Okay, Our Five Reasons for Not Bidding on an RFP
There are undoubtedly many successful agency-client relationships that begin with a Request for Proposal or RFP for short. There are probably just as many that never had a chance to bloom.
For those of you who don't know, an RFP is a document made available or sent to firms who may be interested in submitting a proposal for a specific contract, project or ongoing relationship.
RFPs – a cost of doing business.
We won't pretend to speak for all our colleagues in marketing, branding, design or other types of agencies and industries but we've never come across a co-worker or even a competitor who truly loves responding to RFPs. They are the cost of doing business. Granted, an annoying and frustrating cost of doing business. In our opinion.
We get that clients need to have some process to make sure they are hiring the right company for the task at hand. We also understand that they need to be able to show that they have followed some level of due diligence and covered certain parts of their anatomy — all good reasons.
However, the process has become such that many firms, including ours, are walking away from responding to RFPs, or at least the vast majority of RFPs. It's worth noting that we are walking away from RFPs, not from submitting proposals. There's a big difference.
Over the years, after RFP submissions that we have both won and lost, we eventually developed a handful of criteria that we use to decide whether we submit a proposal or not.
However, before we get to the criteria we've developed for deciding on whether to submit an RFP response, let's talk about one of the crucial steps that most RFPs neglect to allow for:
“RFPs overlook the value of conversations between agency and client.”
When we look back at the best and most productive client relationships we've had over the years, every one of them started with a conversation. These are, in every case, relationships that have been good for both sides.
An initial conversation between an agency and a client can cover much ground in a short period. It can uncover chemistry as well as areas that could be points of conflict. It can allow both sides to feel each other out and ask critical questions that will enable both parties to determine if they are qualified, available and interested. A short conversation will help assess whether personalities, processes and work styles are compatible.
Getting along, in good times and challenging times, is the key to getting things done. If more companies started their search for a new agency with some research, referrals and a few short exploratory conversations, there would be a ton of time, money and aggravation saved.
Five reasons your RFP is likely to be declined
We have not audited the numbers, but I am going to guess that in the past few years we have politely declined the opportunity to bid on around 9 out of 10 RFPs we receive. Sadly, a number of these projects looked like they would have been incredibly rewarding.
Without further ado, here are our top 5 reasons for saying no to an RFP:
1. Too many firms have been invited.
Our rule of thumb is that, if more than five firms have received an invitation, we will decline. Even at five, we need to think about it. It's nothing personal, and it's mostly math. Being one of five (or fewer) gives firms a much better chance at success than being one of twenty or more. That's the business side of the business.
2. There isn't enough time to prepare a professional proposal.
We once received an RFP the day before the Christmas break that asked for comprehensive bids the day after New Years Day. That's an extreme example, but I hope you get the drift. If an organization is not paying for RFP submissions, it's just common courtesy to give firms submitting proposals enough time.
3. There is no opportunity to speak or correspond with the people we'd be working with on the client side.
This one always surprises us. Our business, like accounting, architecture or management consulting, requires people to work closely together. There should be opportunities to see if there are a fit and an indication of mutual respect and trust.
4. There isn't enough time to do the work.
Bidding on a project or contract where the odds of success are low, and the opportunities for stress and anxiety are high is not good for the health of agencies and the people that work at them. Unless there is a specific reason for an unrealistic timeline, and not merely bad planning, it's time to back away.
5. The scope of work is unclear.
We read one RFP recently that stated bidders were expected to figure out the particulars of the work and submit a detailed budget as part of their bids. For free. Um, no thanks. If an organization doesn't take the time to say what they are looking for, it should not expect others to do that work for them.
To RFP or Not RFP, Perhaps that Should be the Question
There are plenty of other reasons why perfectly qualified firms are likely saying no to RFPs. Bidders conference anyone? If your organization is thinking of issuing an RFP for firms like ours, take the time to set yourself and your search up for success. Start by thinking about whether an RFP is a way you should go. It might be best to start with a conversation.