What Your RFP Process Really Delivers


I work on 20Skaters, ThreeFortyNine, Ontario Startup Train and a few others. My vanity site is brydon.me.

Personally I’ve had a long standing policy to not respond to unsolicited Requests For Proposals, known as RFP’s. In the early days, I couldn’t give you a sound reason for my avoidance. I’m sure my main reason was that I didn’t feel confident I could craft a worthy response to your 64 page fancy-pants RFP with its budgets, timelines, stakeholders and other terms that had me reaching to wikipedia. Or maybe my gut was telling me to steer clear?

Eventually we tried responding to a few in earnest. While we’ve only done that a few times, the results have been consistent. We’ve earned 0% return on all our RFP work to date.

My policy to date remains that I don’t respond to unsolicited RFP’s unless I’m able to have direct conversations with the key stakeholders in the RFP process. Why? Simple, in some cases RFP’s are not what they appear to be. They are rarely a level playing field. Often decisions have already been made, or the vendors have been narrowed, and the RFP process is a corporate requirement intended to present the illusion of an unbiased process. That means you’re lucky if anyone even reads that response your team spent weeks or months crafting.

Even in the case of a truly open, democratic RFP process, it’s very premise is in direct contrast to how I tend to work. All of my best clients over the years have been relationship based. That means we courted each other first, we put time in, met each other, talked about our world views etc, maybe had a few drinks, shared some meals. Only after all that did we end up at “hey, we should work together”.

I’m not alone. Alan Armstrong of Eigenworks writes that “unsolicited RFPs can consume precious team energy, and our win rate is essentially zero.  I made the tough decision a long time ago to focus my team’s efforts on clients where our relationships are more direct”.

So here’s the rub. If your company is currently relying on RFP’s to find your vendors, you need to reconsider that approach. I can’t imagine that your company does NOT want strong vendor relationships. By choosing the RFP route to find and select vendors, you are immediately eliminating myself, Alan and a glut of other potential vendors who have all come to the conclusion that RFP’s are a waste of their team’s time.