November & December theme:
“Choose One Thing”
Posted in :  Brain Waves

In my experience, most Requests for Proposals (RFPs) allow no possibility for possibility. They state exactly what the client wants, in finite detail. They then go on to ask the provider to answer a copious set of questions with varying degrees of relevancy. And, if the provider answers all the questions, and follows the RFP rules – the client ends up receiving however many responses that are just like the next. The issue is a result of the client knowing what they think they want instead of focusing on the challenge they are trying to overcome. Knowing what you want forecloses on possibility. Let’s take a closer look at how this plays out . . .

The typical RFP questions establish a provider’s:

  • Capability to do what the RFP asked
  • Cost to provide what is asked
  • Credibility that they can deliver on what is asked
  • All of which is based on what the RFP specified and what the provider includes as examples of what they have done in the past.

It does not establish a provider’s:

  • Approach to creating a solution to the underlying problem
  • Thinking about the client
  • Method to assure the project satisfies expectations
  • Ability to facilitate the tough conversations necessary to fully realize the projects’ potential
  • Values, Beliefs and Commitments

It basically leaves off the table any ability for the provider to offer a creative solution to the client’s problem. The reason is the way we traditionally think about RFPs. We think we have to know the answer. What if we didn’t know, and the point of the RFP is to find the right partner to help us figure it out?

Let’s step back for a moment and consider the providers you are requesting a proposal from. You are hiring them because they have expertise in a particular field. They have experience taking on similar projects for other clients. They have deep knowledge about best practices and industry trends in their field. Wouldn’t you want their take on your situation? See how they might approach the same issue? Perhaps they might come at it a very different and more effective way.

The moment you change what an RFP is about – from “make me this thing I want” to “share with me how you would approach solving for my issue” – you open up the possibility for possibility.

My last post, “True Success Makes A Difference,” discussed establishing a criteria for success for any project. This focuses on: What would it look, sound and smell like if we were successful overcoming our challenge.

Imagine if you sent out an RFP that used the criteria for success approach, by stating the underlying issue, what this project means to your business and what would be true if we were successful in overcoming this challenge. Then, the questions posed to the provider are around explaining how they would approach developing a solution and how they intend to work with you to assure you’re successful. I imagine you would get an understanding of what a provider values, how they think and how they could become a partner in your business.

So, what if you take the time to restructure the RFP this way and you only receive case histories and estimates that fail to show the value of working with them? It might be time to reexamine your pool of candidates to look elsewhere for a provider, one that thinks and acts like a partner.

At Fathom, we have had more than a decade of responding to RFPs. Our Director of Strategy & Content Marketing Louisa Desson has created a guide “Ditching the RFP When You Hire A Creative Firm.” This deeper dive into rethinking the traditional RFP approach and will get your project off to great start.

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Posted by: Brent Robertson
Email the author: brentr@fathom.net