Link of the Week: Why an RFP May Guarantee You Don't See the Best of the Best

Tom Searcy shares in this post an experience where he advised a client to decline a request for proposal.

When looking for a new vendor or partner of some sort, everyone says they want the best possible partner for their goals given what they have to invest. Yet, too many requests for proposal appear designed to actually push those companies away. They are overly prescriptive, include pages of legalese, and ask irrelevant questions. Send it to too many firms and the best will drop out simply because the percentages aren’t in it.

The best, healthiest, companies have criteria for which prospects they want to pursue. Especially for a growing company, bad business is often worse than no business. Check out Tom’s post and some of the links he shares to get a sense of how the other side of the table approaches this.

A poorly designed or overly distributed RFP is unlikely to draw the best candidates. You may be left sorting the chaff while the wheat goes looking for a better baker!

9 thoughts on “Link of the Week: Why an RFP May Guarantee You Don't See the Best of the Best

  1. I declined an RFP this week -based on how poorly it was written and the process they were following. I agree 105%, a poorly constructed process and a poorly written RFP will certainly guarantee poor results. Thanks for sharing this post David!

  2. I too pass on responding to RFPs because I don’t get the opportunity to discuss the issues with the potential client to identify what are the real goals and problems. Since so many consultants dislike RFPs and most agree you won’t get the most for your money why do so many firms continue to use them? Fear? Laziness?

    Everyone wants to get the best for less but as with all other things in life you get what you pay for. A good consultant will spend time with the client to get at the issues and determine if the consultant is the right fit for the job. I have declined projects because it is not a good fit (in retrospect there were a few times I should have walked away and didn’t – hard lesson to learn). I want to be successful for my client and for me. My reputation is what’s important and with a bad one I won’t get any more gigs.

  3. As always, there are two sides to the coin. Sure, you should 100% analyze a RFP carefully and decide whether your time is best spent chasing that opportunity.

    Not all RFPs are worth a proposal!


    That RFP that you got that was awfully constructed, poorly thought out, etc. could be a blessing in disguise. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about a fantastic opportunity that, because of an awful RFP, received only a minimal # of proposals. The simple act of you responding could have qualified you as a finalist.

    Don’t squander a great opportunity in the form of a bad RFP

    Prime example was the City of Austin TX RFP for a website overhaul. They sent the RFP to over 200 firms yet only received 3 proposals. 3. The project was valued at $704,088. One of the firms that responded was twice the winning price, and the other company was deemed non-compliant.

    The firm basically won by being able to complete the project (on paper) and having put in the time to respond to the RFP.

  4. That really seems like the exception that proves the rule from the perspective of those responding to RFPs. You can’t build a business on long shots like that.

    More importantly from the issuing side, it’s a serious abdication of responsibility to issue a bad RFP to that many companies for anything more complex than acquiring toner cartridges.

  5. It’s hardly the exception, and I can easily name at least a dozen other instances, that was just a fairly recent and high profile example. As the owner of the RFP Database, I follow up with each issuer of a RFP to find out how the site performed for them. Did it get them more respondents and better proposals? Almost unanimously yes. And I hear story after story about how most previous RFPs had received very few proposals and the organization was often left choosing the only one that fit the criteria, not the best one to fit the criteria.

    One of my other favorite stories is regarding my town of Northampton MA that had space they wanted to develop in the center of town. They issued a RFP and only received 2 proposals, one from a hotel developer (who was going to pay $1 for the space) and one from an office building developer (who was going to pay a whole lot more). The hotel developer won… but then the locals got upset that they didn’t have enough options and that the city didn’t negotiate the best deal.

    I’m in no way saying that you should chase every RFP (as my previous link stated, not all are worth a proposal), but what I am saying is that you shouldn’t simply throw out a RFP because it’s written like crap. How’s that saying go? If you’re not the leader of the pack the view from behind never changes?

  6. You’re arguing both sides of the issue while promoting your RFP site, David!

    Chasing bad RFPs in the hope you’re one of the few crazy enough to bid on it is insane and a sign of poor sales talent.

    I do agree that if you already have a strong relationship with the issuer or can otherwise short circuit or improve the process, go for it.

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