I regret to inform you… RFPs are DEAD
Imagine a basketball game with two teams going up against one another. The teams have trained and practiced, and each is good at certain unique game skills. They have been training for this and are READY to compete. Now imagine that game with referees who may have SEEN a basketball game at some point. They know the ball is supposed to go through the hoop, and there are points involved. The refs know it’s played on a wooden court, but they admittedly don’t know much about basketball. Doesn’t seem like it’ll be a very fair match, huh?
This is the main impetus behind CrowdSouth, as a company, abandoning applying for RFPs a little over a year ago. I have broken our rule 4 times this year for existing clients and larger projects that I felt were slam dunks for us. We won some of those, and we lost some. But thinking back on all the time I spent prepping for those, and all the data and information I had the team dig up… it has reminded me why we decided not to chase these anymore. They are inefficient, flawed, and extremely time consuming. I’d prefer to focus on the clients that already believe in us and are placing their trust in us – and that’s what we’ll do going forward.
Reason 1: May the best PowerPoint win
So much of an RFP rests on the shoulders of the presentation (and the presenter). If someone comes in, and wows the audience with slick mocked-up logos, a sample homepage they built, campaign ideas, and lots of beautiful fonts and frills… they have a serious leg up. BUT, on the flip side – as an agency you are paying your staff to build and create assets that can easily be used by your competitor if they win the “presentation contest.”
Reason 2: Wildcard Voters (the “when is lunch?” guy)
Inevitably there is someone in that stuffy conference room who has a vote and who doesn’t have any idea what marketing is…. and sometimes don’t know what the goals of the project even are. They are looking at their watch and wondering when “lunch break” is. That is one of the toughest parts of the RFP process to overcome for marketers. This person will misunderstand questions asked, they’ll misunderstand the answers you provide, and they’ll miscalculate the capabilities of you and your team. Put simply, they’ll vote for the flashiest presentation and the presenter who says what they want to hear so they can move on with their day.
This attitude is in stark contrast to building a relationship directly with a marketing executive or team member who knows the value of [fill in your core value].
Reason 3: All that glitters is not gold
Owners and sales reps are competitive by nature; it’s in their DNA. I know because I’m one of them. I want to compete. I want to win. But, we can’t let that make use greedy… not greedy for money, but greedy to WIN. A presenter may be glittery, say what you want to hear, and have a really nice smile… but the team behind them may not have the chops. Understanding who is on the bench is critical.
Reason 4: Honesty can easily backfire
“When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth.”
–Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
Honesty does seem like the best policy, but it can certainly backfire. In an RFP scenario, the appetite to win can lead to overpromising. It can lead to the presenter agreeing with the potential client when they really don’t agree. And, it can lead to unintentional dishonesty. Early in my career I was caught in this trap, and paid the price. But in recent years I have worked hard to discard the urge to please, and focus more on being brutally honest. And I mean BRUTALLY. We do not want to work with a client who we can’t help, or won’t be happy with the end product, period. So, I found we would rule ourselves out of many RFPs simply by being honest; Even if we present options and alternative work-arounds, many groups analyzing the RFP can’t see past that you didn’t “check a box” in their form.
Many times in the RFP process, I’ve been faced with questions where I know the “answer they want to hear.” And I also know if I want to be utterly clear, I need to phrase it in a very honest way. This sets expectations appropriately, and the happiness factor with the end product is through the roof. BUT, that can also rule you out in one quick blow. Because, the type of organization that uses and RFP are typically very strict rule followers. They often just don’t have the permission and latitude from their leadership to think creatively or problem-solve on the fly. And that, in itself, may be all the reason a marketing agency needs to politely step away.
So, in the future, I’ll restate my mantra that, “I’m sorry, we don’t respond to RFPs. They are very well-meaning in nature, but we’ve found they don’t yield us the initial client relationship we want, and they don’t give the client the best chance getting a true PARTNER who will always have their best interests in mind.” Because, that agency knows that they don’t have the relationship in the bag – they know they’ll have to go through an RFP and re-justify why they should be chosen, every time a new job comes up.
At CrowdSouth, we seek PARTNERS, not CLIENTS. We want a relationship where we can both thrive and get the best possible results. If the client doesn’t want that for us as well as themselves, then they are simply using us as a tool. There a plenty of agencies that are fine with being used as a tool, but it’s emotionally draining on a team. So, if you’re ready to build a partnership and grow together, let’s roll up our sleeves and do that very thing. Let’s build something amazing – together.
By Jason Heflin
Jason Heflin is one of CrowdSouth’s owning Partners and brings years of marketing experience from his past lives as a corporate marketing manager, writer, and freelancer. He also plays the ukulele for fun, which is cool.
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