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Rethinking the RFP process

Many HR teams start re-evaluating their benefits technology in the first few months of the new year—a time when, fresh off annual enrollment season, their current vendor’s shortcomings are top of mind.


Unfortunately, this timing can contribute to an unconscious bias toward a new vendor that will simply “patch over” the problems you identified. The resulting request for proposal (RFP) becomes a litany of complaints rather than a framework for achieving your short- and long-term organizational goals.

It’s time to ditch the duct tape.

RFP is not an abbreviation for “run from problems.” I like to call RFPs—the good ones, anyway—a “request for progress.”

Take the enrollment experience, for example. If your current platform is complicated or unintuitive, you probably spend a lot of resources helping your employees enroll. Frustrated, you may include a question in your RFP like, “Do you have a member call center?” While that’s a good question in a “request for proposal,” it’s not the best one for a “request for progress.”

A better question might be:

“What intelligent and automated tools are embedded within your solution to maximize employee self-service when and where they need assistance, and how have these tools affected member call volume?”

Aligning benefits RFP questions to business goals.

Practical questions like the one above should be included in your RFP, especially if you’re not up on the latest technological advancements. For example, artificial intelligence—the kind that can be used to mitigate those calls to your HR or member services team—is moving so fast, even the experts have difficulty keeping up.

The RFP questions of three years ago simply won’t do.

More important than including questions that reflect—to the best of your knowledge—recent advancements in technology are those that are aligned to your long-term organizational goals. So, before you dive headlong into creating a list of questions for your RFP, step back a bit and try to see the bigger picture.

Are you interested in reducing health care spend? If so, ask yourself what role benefits play—or should play—in impacting this business goal. Are you finding that your employees aren’t maximizing the benefits they already have (e.g., mental health resources, telemedicine, periodic health screenings, etc.) thereby contributing to poor health outcomes and higher health care spend?

Great. You’ve identified the connection between benefits and a business goal.

Now, how do you ask potential vendors about this in your RFP? Here’s an example:

How does your solution leverage data to drive an omni-channel engagement experience that ensures employees maximize the use of their benefits?

As soon as you start thinking in terms of positively affecting business outcomes, these questions will start to write themselves.

More examples of smart RFP questions for benefits technology.

Another hallmark of a great benefits RFP is that they are complete. By that, I don’t mean “long.” I mean that they clearly convey:

  • Relevant information about your organization.

    Like employee demographics, their familiarity with technology, company growth plans, unique populations (e.g., union members), etc.

  • The ideal future state of your benefits programs.

     This includes administrative efficiencies, your goals for employee engagement, what “great” member communications look like, etc.

  • The services you want the vendor to provide.

    Services like enrollment and eligibility, COBRA administration, carrier billing reporting, administration of consumer accounts like FSAs, decision support tools, an in-network provider search engine, etc.

Great RFPs also intentionally leave out the irrelevant questions. This guide, for example, has over 300 templated questions for benefits RFPs. Just because they’re in the guide, though, that doesn’t mean you must ask them. Ask only those that are aimed at helping you achieve your business goals, realizing your ultimate benefits vision, and procuring the services you know you’ll need.

Don’t fall prey to the adage, “It doesn’t hurt to ask.” Remember, each question you ask will result in an answer you’ll have to read and evaluate.

Looking for more inspiration? Register for our Feb. 8 webinar, Benefits RFP? Ditch the duct tape! 

Benefits RFP webinar

View all Posts by Rae Shanahan