Why RFPs Are Bad for Your Business

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    http://www.flyteblog.com/flyte/2008/06/why-rfps-are-ba.html
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I just got another RFP (request for proposal). You think I’d be happy. Another opportunity for business. Another opportunity to sharpen my writing skills. Another opportunity to dedicate a couple of hours of my day into tailoring a proposal for Web design and Internet marketing that I will then deposit into a black hole. (Oops…I let my snarkiness show.)

The company that sent me the RFP? Never heard of them. We have no previous relationship. They got our address wrong.

I don’t know if they got my name and hundreds of others from a phone book or if they carefully culled vendors down to three based on word of mouth and previous experience.

I don’t know if they’ve already made their decision–say, for the brother-in-law of the marketing manager–and just need two other proposals to keep up appearances.

The fact that the date on the cover letter is June 13th, 2008 and the submission deadline is May 16th, 2008 doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies. In fact, nothing about an RFP gives me the warm fuzzies.

Why Your RFP is Bad for Your Business

Imagine you sent out RFPs to a few dozen prospective dates, like you
were running your own reality TV show. Do you think you’d get responses
from the best looking? The smartest? Your soul mate? Or just the most desperate, with lots of time on his or her hands?

Angelina
RFPs are a filter that turn away good vendors and let in desperate ones
who will jump through any hoop to get business. Vendors who have more free time than business acumen.

Good, busy vendors don’t have time for faceless RFPs unless there’s something SERIOUSLY sexy about them. (Angelina Jolie: feel free to send me an RFP.)

The purpose of the RFP (I assume) is so that you can compare apples to apples. However, when you’re talking about the service industry, that’s impossible. There are a lot of great vendors out there who I might compete with, but their proposals will look nothing like mine.

Good Web sites (and many other things) require a partnership between
vendor and client. It’s a relationship. Good relationships start with a
conversation, not an RFP. Asking for staff bios won’t get you a better
Web site. Asking a vendor how they can drive more qualified leads to
the site and how they can help you convert them might.

There’s a time and a place for RFPs, but they come after a conversation with perspective vendors, not before. Yesterday I received an RFP from a associate who I do know, and we’ve had a number of positive conversations in the past.

You can be sure I’ll respond to hers.

Rich Brooks
Angie, I’m Waiting…

  • http://blog.pursuebusiness.com Dan

    Amen! As far as I'm concerned RFP's should come from the government…and the only ones you should respond to are the ones you already know you're going to win. You are absolutely right…business starts with a relationship. Sometimes people forget the effort required to produce a proposal. If you are any good at what you do, you are going to put good quality hours into a proposal…and wasting time sucks. You should call and say WTF…or just send them an executive summary proposal with an overblown quote.

    Dan

  • http://blog.pursuebusiness.com Dan

    Amen! As far as I'm concerned RFP's should come from the government…and the only ones you should respond to are the ones you already know you're going to win. You are absolutely right…business starts with a relationship. Sometimes people forget the effort required to produce a proposal. If you are any good at what you do, you are going to put good quality hours into a proposal…and wasting time sucks. You should call and say WTF…or just send them an executive summary proposal with an overblown quote.

    Dan

  • http://www.flyteblog.com Rich Brooks

    Dan, you probably would have liked the original title of this post: Screw You and the RFP You Rode In On.

    Just seemed a bit harsh…don't know why.

  • http://www.flyteblog.com Rich Brooks

    Dan, you probably would have liked the original title of this post: Screw You and the RFP You Rode In On.

    Just seemed a bit harsh…don't know why.

  • http://www.flyteblog.com Rich Brooks

    Dan, you probably would have liked the original title of this post: Screw You and the RFP You Rode In On.

    Just seemed a bit harsh…don't know why.

  • http://www.fivetechnology.com Aaron | MN Web Design

    Rich, glad someone else feels the same way … although I would think any respectable web pro would agree. RFP's for me just means low price shopper. How about value?

    I often find that the RFP is poorly constructed and that a committee of web novices just threw out some ideas without any strategy, reason or exploration behind it. So they ultimately want a quote on the wrong way to go about things.

    I've also had RFP asking for design ideas to be submitted with the proposal. Oh great, let me give you our creative talents, 8 to 20 hours of design time for a mock as well as a 12 page proposal for free … so that you can show the cheapest bidder what it should look like.

    Sorry for the rant. :)

  • http://www.fivetechnology.com Aaron | MN Web Design

    Rich, glad someone else feels the same way … although I would think any respectable web pro would agree. RFP's for me just means low price shopper. How about value?

    I often find that the RFP is poorly constructed and that a committee of web novices just threw out some ideas without any strategy, reason or exploration behind it. So they ultimately want a quote on the wrong way to go about things.

    I've also had RFP asking for design ideas to be submitted with the proposal. Oh great, let me give you our creative talents, 8 to 20 hours of design time for a mock as well as a 12 page proposal for free … so that you can show the cheapest bidder what it should look like.

