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Why You Should Be Blind Scoring Your Vendors’ RFP Responses

Posted by David Wadler on Nov 21, 2017 8:20:00 AM

Imagine…. You’ve just finished an incredible dinner at a Michelin-rated restaurant. It’s the capstone on an amazing day that included massages, spa treatments, and tickets to a show. "It’s crazy," you think to yourself; you’re not even doing business with this vendor yet, but it feels like there is some special connection there. Or perhaps that’s just the wine talking.blind_scoring_RFP_response.jpg

Even under more normal circumstances, it’s difficult to eliminate bias in your procurement process. Ideally, you’d want your team to be as unbiased as possible so that they can judge RFP responses based on merit, and not what they know (or think they know) about the vendors. And while you might have the RFP essentials tattooed on your forearm, improving the integrity of the process can be challenging. A fair, unbiased purchasing process is the ambition of every procurement director, and blind scoring your vendors’ RFP responses is a great way to work towards that goal. 

Blind scoring is a process by which evaluators rate the responses of vendors without specific knowledge of which vendor is tied to which answer. What are the benefits of blind scoring? By adopting blind scoring, a buyer reduces the risk that bias subtly creeps into the purchase process. Of course, there are other ways that a sourcing team can allow an individual vendor to exert undue influence, such as by relying on that vendor to provide an RFP template. While there is no panacea, blind scoring can mitigate the impact of vendors that attempt to curry favor as well as unconscious biases — positive or negative — in the minds of evaluators.

When Blind Scoring is Useful

Let’s say that you are trying to purchase a new CRM for your network of car dealerships. You receive a number of RFP responses and about half are from companies with which you’re familiar. From the start, you may have preconceived notions about these companies, their product, and their reliability. Maybe you have friends who have worked at those companies and you’ve heard about their great work culture; perhaps you’ve heard anecdotes about their products on podcasts. Or maybe you haven’t heard about them at all, which makes you subconsciously dismissive of their offering. These experiences contribute to your opinion on the CRM product you have yet to buy before you’ve read past the name of the company. After all, this is the reason that companies invest so heavily in their brand. They want to drive those preconceived notions in a positive direction.

But you know as well as I do that the brand equity of a company and how well their product fits your needs can be two very different things. You may have heard that Company #1 is reliable, but do they have the numbers to prove that their product has limited downtime? Are they reliable for your industry? Do they deploy their application across multiple locations to prevent downtime? The RFP provides a platform for you to ask questions like these, both qualitative and quantitative, and evaluate the responses.

Eliminating preconceived notions will help your RFP process yield the optimal outcome. The benefits of finding the right vendor are significant along subjective dimensions like “fit” as well as objective ones like “ROI.”

Vendors and the Movement Towards Anonymity

What do vendors think of blind scoring and “anonymized” RFP responses? You may be surprised that the majority prefer them, once they truly understand the implications. We’ve spoken with vendors who, when presented with the idea that Vendorful helps buyers run blind sourcing events, have responded with something less than enthusiasm. “I want to write the RFP for the buyer,” we’ve heard more than one say. But the truth is that vendors usually benefit from blind RFPs as well. Most vendors are not the market leader and don’t necessarily have the support of favorable bias on their side. Nor are they, in many cases, the only party trying to influence the process. By having their answers evaluated on their merits, rather than the perceived merits of the supplier or sales rep, they can compete on a more level playing field.

You may be wondering: if blind scoring is “so great,” then why isn’t it used more frequently? Despite the merits of anonymizing responses, few sourcing teams actually go through the trouble of setting up blind scoring. From our conversations with procurement specialists, we’ve learned that there are two primary reasons for this:

  1. The manual process that most organizations undertake is arduous and time consuming enough without adding additional complexity. While the benefits of blind scoring are significant, there is typically a lot of pressure to “get to the finish line” as soon as possible.
  2. Organizations that have adopted software solutions to run their RFX processes are hamstrung by the limitations of the products they use, which don’t typically support any anonymizing.

Implementing Blind Scoring with a Manual RFX Process

Blind scoring can be particularly challenging when running a manual RFX process. First, it’s necessary to get someone who is not an evaluator to collate all supplier responses. If the responses are being compared side by side — a best practice — the person who handled the collation would omit the actual vendor names from the list. Then, after all the evaluators have completed the scoring, the “collator” shares the names and their associations with their respective responses. This takes quite a bit of time and time, as we know, is money. Although blind scoring ultimately benefits the buyer’s organization, the cost of a manual RFX process can undermine the benefit anonymized RFPs.

How Does Vendorful’s RFP Management Solution Solve the Blind Scoring Issue

At Vendorful, we’ve invested considerable resources to allow organizations to run best practice-based sourcing events with unprecedented ease and speed. As such, we’ve built blind scoring into our standard RFX workflow. You literally don’t have to do anything to anonymize your entire process, ensuring that your evaluators are scoring based on the merit of the vendor response for your specific company, not third-party anecdotes or broad market perception.

See how easy blind scoring can be for your team with a Vendorful trial here.

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Topics: Purchasing, RFP