April 9th, 2012

So you’ve decided to write an RFP.

Great. Before you go any farther, stop and think about what you are doing.

Seriously, stop.

Now ask yourself, what is the purpose of an RFP? Well that’s pretty obvious: You want to find the best company to work on your project—hopefully at the best price! That’s all well and good—I applaud your enthusiasm. But before you start putting together an RFP that looks like a set of demands for the privilege of working on your project, ask yourself if this approach is going to get you your end goal: the company that’s the best fit for your project.

The “R” in RFP stands for request.

Maybe they should be called demand for proposals?

Typically, a request is something you put forward when you are asking someone to do you a favor—like asking someone to put hours of their time into a proposal that you aren’t paying them to assemble. So why insist on writing an RFP that reads like a list of demands?

A condescending, heavy-handed tone isn’t going to make me want to fill out what amounts to an enormous form. If you also demand I format my response a certain way (ie. including a table of contents for me to follow) you only decrease the likelihood of a response. The only way any of us can afford to sustain the RFP system is by having a pre-existing template that we work from—not one that we have to reformat to meet arbitrary guidelines.

Requests that read like demands may simply dissuade the most qualified teams from wanting to submit a proposal at all.

Focus on the project, not the proposal.

Maybe the project itself is actually the proposal?Include your requirements for the project, not for the proposal. I am amazed at how many proposals I get where the list of requirements for the proposal document outstrips the requirements for the site that you want me to build. (This ties into the above too.)

Let’s look a little harder though. The real reason you don’t want to specify the exact nature of the response is that the format of the response tells you more about the company than anything else could. If the company doesn’t send you an adequate response, you’ve learned something. Seeing what someone includes (or doesn’t) tells you what they value, how they plan, and ultimately, whether or not they are competent.

It is the process of conversation, follow up, and delivery that tells us the most about who we want to work with and why.

Don’t waste my time.

Are RFPs against the law in states where gambling is illegal?My enthusiasm for responding to an RFP is inversely proportional to the number of companies to which I think you’ve sent the RFP.

I may think I’ve got a good pitch, and I’m all for healthy competition. But nobody wants to be throwing their hat in the ring with more than a dozen companies. Including details about rounds of selection or qualification is a sure-fire way for your RFP in my trash-bin. If I think that I am bidding against more than a few other companies, I won’t bother. It isn’t that I’m not competitive—I am—but I have better things to do with my time.

Note: I think it is relevant here to state that I have called companies about their RFPs when their RFP specifically stated NOT to call, only to get a relieved Project Manager who couldn’t believe that they hadn’t gotten a single response to their monstrous RFP.

Is your priority cost or quality?

Maybe they have time to respond because they were saving themselves for my project?The next question you may want to consider is this: who would want to respond under the above conditions? It won’t be the best of the best. They are busy working on real leads or better yet, working with clients that value their time.

You will get the hungriest of the hungry, though. The desperate, the people who are starving for work because their referral network can’t cut it. You might also get the biggest of the big: enormous companies with interns whose time they can squander filling out desk-loads of proposals that they have little chance of getting.


Proposals should be a dialog.

The proposal dialog sets the tone for the whole relationship.  It shows us how the other works and it let’s us get to know them. Without a successful proposal dialog, the likelihood of a successful dialog about the project itself is low. You are hiring a professional for their professional services.

If you won’t listen to me, I can’t help you.