I participated in a request for proposal (RFP) presentation yesterday. We rarely participate in RFPs because most of our work comes from referrals… but in this instance, it was my contact that had sent the RFP to me and requested our participation, and I wanted to learn more about the organization.
What we learned
The most valuable thing that any company learns from an RFP proposal and presentation is how to describe what it is you do and why you are different from the competition. The client is choosing the book by its cover, so that first impression is very important. This is a process that is very time consuming, but valuable. However, when you already have plenty of work to do, like us, the value gets a bit clouded by other priorities. Time is money… and RFPs are a gamble that only pays off if you get the project.
What is frustrating
Because an RFP process is driven by appearances, it’s more about talking and impressions than about successful delivery of the finished product. I’ve been on the other side of the table several times, selecting vendors as part of a group or committee. What I found in each case was that although I was satisfied at the time of selection with the vendor, none of them lived up to their sales pitch. Overall, I’ve had a much better experience selecting vendors based off of recommendations without an extensive RFP process. But for some reason, boards and committees feel like they’ve done their due diligence if they’ve sat through an hour or two of presentations by various vendors. I’m always surprised that these processes are driven more by portfolio than by testimonial.
Do RFPs work?
The question I pose is this: if a company is really good at winning RFPs, is it because they aren’t good at retaining clients? From a customer perspective, are you getting the best vendors through this process?
Regardless if we ever choose to participate in an RFP again, as I begin teaching an adjunct master’s course in the spring, I look forward to learning how to better explain our profession and the value we bring to customers. I want to be able to explain what I do better every year!