The Problem With RFPs

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Congratulations, your firm has been selected by our firm to respond to our Request for Proposal.  You and 20 of your closest competitors will now be forced to participate in an expensive, mind-numbing process you will not succeed at and that will only serve to frustrate you. You will be asked to respond to anywhere from 20-100 pages of incomprehensible questions, most of which are irrelevant. Many of these questions will also be rephrased. At the end of this process, we will simply stay with our incumbent vendor and most likely will not even read your response. Thank you for participating.

I hate RFP’s. There, I said it. I despise them. I know I am not alone.

I believe they are useless and the process is broken. The only ones who win in the RFP process are the companies making web based RFP participation tools that only serve to further commoditize the market.

I believe the only thing worse than an RFP is an RFP handed to me by Justin Bieber. Written by Joan Rivers. Proofread by Mike Tyson.

Actually, I think it would be much more fun to read the above referenced RFP than one prepared by some some nameless consultant pulling random questions together compiled from previous RFPs written by other nameless consultants.

The following are 3 actual questions I responded to a few years ago from the SAME RFP. I only made one of these questions up.

  • What are your philosophies about quality?
  • Please provide information about your quality philosophies.
  • Do you philosophize about quality and if so, how often?

Most clients and consultants engaging in this process have no idea how much time, energy and money is expended responding to a typical RFP.  To them it represents a box that needs checking and that box is going to get checked one way or the other.

The problem, however, is that the best RFP responses are written not by the best companies, but by the companies with the largest marketing departments. Beautiful folders, teams of editors, multimedia, and gorgeous graphics all highly customized to make that RFP sing.

The process is set up to insure that the best vendors, the ones doing truly unique and groundbreaking work, are not only never chosen but are never truly given an opportunity at the business. Only the safe ones with the best marketing departments make the cut.

It’s incredible, yet this exercise is perpetuated every single day of the year across most industries. I am as much as fault as anyone.

A friend of mine once gave me some of the best advice about RFPs I have ever come across. He heard it from a former colleague and made it a hard and fast rule himself. He never participated in an RFP unless it met one of the following 3 rules:

1) His company was already the incumbent vendor

2) He helped write the RFP

3) He personally knew the decision makers

That was it; unless one of those 3 criteria was applicable, the RFP was politely declined. Sound advice. But it’s easier said than done and always tough to heed when you believe you have a real shot at the business.

I am sure most companies who routinely make RFPs a part of their vendor due diligence believe in their efficacy. Their intentions are pure. But unfortunately RFPs are partnership killers not partnership creators. The end result is rarely the best vendor, but instead the best marketer.

After almost 20 years in the outsourcing industry, I have participated in hundreds of RFPs and countless RFIs. The grand total of projects I have been awarded from the RFP process is 2. In both cases, we were the incumbent vendor.

It’s time to stop the madness.

Matthew Achak

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