RFPs (Requests for Proposals) – Are They Worth Your Time?
I get many RFPs that come across my desk every year (5 in the last month), and I almost never end up submitting a proposal. I haven’t in the last 3 years. Am I a snob? Am I so burdened with work that I don’t want more? Am I too lazy? No, no, and no.
Generally when a company asks for a proposal for a service, they wish to replace time-consuming meetings with RFPs and not have to meet with people until they’ve narrowed down the playing field. Makes sense if you’re a busy person managing a larger operation, right? Additionally, to make sure they’re getting the best, they will ask for proposals from around 10 companies, and try to find the best from that pool. The companies solicited will be some personal connections, some recommendations, some they’ve heard of and some new companies, typically.
So what’s wrong with the RFP process that makes me not submit proposals after getting them? There are three key elements:
- The Human Element Services are a unique creature that largely involve the human element and a relationship built on trust. With a small service-provider, often times you will be dealing with the owner for the transaction (like with us), and you need to know who you’re dealing with. Additionally, with certain services, you simply cannot compare apples-to-apples. So how does a small service provider stick out – especially if they offer something to the left of what the potential client has asked for? They don’t.
- Efficient Use of Time I’m ok with not getting the business if they won’t meet with me. I believe it’s important to have mutual respect and understanding of what one asks of the other. If someone hands me an 8 page RFP and won’t meet with me, after essentially asking me to put 6 hours blindly into a proposal for people I’ve never met and had the chance to get to know and impress, they’re not a company I want to work with. My time is valuable, and any shred of time I spend has to be centered around making my clients happy, doing my work, and making the most efficient use of my sales time. If you’re a client already, do you want me taking 6 hours away from possibly spending it on your projects so I can go after new business? Probably not. Chances are, you highly endorse my approach for that very reason. So why would a prospect want me to treat my clients that way? They’re asking for us to try and make them our client… *scratching head*
- Most Importantly – Proper Education Now most importantly, many of the things included in RFPs are quite limited and exclude possibilities for other preferred courses of action. Many times you’ll see a potential client ask for old technology or a very narrow scope of services, purely out of unawareness of alternatives. The chance to meet with someone is the chance to educate them on possibilities, options and new trends in that chosen field, and perhaps redirect the conversation to something that would save them time, money and help them reach their goals faster. This is the ideal time to remember – you are the expert in your field, and you can use that to really make a difference.For example: These 5 I’ve gotten in the last month have all asked for a web site, but haven’t mentioned the use of social media leverage.As you know (and if you don’t, where have you been!?), I’m the leader in the social media arena in the area, and have been for about 2 and a half years now. So, if they’re asking for a proposal from me (the social media expert that happens to offer websites), how can I possibly stress its importance and provide solid education WITHOUT a meeting? If I’m the only one out of a stack of 10 mentioning it because my “competitors” don’t offer those services, I’m in the minority, and in a world of “well, the majority says it so it must be right” – it would be ignored.Half the reason I’m the leader in the field is my personality, ability to lead rousing seminars about it and I’ve landed myself on Fox News to talk about it. The other half is sheer skill and results. 😉 All THAT wallop is hard to pack onto a few sheets of paper. If only on paper, it’s next to impossible to change the direction of the conversation and truly help the client.
The folks that ask for RFPs are all very busy people that need to make the best use of their time. That’s why they’re requesting it in the first place. They want to cut through the tangle of having to spend perhaps as much as 2 hours with 10 companies. I don’t blame them! Who would want to do that??? When they put together the RFP, they try to be very specific to be helpful to the companies that will submit the proposal, and generally the ones I get are very detailed and want very specific things. It’s all in the interest of getting to a mutually beneficial end point, maybe only have to meet with 2 or 3 companies, and then make a decision to go with the best company. It makes sense, doesn’t it? You’d think so, but I know the other side. Having over 10 years of experience in the field, I know that when it comes to what *I* do, a meeting may be an investment of a little time on everyone’s part, but when the client chooses my company, they’re glad they met with me because I changed the conversation and educated them. The best and happiest clients are educated clients that know what they’re buying, and most importantly, WHY.
So – if you want to stick out, actually stand a decent shot of getting the business and change the conversation to include what it should, stand firm on requiring a meeting first. You’re the expert!
How do you handle RFPs? How much time do you spend on them before sending it in? Do you win the business, ultimately? I’d love your input. Don’t be shy on comments, my friends! The best thing about blogs: they’re not a speech – they’re a conversation!