RFP = Really Flawed Process
I’ve just completed my first, last, and only experience responding to an RFP.
I know, you’re probably wondering how someone with 25+ years of experience in marketing has never been on the pitching side of an RFP.
Just lucky, I guess.
Now that I’m a seasoned veteran of the process, allow me to pontificate.
RFP must stand for Radically Fugged-up Process.
Besides crowd sourcing, where else do professionals prostrate themselves in supplication to prospective clients in the naive hope they will benefit?
“Hey kids! I’ve got an ill-defined project and some money. If you help me flesh it out with your free professional expertise, I will promise to let you compete to become part of our procurement process.”
With every step, the probability of actually getting the gig diminishes.
“Oh… we only have half the budget relative to your bid. Still interested? If so, what do we get for half the cost?”
Half of the deliverable, I s’pose. Which half do you need? The first half? I thought so.
“We really like your pitch? Would you consider doing Phases 1 and 2 for half the remaining budget? (25% of the original estimate.) We’ll get someone else to do Phase 3.”
Well of course, I’d love to chase half of half the original project. It’s why I exist. To execute fractions of the original work scoped in your RFP.
“Oh… the group really, really, really needs you to be here, in person.”
Really? Really, really, really? Hey the 90’s called. I told them they needed to appear in person. They’re sending a fax.
When your initial proposals are the obvious framework that the procurement officer used to build the RFP, you tend to believe you have an inside track. Even though you also feel like you did the hard part of his job.
When you are asked to present your revised scope of work and answer any questions via a video conference call, you again tend to think you’re “in”.
When most of the prospect’s participants in the video conference call sit off camera, even though they are asked to move into the framed shot, you tend to rethink your prospects.
Both prospects. The likelihood of your actually getting the project and just who these mysterious committee members really are, or at least what they look like.
When the procurement officer offers no information proactively, you give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to strained resources of time.
When you would like some insight into the probability that you might get one half of one half of the original project, you realize you’re a complete and total whore.
Prospective clients use the RFP process as professional camouflage to distance themselves from actual responsibility, from actually deciding anything.
It’s not about objectivity, and ensuring unscrupulous vendors don’t screw them. It’s quite the opposite. The procurement office and agent add no value to the process. Zero.
What they do add is time. Endless time. And a completely bulletproof process where no one is accountable or responsible for a decision or outcome. Nobody needs to make the call and explain why you didn’t get the project. “The committee felt we needed to go with the local firm.” Then why the prolonged process that wastes the time and talent of several firms? “To ensure we get the most bang for our buck.” Good luck with that.
RFP’s are as unhealthy to professional consulting work as speculative creative work. Every self-respecting professional should stop responding to them. They are a complete waste of time, multiplied by the number of firms involved. A sinkhole for time, energy, and productivity.
When responding to an RFP, you are engaged in a theoretical discussion, complete with documents scoping the hypothetical project, created by a purchasing agent who has no real understanding of the actual project and process.
A committee sits in judgment on the merits of your proposal – your hypothetical proposal meant to solve their hypothetical problem.
Wow. Does it get any farther away from real work than this? Not in my world. All this, in preparation for actually getting to square one on any given project.
God bless the poor bastard who actually gets it. It’s not an actual project, because there is no actual customer. There is a committee charged with finding the best firm to solve their collective hypothetical problems.
Again – good luck with that.
I’m going to get back to concentrating on helping actual customers – real people with real problems – solve their problems by working with them as a partner, responsible and accountable to each other.
In that relationship, there is no room for such a radically flawed process as an RFP.