RFP is Not a Four-Letter Word
Some time ago, we were looking for someone to help us through the discovery phase of our website upgrade project. We issued a “Request for Proposals.” Phase 1: Show us that you have experience. Phase 2: If we’re interested, we’ll set up a meeting, you make your pitch, and we decide.
We got responses from some great firms. We ended up picking a really good one, and it was a great project.
But some consultants we wanted to hear from said, “I don’t do RFP’s.” Seth Godin recently wrote, “If it gets to the RFP stage, you lost.”
How did the RFP get such a bad rap?
When I worked for a marketing agency, we responded to tons of RFP’s, from public and private clients. Some we won, some we didn’t. Most were fair, but not all of them. That’s life.
I think I understand the issue.
RFP’s conjure memories of horrible rule-driven, price-based procurement. Public agencies are especially bound by these rails. The people I know who work in government don’t love them, but they have no choice. It’s torture, but it’s the law.
But simply winging it is not the answer for someone like me – believe me, I’ve learned that the hard way. So I need some process to cast a wide net, review multiple proposals, and make a smart decision. So I’ll call it an un-RFP.
I’m looking for help on a different project these days. When I sent out a notice last week on a few ASAE listservs, I was careful not to call it an RFP. I didn’t want to scare anyone away. I asked for names of consultants or agencies who could help us with a particular problem. I got lots of responses – not surprising in this economy.
I want someone who seems best suited to help us with our problem.
I want to make a decision based on the facts, not emotion, so there is some structure, but not a lot.
I want to be fair. So to the greatest degree possible, it’s transparent. I don’t share who’s bidding, but I do share the criteria and the process.
Price is surely a factor, but not the dominant factor. In fact, we have often turned down the lowest bid, because we thought someone else who cost more would do a better job.
So how do I find the best people for my project? Probably by doing exactly what I did – I asked my professional community for advice.
But please – if you see a little structure or process behind the request, don’t freak out. It’s part of the game I need to play.
Besides, how you handle the review says a lot about how you’ll handle the project.