RFPs: Really Frightful Process
By Elen Bahr
Folks, we have an industry-wide epidemic and its called the RFP. Formally known as Request for Proposal, I put the RFP into its own category: Really Frightful Process. In fact, I don’t respond to them any more. Sure, I’d like to increase my client base, but the time and effort needed to respond to an RFP is often inefficient and not helpful to the client or the vendor. I’ve heard this from many agencies and consultants. We prefer to make personal connections where a dialog will replace paperwork and where we can get to know the potential client as much as they’d like to get to know us.
If the intention of an RFP is to find a strong partner for your project, put more time into getting to know each other and less time into drafting a long document.
Before you begin an RFP process, consider that you may not need one. If you have a hefty network – perhaps LinkedIn or a professional association – putting a shout out for a specific type of vendor will most likely get you at least one referral from a trusted source.
Whether your write an RFP or not, consider these five tips for engaging a new vendor:
- Specifics: Be clear about your desired outcome. “We want to increase sales by 25% to these target markets” is more helpful than “We want to grow our business.” Or, “We want a new content management system that will integrate content from our six U.S. field offices” is better than “We want to publish content more easily.”
Well-qualified respondents: Think quality, not quantity. Leverage your networks for referrals but don’t stop with the name of the recommended vendor. Get in touch with the referer and ask specific questions. Has the vendor done projects similar to yours? Has your contact worked with the vendor personally or can they introduce you to someone who has?
Interaction: Once you’ve chosen your short list of vendors, meet with each one for a capabilities presentation. Talk to them about what you really want to know. Give them a high-level explanation of your upcoming project so they can tailor their presentation to you. Give the vendors a fair shot at letting you get to know their true value. Pay close attention to the chemistry between your two groups. You’ll interact with your new vendor a lot during your project. Make sure you hire someone you will enjoy working with and who will mesh well with your organization.
Transparency: Be honest with the vendor. If there are organizational challenges like limited staff resources, for example, say that. Give the vendor the chance to tell you how they’d augment your staff. Please provide a budget range. Your requested project can most likely be done in a number of ways. Give the vendor a chance to show you what they recommend within your budget. Let the vendor know that you’re open to rationale if they see your budget as too low or too high.
Q&A: A lot of it. Allow for some back and forth so the vendor can ask clarifying questions. An RFP document or an email on its own lends itself to misinterpretation. Asking questions and having conversations up front will save you time when you receive the vendor’s proposal.
One final thought: Embark on the vendor search process from a place of trust. Share information openly and require your potential partner to do the same. Shared success is a beautiful thing.