    Sorry for the rant. :)

  • http://www.fivetechnology.com Aaron | MN Web Design

    Rich, glad someone else feels the same way … although I would think any respectable web pro would agree. RFP's for me just means low price shopper. How about value?

    I often find that the RFP is poorly constructed and that a committee of web novices just threw out some ideas without any strategy, reason or exploration behind it. So they ultimately want a quote on the wrong way to go about things.

    I've also had RFP asking for design ideas to be submitted with the proposal. Oh great, let me give you our creative talents, 8 to 20 hours of design time for a mock as well as a 12 page proposal for free … so that you can show the cheapest bidder what it should look like.

    Sorry for the rant. :)

  • http://www.simplenomics.com Mike

    I personally like the first title … a lot !

    Can you come up with a title for the next series of special reports I'm gonna do that's as good as that one ?

    If so, I'll send you an RFP !

    sorry. Couldn't resist ;-)

  • http://www.simplenomics.com Mike

    I personally like the first title … a lot !

    Can you come up with a title for the next series of special reports I'm gonna do that's as good as that one ?

    If so, I'll send you an RFP !

    sorry. Couldn't resist ;-)

  • http://www.simplenomics.com Mike

    I personally like the first title … a lot !

    Can you come up with a title for the next series of special reports I'm gonna do that's as good as that one ?

    If so, I'll send you an RFP !

    sorry. Couldn't resist ;-)

  • Jonathan

    Well put Rich! In a former career, I spent many an hour responding to these pesky little intrusions.

    The GSA (General Services Administration) website (gsa.gov) is a haven for those who just can't respond to enough RFP/RFQs, and it only takes about a year of paperwork to become eligible to submit proposals!

  • Jonathan

    Well put Rich! In a former career, I spent many an hour responding to these pesky little intrusions.

    The GSA (General Services Administration) website (gsa.gov) is a haven for those who just can't respond to enough RFP/RFQs, and it only takes about a year of paperwork to become eligible to submit proposals!

  • Jonathan

    Well put Rich! In a former career, I spent many an hour responding to these pesky little intrusions.

    The GSA (General Services Administration) website (gsa.gov) is a haven for those who just can't respond to enough RFP/RFQs, and it only takes about a year of paperwork to become eligible to submit proposals!

  • http://www.afterthelaunch.com/blog Shama Hyder

    Okay, Rich, I am about to save you a lot of time here. = )

    Our RFPs (get this..) are 2 pages (MAX!).

    One line (courtesy of Alan Weiss): "We feel proposals are summations and not explorations."

    Works EVERY time!

  • http://www.afterthelaunch.com/blog Shama Hyder

    Okay, Rich, I am about to save you a lot of time here. = )

    Our RFPs (get this..) are 2 pages (MAX!).

    One line (courtesy of Alan Weiss): "We feel proposals are summations and not explorations."

    Works EVERY time!

  • http://www.stormpilot.us The Storm Pilot

    Very nice. Interesting perspective. The more we tackle faceless RFP's or leads for that matter – which result in lengthy emails, back/forth and proposals, the more we realize that good quality conversation should be the place to start. Thanks for reminding us once again that we can't hide behind the digital medium. We can use it to our advantage, but we have to do business in 'reality'.

  • http://www.stormpilot.us The Storm Pilot

    Very nice. Interesting perspective. The more we tackle faceless RFP's or leads for that matter – which result in lengthy emails, back/forth and proposals, the more we realize that good quality conversation should be the place to start. Thanks for reminding us once again that we can't hide behind the digital medium. We can use it to our advantage, but we have to do business in 'reality'.

  • http://www.stormpilot.us The Storm Pilot

    Very nice. Interesting perspective. The more we tackle faceless RFP's or leads for that matter – which result in lengthy emails, back/forth and proposals, the more we realize that good quality conversation should be the place to start. Thanks for reminding us once again that we can't hide behind the digital medium. We can use it to our advantage, but we have to do business in 'reality'.

  • http://www.jennings-mazda.co.uk/ Mazda

    totally true. RFP are just a waste of time. nothing beats a real conversation between 2 parties, which may create good relations.

  • http://www.jennings-mazda.co.uk/ Mazda

    totally true. RFP are just a waste of time. nothing beats a real conversation between 2 parties, which may create good relations.

  • http://www.jennings-mazda.co.uk/ Mazda

    totally true. RFP are just a waste of time. nothing beats a real conversation between 2 parties, which may create good relations.

  • http://www.buymyscripts.net php scripts

    I agree with why RFPs is bad for your business as it is a waste of time as no responses will get back from the other parties. Face to face conversations is much better than RFPs.

  • http://www.buymyscripts.net php scripts

    I agree with why RFPs is bad for your business as it is a waste of time as no responses will get back from the other parties. Face to face conversations is much better than RFPs.

  • http://www.buymyscripts.net php scripts

    I agree with why RFPs is bad for your business as it is a waste of time as no responses will get back from the other parties. Face to face conversations is much better than RFPs.

  • msf

    Maybe it's because I run a contracting company that deals with the five sided building, but jeesh are RFPs really that bad?

