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The Dreaded RFP Process Otherwise Known As "who's The Best Guesser In Town?"

Posted on Sunday, 17th January 2010 - 5:50 pm by Fay Kelly
Every month you hope those RFP`s come through the letterbox and when they do you groan. The briefing document is so basic that you might as well make it up as you go along. What? Oh, I see, that`s exactly what you do? RFP`s - requests for proposals, ITTs - invitations to tender, words that can strike dread in the hearts of the toughest biz dev executives. Wouldn`t it be great if we could say "sorry, we don`t respond to RFP`s, especially blind ones where we can`t even get to talk to a human being."

Actually, quite a few of my clients say precisely that and they`re still in business and still thriving.

The thing that puzzles me, is why on earth would the purchasing clients go looking for a supplier with whom they are going to invest considerable resource, based on such a flawed system? It`s like saying "Hello, we`ve got a ton of money and we`re going to give it to the best guesser in town."

My clients in marcoms say, "in a real world Fay we can`t say no to RFP`s, we can`t say no to beauty parades, we can`t say no to pitches - we`d have no business if we did."

Fair enough, I`m not trying to change the world in a day. I work with what I have and over the years we`ve come up with some really neat ways to overcome the major obstacles of responding to a blind RFP. My first option is always to encourage my client to walk away from it unless they are convinced (and can prove) they stand an 85%+ chance of success. Otherwise it`s a great way to drive up your cost of sale and provide "free consulting".

Anyway, here`s a little tip I`ve picked up and you`d be amazed at how often it has paid off - even in this advanced age of computer literacy.

With blind RFP`s you usually have to submit your questions in writing in a template provided, usually a word doc, and the questions, along with the answers, are circulated to all competing suppliers. Since the job of co-ordinating this is usually delegated to someone in purchasing, they simply cut and paste from the template they receive and circulate that. If you click on File, then on properties, you can often find who generated the original document and get an idea of the competition you face. This means of course, you should never send out a confidential document like this without "doctoring" the properties so no-one can trace it back to you if your questions are circulated.

Back to blind RFP`s - if you do decide to participate, and you`re allowed to put your questions in writing, even if they and the answers are circulated, it makes sense to get as much information as you can in order to populate your storyboard. Clients often say "but what`s the point of that if everyone gets to see the answers to our questions?" My response is, "what good are the answers to everyone if they didn`t ask the question in the first place and consequently, don`t understand the point of the question?" This is borne out by experience.

So, still on the subject of questions - which are the most important ones to ask, i.e. what information do you need to enable you to win the contract and why do you need that information and how will you use it to populate your storyboard?

That`s what I teach my clients and even if other people see those questions and answers in writing, they don`t know how to use the information to their advantage so my clients always have the edge.

A quick footnote. I talk about the "storyboard" a few times in my blog and other articles on the net, and people who haven`t worked with me have written to ask me about it so I`m putting a short video together to introduce the storyboard concept. Keep checking the website. You`ll be able to download it free once it`s up there. I don`t guarantee a Hollywood production but the content is hugely useful.

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