The request for proposal became a tool of choice in B2B communication for plenty of good reasons. For one thing, RFPs seem to offer a practical way of explaining what services are being sought. As a business owner, it can be appealing to simply say, “This is what we need. Now tell us what you’ll deliver.”
At the same time, RFPs force potential vendors to compete by allowing a business to look at them side by side and compare apples to apples. When two service providers write proposals about the same project, it’s easy for a business owner to look at price points and skill sets and then decide which would provide the best bang for the proverbial buck.
But I’m here to tell you that it’s time for the business community to let the RFP die. While it might seem like an RFP facilitates communication, much ends up being lost in translation.
It might seem like an RFP facilitates communication, much ends up lost in translation.
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Let the Chef Cook the Meal
There’s a certain irony to the logic behind an RFP.
In theory, you’re approaching a vendor because you respect what its skill set has to offer your business. Ostensibly, you should want this expert you’re seeking to take a good look at your company and discuss what is necessary to meet your goals. However, with an RFP, you’re taking a position that states you already know what you want or need, and now you just want the experts to explain how they can and will perform a series of tasks to meet those expectations—no more, no less.
In truth, this might not do anything to further your company’s goals. The whole point of approaching vendors is to let them drive the conversation a little bit to discover how they can deliver the maximum value. A list of tasks provided in an RFP doesn’t do that. If anything, it limits the vendors by not allowing them to flex whatever expertise they have to offer.
When you go to a fancy restaurant, for example, you rely on the expertise of a chef to provide you with something delicious. If you order a dish and then try to change it by saying, “Hold this, and take out that, and I’d like to have it prepared in this way,” you ignore the expertise of the chef and entirely miss the point of fine dining.
Your company has specific pain points that have to be mentioned. But those should come up naturally in the course of conversations you’re having with the experts you’re considering working with—not crammed into a list of demands. If you’re going to a company to take advantage of its expertise in certain practice areas, let them show it off. An RFP doesn’t help them do that.
3 Nails in the RFP Coffin
The reasons we need to put the RFP out to pasture can be boiled down to three main issues.
1. RFPs Establish Tasks, Not Goals
Success in the modern market is driven by a series of micro-moments that lead to a sale—key action points that drive consumers to convert. Seizing upon these opportunities involves using everything at one’s disposal to create a comprehensive strategy, not simply running down a specific checklist the way an RFP does.
For example, one of our clients had an RFP asking for SEO and a logo redesign. All they wanted was a proposal for those two tasks, but I decided to look at their analytics and data, and I quickly realized that the logo and SEO weren’t the problems; the problem was how they were set up for search—people weren’t searching for what they had to offer.
This client didn’t actually know what they needed, but because they had heard somewhere that SEO and logos were common issues, they didn’t think to ask about anything else. What they really needed was to talk with an expert about their goals as a company and then let us use our expertise to explain how those goals would best be achieved.
Bottom line: You need to make sure that you’re identifying why you need help, not just what you want help with.
2. RFPs Are Inherently Non-Collaborative
When you’re looking for an agency to work with, you want a partner to provide fresh perspective, not an adversary you’re wringing for value. A narrow list of demands will lead to limited results, whereas an open conversation that includes the sharing of big data will help define your company’s goals and generate a meaningful course for moving forward.
For instance, I’ve had clients tell me they’ve been marketing for a year, everything is great, and they’re seeing growth. But when I pull up their analytics, I see that they’ve actually had zero growth in the past year because all they’ve been doing is retargeting efforts. They kept giving RFPs to agencies that outlined what they wanted, but they never sat down with an expert to go over their data and pinpoint what was really going on or where they wanted to go next.
Instead of an RFP, you want to have a more general conversation about your company’s goals and to share your performance metrics with your potential partners. You can’t come up with an effective solution without that collaborative effort.
3. RFPs Are Reactive, Not Proactive
It may be tempting to send out RFPs, sit back, and hope the best solutions find you, but that’s not how business works. Success comes to those who actively search for what they want, not those who wait around with their fingers crossed.
Seek out the best vendor for your needs by reaching out to your network. Read through relevant publications to see who’s getting press, which can be a good benchmark for credibility. Find out who has accomplished goals similar to yours for other businesses.
In the end, it’s pretty simple: Just do your research. Be proactive, and put in the legwork to find the service provider who will best suit your needs. Is there an old saying about birds putting out RFPs to find adequate worms? No. That’s not how it goes. Said birds head out early and get those worms.
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