    For starters, one would hope/think that your business offerings are clearly defined enough so that you a: only bother with RFPs that are in your area of expertise and b: you'd have enough boilerplate about what you do to answer at least 50% of any RFP of interest without even reading the RFP. It's your business – you should know what you do. If you've got to recreate documentation about your line of business every time you write a response, spend a little time on the old whiteboard figuring out what it is you do. Service companies that are all things to all people suck.

    If you are spending hours writing responses for work that you know you won't get who had got the problem here – you or the client who sent an RFP/RFQ? And if you are just trolling and sending out a response to every RFP… well, you're a meathead.

    You can often use your response to RFPs as a way to frame your discussions with potential clients. We use them regularly as a means to properly determine scope and as a gentle way to help clients remove their heads from their asses.

    Lastly, and this totally reflects my contractor-whore bias, but there are more than a few times where the SOW and contract get so mangled over time with mods that going back to the RFP is the only way to get the work effort back under control. Go through a couple of years, have a few COs change and it's quite possible the client has no idea what they really want anymore. In that case the RFP almost becomes like a document from the Founding Fathers, and a great way to save your ass.

    On an unrelated note – It was great to see you Rich. Any luck in finding Bula?

  • msf

    Maybe it's because I run a contracting company that deals with the five sided building, but jeesh are RFPs really that bad?

    For starters, one would hope/think that your business offerings are clearly defined enough so that you a: only bother with RFPs that are in your area of expertise and b: you'd have enough boilerplate about what you do to answer at least 50% of any RFP of interest without even reading the RFP. It's your business – you should know what you do. If you've got to recreate documentation about your line of business every time you write a response, spend a little time on the old whiteboard figuring out what it is you do. Service companies that are all things to all people suck.

    If you are spending hours writing responses for work that you know you won't get who had got the problem here – you or the client who sent an RFP/RFQ? And if you are just trolling and sending out a response to every RFP… well, you're a meathead.

    You can often use your response to RFPs as a way to frame your discussions with potential clients. We use them regularly as a means to properly determine scope and as a gentle way to help clients remove their heads from their asses.

    Lastly, and this totally reflects my contractor-whore bias, but there are more than a few times where the SOW and contract get so mangled over time with mods that going back to the RFP is the only way to get the work effort back under control. Go through a couple of years, have a few COs change and it's quite possible the client has no idea what they really want anymore. In that case the RFP almost becomes like a document from the Founding Fathers, and a great way to save your ass.

    On an unrelated note – It was great to see you Rich. Any luck in finding Bula?

  • msf

    Maybe it's because I run a contracting company that deals with the five sided building, but jeesh are RFPs really that bad?

    For starters, one would hope/think that your business offerings are clearly defined enough so that you a: only bother with RFPs that are in your area of expertise and b: you'd have enough boilerplate about what you do to answer at least 50% of any RFP of interest without even reading the RFP. It's your business – you should know what you do. If you've got to recreate documentation about your line of business every time you write a response, spend a little time on the old whiteboard figuring out what it is you do. Service companies that are all things to all people suck.

    If you are spending hours writing responses for work that you know you won't get who had got the problem here – you or the client who sent an RFP/RFQ? And if you are just trolling and sending out a response to every RFP… well, you're a meathead.

    You can often use your response to RFPs as a way to frame your discussions with potential clients. We use them regularly as a means to properly determine scope and as a gentle way to help clients remove their heads from their asses.

    Lastly, and this totally reflects my contractor-whore bias, but there are more than a few times where the SOW and contract get so mangled over time with mods that going back to the RFP is the only way to get the work effort back under control. Go through a couple of years, have a few COs change and it's quite possible the client has no idea what they really want anymore. In that case the RFP almost becomes like a document from the Founding Fathers, and a great way to save your ass.

    On an unrelated note – It was great to see you Rich. Any luck in finding Bula?

  • http://www.bizgetit.com CAC7137

    I can understand where you are coming from. Would you agree that shorter and more precise RFPs with a shorter shelf life would be more beneficial?

    I run a company called BizgetIT and we help SMB's create RFPs for IT service providers. These are short and sweet documents that lay out all the information that is needed but nothing more. They give the vendors what they need and organize the thoughts of the SMB.

  • http://www.bizgetit.com CAC7137

    I can understand where you are coming from. Would you agree that shorter and more precise RFPs with a shorter shelf life would be more beneficial?

    I run a company called BizgetIT and we help SMB's create RFPs for IT service providers. These are short and sweet documents that lay out all the information that is needed but nothing more. They give the vendors what they need and organize the thoughts of the SMB.

  • http://www.bizgetit.com CAC7137

    I can understand where you are coming from. Would you agree that shorter and more precise RFPs with a shorter shelf life would be more beneficial?

    I run a company called BizgetIT and we help SMB's create RFPs for IT service providers. These are short and sweet documents that lay out all the information that is needed but nothing more. They give the vendors what they need and organize the thoughts of the SMB.

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