Be Wary of the RFP Quota
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been fortunate to have received a number of website redesign RFPs, which is both flattering and inspiring. It’s always great being included as a potential candidate for a significant project or account. Going through the response process is often invigorating as you build your case as to why your organization is worthy of the assignment. However, not all RFPs are the same – either in the content they are requesting or the reason your organization was included.
The best case scenario is that you are receiving the RFP because your organization is truly a leading candidate for the project due to an existing relationship, personal referral or based on your work in that particular area. That was the case for two of our recent RFPs. One was from a former long-term client with whom we still enjoy a healthy relationship. The other was sent from an organization on the East Coast that became aware of our work because of our experience in their industry. In both cases, we felt good about our chances to win the business.
On the other hand, we recently received a third website RFP with no clear indication why we had been included. While that certainly isn’t a deal-breaker, it does set off a few red flags. The greatest is that the organization HAS to send their RFP to a set number of potential vendors, sometimes as many as six, eight or more, due to Board mandates or government regulations. Too often in these cases, the organization knows exactly the one or two vendors who are really competing for the prize (most likely ones in which there is a relationship of some kind). Then, from this small pool of realistic candidates, it generally comes down to cost.
Sensing that we might be included on an RFP receipt list just to fill out a mandated quota, I reached out to the contact listed on the RFP to ask a few simple questions (1) how many potential vendors received the RFP and (2) were we included on this list due to a specific referral or given our work on previous website, etc. Essentially, just trying to get a sense of our legitimate chances. What you hope to receive is some type of affirmation, like "…Bob Smith is a Board member and suggested we send it to you as his company did some work with your firm a few years ago" or even "we did some online research and liked your web samples so thought you should be listed among the candidates."
In this case, it turns out we had been referred by a local company – although one in which we had no close ties. Normally, this still may have been enough for us to participate in the RFP process, however, it was the answer to the other question that gave us cause for concern. Apparently, we were one of 13 agencies to receive the RFP, giving us – at best – an eight percent chance of getting the project with all things being equal. Given the soft connection with this organization, and the sheer volume of recipients, we declined the opportunity to reply. While it is sometimes tempting to respond to anything and everything that comes through the door, it's important to take a little time upfront to be sure that the project is worth pursuing.
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