Sunday, August 29, 2010

The RFP Process is Not a Test Kitchen

This is a rant so if you don’t want to read it then leave this blog. This is a post for every organization out there that outsources public relations or other services and conducts an RFP process. When you ask an individual consultant with a small or virtual firm to submit a proposal for your company, and put them through a proposal process, it’s not some mid-level executive’s expense account that you are using.

It is funds that go into feeding their children and paying their mortgages. If you give them the idea that they really have a chance at your business, then they will drop everything and go after it. That’s not a small thing for a small firm. At a larger firm, they take a proposal template, throw a 23 year-old on Google and say enough that they sound smart about your industry.

Or maybe they know your industry. That doesn’t mean you are going to get the best thinking they have. The creative people who would do the work were promoted to a level where they started spending all their time pitching new business, years ago.

So my message to all of you is don’t use my company as a sounding board so you can go out and hire within your comfort zone. If your CEO wants a brand name agency, then ask brand name agencies to pitch. If you want a firm that knows your market and works in it right now, then ask those firms to pitch. If your marketing director isn’t a risk taker, or wants someone with the exact experience you need, because they have worked for one of your competitors, then ask those firms to pitch.

Don’t ask me to be part of the RFP process if you don't know what you want. I'm not a test kitchen. My time is money and it also belongs to my family.

I’ve heard a lot of independents complain lately about how they’ve put enormous time and effort into proposals because they were given the impression they are a serious contender for the business. And then the organization that issues the RFP hires someone the chairman’s wife recommended or they just take your ideas and give them to someone they hire to do the work. That’s just plain wrong.

Again, if you’re an agency with overhead and staff, you can write that time and funding off. Independents can’t. We pay our bills – no one else does.

Independents also don’t use formulas. We figure out what you need to do and offer you salient advice on it. There are some that won’t do anything without a legal document, but the rest of us don’t have that luxury. We treat your RFP like it’s the first week we’re working for you. That’s how we get business. And it’s also how we get screwed.

Every minute that I spend writing a proposal and researching your organization takes time that I could spend raising my children and finding funds to pay for them. It’s hard enough to find time to spend with my kids and run a business. I’m a single parent. My life is packed with other peoples’ needs.

My children’s father writes an embarassingly small check every month and takes them on vacation for a week or two in the summer. The rest of the time, I raise them. If you ask me to write a proposal and I have to miss the class play to do it, and I really need the money, I will probably miss the class play. Don’t put me in that position.

I don’t know, maybe I’m different than most consultants. I saw a proposal recently from a firm we compete with often in one business segment, and their winning proposal was a formula that they had taken off someone else’s web site and didn’t even bother to change the name of. I Googled their “proprietary model” and found it in less than five seconds with someone else’s name on it. Yet, they beat us. Why?

Well it wasn’t on merit. Our proposal was far stronger, contained original thought, and didn’t promise things we could not deliver. I assume because the other firm had close ties to the organization that put out the RFP, they were a shoe-in to begin with.

Then just give your buddies the business or don’t ask me to pitch it in the first place. If you need to stay within your comfort zone figure that out before, not after or during the RFP process.

I'm not talking about the people who really genuinely consider you and decide to choose someone else. That's the way business works and it happens all the time. Chemistry matters. Budget matters. What your CEO wants matters. And you have to do what's best for you too.

I understand that in recessionary times, if you hire a brand name agency and they do a lousy job, you can always say but we hired So and So, the brand name agency. And it won’t cost you your job. We know that you have a family to feed too.

I take comfort in one thing I really do believe in. Good people raise good kids. Bad people raise bad kids. I see this all the time - the neurotic parent ends ups with neurotic children. The parent who is not paying attention ends up with kids who do things their parents don't want them to do just to get their attention. The parents who do their kids' homework for them end up with kids who don't learn anything. It all comes back to haunt you eventually.

I am a good parent and a good person. At the very least my kids, even if I blow half of our vacation on a proposal for a project I never stood a chance at, will not grow up to be awful. That makes me feel better. But not right after I find out that you just wasted a week of my time.

So just to make sure I’m completely clear here. Marketing people – if you’re not going to seriously consider my firm for a job, don’t ask us to compete for it. Ask the people you really will end up hiring. You may not sleep better at night. But I know I will.

1 comment:

  1. Great Post.
    Well written and valuable content will always attract.
    Many thanks
    Walt Bayliss
    CEO and Founder