10 Things I Hate About the RFP Process by Jeff Ginsberg @dad_ftw

Some businesses like to use RFPs (Requests for Proposals) because it standardizes the process of evaluating a supplier. Many purchasing decisions are based on complex requirements that need to be addressed. RFPs are the quickest way to understand if the vendor is capable of servicing your needs.

Though it sounds like a great idea, I will tell you why I hate RFPs!

  1. Companies don’t tell all about their RFP process. They typically do not disclose to whom and how many providers they have sent the RFP. In many cases they do not send it to their top three or four prospective suppliers, which they’ve already selected (at least unofficially).
  2. Who the hell can read 100 RFPs? In many situations, we have been in an RFP battle with over 100 companies. At the end of the day, no one can properly evaluate 100 RFPs. There are not enough hours in the week to even begin to review that many dead trees. And if there were, the person evaluating 100 RFPs could never give enough time to do each one justice.
  3. The RFP process removes the human element. In order to establish relationships between requesting companies and submitting businesses, it is best to meet, talk, and take the time to see if values and goals align. There is very little communication, and in some cases it is even prohibited, in the RFP process. Consider this: Would you hire someone to work with you that you never met?
  4. There is no feedback after rejection. If I could learn from past errors, it would improve my chances in the future. In many instances companies will not let me know how I stacked up in the RFP process. Even though I spend 30 hours, 50 hours, or more on preparing the required documentation, when I fail to be hired the requesting companies will not tell me why.
  5. RFPs can stifle a company’s creative side. Often the RFP process is a checklist of requirements and does not allow for a company’s creativity to shine through. Companies may even get penalized for going outside the boundaries of the RFP structure. Digital marketing is not an assembly line of ho-hum interchangeable parts; it’s a skillful and dynamically creative process honed to produce each customer’s ideal solution.
  6. The quality of RFPs varies widely. Okay, I am being way too kind. Some of them totally suck! They appear to have been put together at a moment’s notice by someone who hasn’t the first clue what to ask for. Or they seem to have a little of everything from every individual who has a stake in the matter. Poor quality RFPs make it hard on the vendor to properly respond.
  7. Inadequate turn-around time is common. The RFP request-to-submission process is often restricted to two weeks or less, and this eliminates many prospects from participating or putting forth their best effort in preparation. Sometimes the best providers are busy with ongoing projects that are a greater priority when the RFP comes along. Too bad, so sad if they can’t wait for me.
  8. Some RFPs ask for trade secrets. Give me a break! They want to know exactly how I do what I do (my special talent). They want me to break it all down into a granular formula with each separate item priced by time spent and expected results obtained. They ask me to compare and contrast that detailed information with their current campaign (with which I am not even familiar!). All this work and divulging of trade secrets for a mere chance at this one job? Not likely. How do I know they won’t just take all my strategic tricks and tactics and use them going forward with their own personnel? All that work for no pay makes Jeff a dull boy – that’s what I say.
  9. Procurement departments should stay away from the RFP process. RFPs are often executed by those in the procurement department, and in many cases they have no idea about online digital or email marketing. Procurement departments are ideal for buying reams of paper, cardboard boxes, and pencils by the truckload. Why would you ask your procurement department to step outside their comfort zone and make decisions when it comes to evaluating marketing technology?
  10. RFP responses are too often requested on paper. Who does that anymore? Why are we printing anything that we don’t need to print? They want multiple copies? What about those trees? Am I not being evaluated as a digital supplier? Why can’t we just get that pattern set up from the get-go? Why do I have to ask these obvious questions? Why do I hate the RFP process? Why, indeed?!

So, now you know a few of the reasons why I hate the RFP process. Don’t even ask me to fill out your form or answer all your questions on paper. If you want to understand what I can do for your company, please invite me in for a coffee, let’s have a conversation, and see if we can build a relationship.

Takeaway:

As a technology vendor or service provider, if your clients put you through the hoops and hurdles of an RFP, then be prepared to fight an uphill battle. RFPs are unfair, time-consuming, and in many cases the best provider does not win.

Meet the author:

Jeff Ginsberg

Jeff Ginsberg

20+ year email marketing veteran who wants to help NewBees BEEcome eMail Marketing Ninjas. Want to contribute to our blog? We are always looking for eMail Marketing Ninjas to come share their knowledge and help NewBees create and send better eMail messages.

Connect with: Jeff Ginsberg

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  • Jaak
    April 1, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Yes, there are things not to like about the RFP process.

    But, things do change. It’s usually required that an organization makes it clear what their RFP process is and how it will be awarded. This is called “Contract A” in Canada, and it’s taken pretty seriously. Settlements have occurred for less.

    If you are getting swamped with RFPs, separating the wheat from the chaff is crucial, so is increasing turnaround time. Give us a call or read our blog for some great starting points.

    Asking for Trade Secrets or poorly worded RFPs…this is a bone of contention, and it’s good for someone to state it.

    And the paper costs alone is a large bone of contention. I have seen this asked for a Green Strategy RFP. The mind can boggle.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    • Chief eMail Officer
      April 1, 2011 at 2:54 pm

      Hi Jaak…

      Thanks for your comment. I can see from your approach that this is one of the areas you are quite familiar with.

      I like your advise.

      Jeff

  • Elliot N.
    October 2, 2012 at 10:06 am

    I see a lot of poor quality RFPs which, in turn, yield poorer quality responses. We share a lot of gripes about RFPs but at the same time they don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. I spend some time putting up examples of good and bad and discussing them. Hopefully this will influence authors to put more effort into their work and therefore result in a better process overall.

    • Chief eMail Officer
      October 4, 2012 at 10:52 am

      I don’t think the RFP will ever go away and they can be useful in some situations. At the end of the day, I still don’t like them and refuse to participate in them.

  • Neil
    January 10, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    I casn understand where you are coming from, however the more “reputable” companies will be required by thier practice and compliance teams to be open and transparent. As for paper, only the less advanced groups are still using this. Have a look at the large offering of cloud based RFP suites, no paper and much more transparent and certainly evaluatiuon is lot easier.
    While I can certainly agree with you thoughts, there are many better practices out there that require relationships to be built as part of the process and do indeed save trees.
    Cheers

    • Chief eMail Officer
      January 11, 2013 at 9:59 am

      Thanks for the comment Neil.

      One of my big beefs is being invited to particpate without even a first meeting.

      In the end, I prefer to build my relationships face to face and will save the trees along the way.

      Jeff

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