RFP’s suck! There you have it. The truth! You know it, I know it and everyone else knows it. They completely fucking suck and if my use of the f-bomb just offended you, then you’re prolly one of the very few who likes using them or doesn’t mind responding to them. Cause only a tight-ass with self-esteem issues is a fan of the RFP process. RFP’s are bureuacratic tools designed to fuck with sales people and give control to people who normally don’t have any. RFP’s provide little value to anyone, including those that use them.
So now, let me tell you what I really think. LOL!
RFP’s (Requests for Proposals) were invented to make the life of procurement easier and to provide the most amazing CYA (cover your ass) ever invented. They weren’t invented to identify the best solution to the problem an organization was struggling with. RFP’s are laden with all kinds of crap that does little to align a solution with the actual objectives of the department or organization that is making the decision. They are far too often a list of features which end up disqualifying killer solutions and qualified vendors for trivial and unrelated reasons. Making matters worse, most RFP’s and those managing them attempt to scuttle engagement and any type of interaction with the vendors, doing everything they can to prohibit vendors from connecting with the business owner, the technical owner and anyone else involved in the effort other than them. All of this dooming the process for failure and extending it far longer than it needs to be.
The RFP’s time as come. Let’s take the sucker behind the shed and do what should have been done a long time ago.
Once we, we being the proverbial procurement industry, gets the guts to put the RFP out of it’s misery, we need to go back to the drawing board, that is IF you feel compelled to have some sort of formal buying process that doesn’t put everyone through their paces, then let’s at least create something that increases the chances of your company getting a damn good solution (not a product) and the vendors aren’t wasting their time.
How’s that sound to everyone, good? It sounds like a pretty good idea to me.
What would a RFP process that doesn’t suck, look like? I’m thinking something like this;
Business Goals, Objectives and Success Measurements –
Rather than creating RFP’s with a list of “required” features, let’s start with what it is the organization is trying to accomplish. What are the goals of the organization? Are you trying to shorten your supply chain? Are you trying to improve customer retention? Do you need to increase ticket sales? Do you need to minimize risk exposure? What is it you are trying to do? How will you know you’ve gotten there? How will success be measured? What does the new state of your environment look like? Let’s start there. Let’s create RFPs that start with the business problem(s) and the desired goals first. Features don’t mean shit, if they aren’t attached to real, measurable business problems AND the vendors need to know what those are.
Why is change important, why does it matter?
Once the business goals, objectives and success measurements have been laid out, list why change. Why do you need a new solution? Why is the current environment or solution no longer adequate? Why is there a need for something new? What is there motivation for change? What’s wrong with the status quo, etc? Helping vendors understand the motives behind the change is critical. With out the motive, the “right solution” could be missed. (This is a great story that illustrates my point, no RFP was going to accomplish this).
There needs to be more engagement between the vendors and the companies requesting a proposal. The idea that keeping vendors at bay is good for the process is ridiculous and counter productive. Identifying the best solution requires thorough engagement and access to information. Keeping vendors at bay only strangles the flow of information and stifles creativity, innovation and the ability to develop the best solution.
I don’t want to burst your bubble, but the other reason engagement is critical is you’re not the expert. As much as you like to think you know what you need and know what you want, you don’t and shutting out your vendors only ensures you don’t get the best solution you need. You’re in the insurance, router, CRM, telecom, marketing, dairy, sporting goods, ski, movie production, etc business. Odds are the purchase you are considering IS NOT in your core competency. Therefore, you are not the expert and you don’t know what you need cause you don’t know what exists. Let your vendors be your teacher. Let your vendors educate you. Don’t push them away, get them as close as you can. It’s their expertise you want and need. Instead of getting good at keeping vendors at bay, get good at managing them, ferreting out the sharks and embracing the consultants.
Get Rid of Feature Check Lists –
There are no feature deal killers. Cut it out! There can be solution deal killers, but just because a solution doesn’t have a particular feature doesn’t mean it’s not the right solution. The key is to create decision criteria based on problems solved AND based on the impact of solving a problem. Missing three “must have features” is of no consequence if the solution solves 3 of the most pressing issues, problems facing the organization and even more importantly if the solution achieves the desired outcomes, goals and objectives.
Feature checklists are distractions, tools of mass destruction, and political weapons that will undermine the decision process. Don’t get distracted by the shiny little objects. Stay focused on problem solving and solution development. That’s why you’re here in the first place.
Ask for a Solution;
It’s time we give vendors the opportunity to solve your problems not deliver a check list of features. Imagine if an RFP was more like a problem solving game. (This post “Skip The Water” by VC Fred Wilson, illustrates EXACTLY what I mean and is the perfect anecdote or metaphor for why RFP’s suck, go read it). Imagine the creativity and innovation a company might cultivate and find. Rather than asking vendors to deliver a templated list of features and answer a bunch of questions, imagine if after laying out all the above, they asked vendors to submit a solution to their problem. Imagine if the key question in the RFP was, “How would you solve this problem?” Now we’d be getting somewhere – Skip the Water!.
RFP’s need to go or at the very least need to be redesigned. They need to be focused on identifying the best solution to a real business problem NOT to finding the product or offering with the most features. They have to be engaging and maximize the flow of information between vendors and the companies, not isolating and divisive.
Most RFP’s are crap. I almost always recommend to my clients that they don’t respond. They are time consuming, they rarely allow for the best solution to win and they don’t engender the best working relationships.
So procurement, let’s make a deal. You get rid of RFP’s or at least change them into something conducive to business and we the sales people will stop peddling cheap solutions that don’t work for you.
What do you say, deal?