses. Always provide time for potential respondents to submit questions.

Answer all questions, even if they seem evident in the RFP. In many cases, something may appear quite clear, but it may have been misinterpreted by the respondent. E-mail, fax or post the questions and answers to all recipients to provide consistency. Provide ample response time for the overall RFP response (15 to 30 days provides enough time for candidates to research and craft adequate answers).

Be sure that you ask for responses in a format that can be easily distributed and read by the selection committee. An electronic document is easy to distribute and provides accessibility to decentralized stakeholders. If specific forms are required by all respondents because of state laws or are advised by the companys general counsel, remember to provide instructions clearly in the RPF to explain when and how the forms should be filled out and returned. If the instructions and format are user-friendly, each vendor should be able to return its response following the exact requirements. This standardization will make the evaluation process much easier.

Evaluating the Responses

Once the RFPs have been received, have the selection committee review each proposal following the scoring and evaluation criteria. After narrowing the field of vendors, conduct telephone interviews with the provided references. Always check references as part of the decision-making criteria. Talking to references will provide further insights into a vendors true performance. Be sure to discuss the good and the bad with each reference, but remember to keep an open mind, as vendors can have bad days too. It is how they address and fix the issue that should be of interest, as no company is perfect all the time.

Once the select group of potential vendors is identified, ask for an on-site presentation that will provide the opportunity to ask more in-depth questions and kick the tires a bit. Through these presentations, vendors are able to highlight their best features and demonstrate their experiences and offerings. However, be aware of overselling or slick presentations, and remember that if they cant demonstrate it, they probably cant produce it.

Ask the presenters to address specifically what they can do for the company. If an online interface is what the company is looking for, be sure each vendor can provide a live demo. Sample reporting, customer service metrics, industry experience and implementation expectations should be addressed. It is important to be able to obtain a true picture of the potential vendor, so feel free to ask for additional information until confident of the final decision.

Be prepared. The timeline that was set up may have to be adjusted due to uncontrollable situations. In such cases, update all the vendor respondents on the changes, as notification may be important if prices quoted are only set for a certain time period.

Following Through After Selecting the Vendor

The process is not over after selecting a vendor. Always notify the other respondents that they were not selected through a courtesy letter or e-mail. It is also helpful to provide additional feedback and let them know why they were not selected for presentation. If vendors have conducted a presentation, it is customary to provide a phone call to discuss the decision, as they have as much invested in the process at the end of the day as the prospective client does.

Once all respondents have been notified, the execution of a contract and implementation schedule is the last stepand probably the lengthiest piece of the entire process. Be prepared, as it may take a few weeks for the legalities to be ironed out in the final contract. During these final steps, confirm that everyone has the same expectations in regards to service level and management reporting. Also include service or performance guarantees as part of your final contract, and be sure there is an out if the screening vendor does not live up to expectations.

Implementation or onboarding of a new screening vendor could take a few weeks--or potentially a few months, depending on technical integration, training and distribution of forms. It is a good idea for companies to use their current vendor until the entire onboarding process is complete. It is even a good idea to run the current and new vendors in parallel until all the kinks are worked out and the new provider has proved to be the best choice.

If time is taken upfront to create an RFP that addresses all the companys concerns and interests, and that is applicable to the screening industry, then the journey and outcome should be positive.

Robert Capwell is the chief knowledge officer of Employment Background Investigations Inc . and co-chair of the NAPBS Board of Directors.

Editors Note: This article should not be construed as legal advice.

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