The RFP process is broken

What is the RFP process?

The purpose of The Request For Proposal is to smooth out any vendor bias and get a real point by point comparison between the solution/proposal of multiple parties in order to reach the best proposal to fill a specific need.

Why is it broken?

This often leads to a strangely worded, which lacks room for interpretations in some sections, leaves broad room in others, document that will not lead to an innovative, cost-effective, long-term (quick, what’s another buzz word?) solution that is in the customers best interest.

The customer often has some idea of what he (thinks he) needs, sometimes based on past experiences and this shines through in the RFP document in such a way that any creativity on the vendor’s end is pointless.

I need X amount of IOPS, I need 64kB length block dedupe, I need SSL offloading in hardware, I need X amount of throughput, it needs to have a mermaid logo on it,…

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

Stephen W. Hawking

I am not saying the customer is stupid, far from it, but he is limiting what we can offer because of his narrow lens. When you force us to answer your questions, and only those, it dilutes our differentiation and you end up with the same old stuff you hate using today.

The vendors are more then happy to influence the RFP, most RFP I’ve read (and had to answer) contained at least some wording directly taken from competitors documents. If you can help write the rules, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to win the game. I’m not saying all of them are rigged, but some are. When reading through some RFPs it’s sometimes clear who will win it beforehand. I believe you will find you will be getting fewer and fewer RFP responses going forward if you play this game*

More often than not, we are not allowed to have a conversation with the customer once the RFP has been received, this leads to us trying to interpret a document which context we don’t always fully grasp. Furthermore you often have to provide a response in a limited space/format that makes a lot of assumptions of what the possible answer could be.

We often have no clue about the budget. Does the customer want an Aston Martin or a Volkswagen? (they all want the Aston, at the Volkswagen price ofc)

I also want to end world hunger, but secretly I don’t have the budget for it.

“You know we’re sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn’t it?”

Steve Buscemi’s character in Armageddon

Then at the end of it, the requesting party scores the responses and picks the best one based on the weight of certain sections (is price most important?, or compliancy with the often arbitrary features?). This scoring is based on the interpretation of the document, which often made the vendor word things a certain way, and in a certain space to force it to fit in. The customer takes these answers and compares them based on the same biases when drafting the RFP.

What good does it do?

In a bigger organization it can be used as a tool to get buy in from all the parties that have a stake in the solution. It gets the noses pointed in the same direction and avoids territorial battles, and finger pointing after the solution has been purchased.

This is fine of course, but don’t use the RFP process for this, don’t externalize your own lack of coordination and communication by forcing it onto an RFP.

Not all RFP’s are created equal

I’ve answered many, many RFP’s and some are a lot better (yeah for you vendors! :rolleyes, I see you think) than others.

When your RFP is non-prescriptive, provides a more open format for crafting responses, includes the ability to ask questions, gives us an insight into the business issue instead of the technical issue you are trying to solve (so we can put forward our best thinking to help the business, and are not forced to jump through hoops to follow someone else’s), and some sense of budget, it goes a long way into getting a better suited response.

Also don’t send out your RFP just before the holidays, that’s just mean 🙂

*Death by RFP: 7 Reasons Not To Respond

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