Marketer: RFPs Suck

A marketing company posted this to their company blog:

We are compelled to decline RFPs.

  • RFPs promote shallow relationships. The same business rules that required an RFP in the first place almost always mean another will be required for the next project. It’s hard to build a relationship when you have to compete every time you want to get together.
  • RFPs inhibit diversity in the industry. Every great agency has a distinct voice, and there are so many wonderful ones to choose from. We refer out 1/3 of the projects that come our way because of this. