Column: The Problem With RFPs and How to Fix It

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Issuing a request for proposal in order to establish a vendor relationship for marketing services has become a standard part of the purchase process across the direct marketing industry.

RFPs are a good thing in that they force the companies issuing them to think through what they need completely and define it with specificity. This inhibits "scope creep" to some degree, which makes the entire process more predictable.

But there are some serious flaws in the RFP process as well. These include:

· Inviting vendors who really aren't serious contenders for the business to bid in order to have a specific number of bids in-house for comparison purposes. This wastes time and resources for both the company issuing the bid and the vendor who has to respond.

· Defining the requirements so tightly that there is no place for the vendor to present an innovative, out-of-the-box solution.

· Inviting vendors to bid before there is a face-to-face meeting. Chemistry is important enough to check before putting both organizations through the rigors of producing and judging an RFP.

· Making judgments based on price alone.

The solution to these problems? Follow this five-part checklist in your RFP preparation:

First , ask yourself whether or not you really need to write an RFP and go through a process that formal in order to meet your needs. If you're already working with one or more vendors and you're satisfied with their pricing, service, attention to your needs and knowledge of your business, there may be no real need to issue an RFP. Just ask them what they'd do with the opportunity. You're likely to get your needs addressed more quickly.

Second , meet face-to-face with any company you might be considering before you issue the RFP. See what kind of intellectual capital, knowledge of your business and overall skills they might bring to the table. More importantly, will you be able to work with them?

Third , invite only vendors you would be willing to hire to bid for the business.

Fourth, define your needs, but not the solution. Ask the vendors to be creative in meeting your challenges and opportunities. Invite innovation.

Finally, after the RFPs are in-house, make judgments based on the vendor's overall approach to the problem, creativity in addressing your needs, and your sense of their reliability, responsiveness and skills in addition to price.

If the process worked this way, the world would be a better place for everyone involved. More importantly, the companies issuing RFPs would get better, more creative solutions, and their money would be more wisely spent.

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