The damage caused by poorly managed RFPs

Many agencies are surprised to hear that TrinityP3 has to tender for projects, especially with our bigger global and regional clients. That’s right. We have to fill out endless RFPs to win projects that are often worth 1% of what the agency contract is worth that we are benchmarking.

Many of the agencies often crack the joke “You mean there are no pitch consultants for the pitch consultants?” The answer to that is an emphatic NO! We are invariably responding to a request for proposal (RFP) from the procurement team.

The same team that often feels that we are not needed because they could provide the same services we are offering and therefore resent us even tendering. Or a procurement team who are more comfortable tendering for commodities, utilities and direct materials than they are managing a tender for professional services.

Don’t get me wrong; we love the opportunity to tender for business. But only when it is the right business. We ask questions before we agree to tender and if we don’t get the answers or get the wrong answers then we will think long and hard before making a decision to participate. Basically we practice what we preach to agencies.

But I wanted to share with the agencies, and with the procurement teams that ask us to tender, some of the behaviours we feel contribute to damaging the good name of procurement in marketing and more importantly damage the professional reputations of the people involved, who behave this way.

So here they are in no particular order:

1. Why are you inviting me to tender?

If you are going to invite me to tender for your business, at least be able to give me a reason why you are inviting me. I have had numerous procurement people refuse to answer this question because it is ‘outside their corporate guidelines”.

But I have had just as many who have answered only for us to realise they do not understand what we do or our expertise. In one case it was a company wanting us to benchmark procurement practice and not even marketing procurement practice.

2. How many companies are you asking to tender?

Let me know how many companies you are asking to tender. Again, this appears to be difficult for many procurement people. But we need to know so we can determine if this is a process we want to invest our time and efforts to respond.

If you are asking every man and his dog, it is likely just a fishing expedition and we have better things to do. If it is three or four then you have clearly done some homework and we have at a minimum a 25% to 33% chance of being successful.

3. Are you willing to share the process?

Be willing to share the process with us. Is it an RFP only, or will there be interviews or meetings? Will there be rounds where you shortlist and how long do you expect the process to take?

But most importantly STICK TO IT. Or if you cannot and it becomes long and protracted, do not disappear for weeks on end not returning emails or phone calls, because that is simply rude.

We had the decency to work to your deadlines and comply with your requests, so why are you unable to comply with a reasonable request for an update?

4. Who are the decision making stakeholders?

Tell me who the decision making stakeholders are and if we will get to meet them. This is a very reasonable request, but many procurement people running an RFP appear to have a real issue with this.

Let me tell you why we need to know. Because I am personally tired of responding to RFPs run by procurement, only to discover later (and I always find out) that the decision making stakeholders (being marketing who will end up paying for this) were never engaged and never agreed to the RFP requirements, which is why a decision was never made and the project never awarded.

5. Can you provide an indication of the scope of the project?

As part of the RFP, please provide an indication of the scope of the project and the budgetary considerations. Sure, the whole idea of the RFP process is to get the lowest possible cost.

Sorry, I meant the best possible solution. But I recently went through a regional RFP process that dragged on for more than six months. The scope was almost 15 marketers across APAC, with multiple brands and multiple agencies in each market.

We provided a number of possible costed solutions, very competitive because we were aware of the competitive nature of the RFP process and thought we could definitely assist this global marketer across the region.

The follow up was to be asked to cut the proposal many more ways, clearly trying to lower the price of the project. In the end I was told that the cost was way too high and if I could do it for just 10% of the original price I could have the project.

No thanks. And I will be unlikely to tender for your business again if that same person is leading the project.

6. Are your RFP requirements commensurate with the size of the project?

Is it possible to make your RFP requirements commensurate with the size of the project? I have had 20 page RFPs for a $500,000 project and I have had 120 page RFPs for a $30,000 project.

The amount of risk in a project is usually commensurate with the level of investment. Therefore it makes sense that the amount of information you require from me to mitigate the risk is likewise commensurate.

Government RFPs, across the region, are usually the worst for this because it appears here, bureaucracy runs rampant and all projects seem to be treated as if millions of dollars of public money is at stake.

While I support due diligence and governance, some measure of reasonableness is important.

7. Can you provide constructive feedback?

Please provide feedback and we do not mean simply saying we were too expensive. After all, if you told us in the RFP you were looking for the best solution, and not the cheapest solution, then price alone is not the issue. It is just a convenient cop-out.

I know it is hard to give negative feedback to anyone, but it can be constructive. If someone has had the commitment to invest the time in your RFP, then the least you can do is invest time in providing feedback. And do not do this by email. It is like breaking up with someone by SMS text.

Here is a suggestion, if you do not like doing it, then invite less people to tender and therefore your good news / bad news ratio improves.

8. Will you provide metrics on our RFP scorecards?

It would be better still if you provided us with some metrics on how we scored. We all know that behind every RFP is a scorecard. So what does it hurt, in the spirit of complete transparency, to provide us with our score against each of the criteria and against the average score of the highest and lowest score.

This provides a metric, rather than simply vague, subjective feedback. Sure, the scores are subjective, but it is a score. We can then see by how much we were off the winning position, or at least how high or low we ended up against the average.

9. Will you let us know if we are unsuccessful?

Don’t simply disappear on us. If we are unsuccessful or it all goes pear shaped or whatever, let us know. There is nothing worse than participating in a tender process as a supplier and then never hearing the outcome or getting any feedback.

Sure, you have more important things to do and you got caught up and the project dragged on and then you moved on and thought the next person would pick it up and they didn’t, and that is not your fault. We don’t know this and don’t care about your excuses.

It is unprofessional. It is rude. It is disrespectful. And suppliers have long memories and LinkedIn means that no matter where you go or what job you take next we will remember you.

10. Are you going to consider us for your next RFP?

Don’t forget to consider us for your next RFP. The only thing worse than not winning a tender is not getting a chance to tender in the first place.

So if we have the skills, expertise, experience and track record for what you are looking for, please include us. Or better still just give us the job.

And we are not asking for these just because we like to complain. This is what we do when we manage a tender or pitch for one of our clients.

You see, we respect the agencies and suppliers who participate in our process. All we are asking is for you to do the same. I think that is fair. Don’t you?