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RFPs Are Dumber Than Dirt

RFPs Are Dumber Than Dirt

RFPs (Requests for Proposals) are among the dumbest mechanisms (amidst the general stupidity of bureaucracies) for procuring consulting services. Designed to “safeguard” an objective process, they instead use the lowest common denominators, overwhelmingly focus on price and not value, and are adjudicated by low-level functionaries and committees.

Typical, nonsensical questions and areas of “interest” on these borborygmic documents:

• Number of years of experience in the field (because five bad years is better than just two bad years)
• Expense basis and/or daily rate (because a consultant should keep that old meter running, right)
• Background in the industry/business/association (because we don’t want any “fresh air” or best practices introduced)
• Sample of your methodology/technology/approach (because we can show it to other competitors, or perhaps use it ourselves, and get some free help)
• Submit this in quadruplicate (since we don’t have our own copiers and doing it electronically would be too easy)
• Will you eat lunch on site (no, I’m not kidding, this was an actual question)

These and a myriad of other nonsensical issues are designed to obtain those people best able to fill these monsters out, not to acquire the best consultant for the job.

Fortunately, there are methods to circumvent the madness:

1. Become a sole source provider. That means you have a book, model, intellectual property, experience, and/or exposure that makes you unique. In most cases, even a fanatic RFP institution with hundreds of minions myopically turning out the paperwork, can pursue a sole source.
2. There are often opportunities to discuss a future RFP with sensible people and, ultimately, the true buyers. If you can meet people who are sensible and find your way to the ultimate buyer, you may be able to have an RFP tailored to your particular situation and condition. So, although the process is followed, you are the only one who can accommodate the request. (We need someone who has worked in both Fortune 25 organizations, in major health care non-profits, and who has Asian and European business dealings, with published summaries of their….)
3. Comply with the RFP, but add options which enhance the value. There is usually nothing prohibiting you from exceeding what is requested, so long as you meet the basic requirements. If you have the patience to fill out the forms, add some forms of your own.

Years ago I would receive requests from the Department of the Navy to complete RFPs for training programs. I simply tossed them out. Finally, the Navy send me a questionnaire to be completed as to why I was not responding to their RFPs—and asked me to complete it in triplicate.

You can’t make this stuff up.

RFP: Really Flatulent Paperwork.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

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