RFP: Really F%&@ing Pointless?

By Haley Lloyd, 05 November, 2019

If I'm going to have to sell my soul, at least tell me upfront how much you think its worth.

Agencies have battled a perception of overcharging for decades. It's no surprise that clients of all sizes and verticals approach the challenge of sourcing a vendor for their digital initiatives behind a veil. A Request for Proposal, better known as an RFP, aims to ensure an unbiased and equal opportunity for vendors to compete for business while establishing parameters for requirements, quality and cost. This is all good stuff.

Think about the last time you made a considered purchase. Was it a car? A home? Perhaps, it was as simple as a bottle of wine. Now imagine walking into the store and asking the sales associate for a recommendation. She likely will respond with a few qualifiers. Red or White? Grape preference? What is the occasion? After describing your needs, she takes you over to the cabinet and shows you a bottle of Château Margeaux, with a price tag of $225,000. Your response may be one of confusion, disgust, hilarity. It may immediately cause you to leave, disqualifying the store for not being able to serve you. Consider how that conversation would have been different if you had simply provided a range in which you're willing to pay.

Submitting an RFP to prospective vendors without an enclosed budget could produce one of the following responses:

  1. High-priced or padded bids to cover the vendor's risks and assumptions.
  2. Low-priced bids that vendors think will be competitive with other vendors but may need to be upgraded later at additional costs.
  3. No response at all.

Responding to RFPs is not a simple undertaking, and to respond appropriately involves multiple team members across many disciplines. Being transparent about the budget allows us to compete fairly with our peers and deliver the best solution based on requirements, timeline, and allowance.

At Planetary, and likely most agencies we compete with, our process, while not proprietary, is something that has evolved throughout our existence. The very act of 'how' Planetary works is one of the fundamental reasons why Planetary successfully launches products. We often review RFPs that designate a specific procedure, rather than allowing the team who is doing the work to design a solution based on their internal process. Ultimately, the quality of work suffers because our team, and our processes are designed to be efficient and effective.

I've read my fair share of RFPs and I find that they are generally written by procurement, who often are non-technical folks. This is not a bad thing, not everyone involved in this process needs to be technical, however outlining product requirements and features in a document by which a vendor needs to comply, with limited or no knowledge of the topic is dangerous. Similarly, it would be absurd for a mechanic to dictate a surgical plan to a cardiovascular surgeon for a heart transplant. Because of this, RFPs put an unnecessary amount of pressure getting every vendor to submit to uninformed and misguided processes. Winning the work means ignoring the realities of how our team performs best, which has the potential to affect the timeline budget and the company’s morale. Instead, create an opportunity and a dialogue for your vendors to construct a plan based on your needs and requirements. This will result in a confident team that doesn't have to deviate from their tried and tested process.

RFPs have great potential to cast a net far and wide, to discover different agencies and to find the best fit for your brand. A core component of any good agency process is Discovery. It helps us uncover uncertainties, debunk assumptions and open a dialogue to generate ideas, together. This stage helps us define goals, which enable us to create a custom project plan, equipped with a budget and timeline. RFPs aren't going anywhere, so to get the most out of the process, allow your prospective agencies to examine your problem and present a feasible solution rather than implementing a fix they didn't design. After all, you're asking for our expertise– if you don't give us the latitude to provide it, we’ve found that responding has proven… really f%&@ing pointless.