by By Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | September 01, 2009

Just when the industry was getting used to working with procurement, the landscape has changed again. In the wake of cuts to their internal departments, some companies have outsourced procurement to third parties. Whether you're a corporate planner working with a procurement partner to create a request for proposal, or an agency responding to an outsourced procurement RFP, below are some guidelines on how to work with third-party procurement firms.

Planner Tactics
For in-house planners now required to work with a procurement partner, keep these  best practices in mind.

RFPs first. Too often, companies and planners let the procurement firm create the RFP content and structure, and weed out the first-round responses. A better idea is for the planner to partner with the firm in the development of the RFP questions, structure and scorecard (how the responses to the RFP are measured).

Although procurement firms generally are highly qualified and invaluable in the RFP-writing process, they can't anticipate everything a meeting professional will want in the proposal. Such firms prefer that planners provide significant input in the development stage, so they can better provide informed guidance and advice, as well as ensure specific corporate requirements.

Don't play favorites.
Though it's easier said than done, it's in the planner's best interest to not share their vendor preferences with the procurement firm. The planner's biases can affect the firm's objectivity -- and the planner may miss out on some significant savings and/or phenomenal new suppliers.

Work with the coach.
Every RFP should have an assigned "coach" from the procurement firm, a main contact who addresses all questions from the RFP participants. The coach also should be responsible for establishing and maintaining a fair playing field for everyone involved in the process. This includes ensuring that proposal responses are measured with a completely unbiased eye. You can create an effective checks-and-balances system by reviewing and co-designing the criteria for the scorecards the coach uses to compare proposals.

Agency Tactics
If you are a third-party agency or supplier whose client now outsources its purchasing, following are tips for creating proposals that meet the criteria for the client's procurement firm.

Prepare customized responses. Craft proposals carefully and thoughtfully, even if they need to be turned around quickly (typically within a week). RFPs are designed to enable procurement to eliminate weak or inappropriate suppliers straight away.

Agencies responding to RFPs should not think one size fits all with regard to their responses. Each answer must be customized; to most procurement firms, a canned response is one of the worst offenses a potential supplier can commit.

Follow directions. Agen­cies should use the documents and structure provided. Directions should be read meticulously to demonstrate the firm is compliant with requirements outlined in the RFP process. The reason: Procurement firms need to be able to compare responses to proposals side by side; if a proposal is difficult to assess in any way, it will be eliminated from the process.

Highlight uniqueness. Pricing is, without question, the primary factor in procurement firms' scoring process and ultimate decisions. But firms shouldn't neglect to illustrate how unique their company is or the creativity they bring to the table. A supplier's unique skill sets and resources certainly are valuable commodities.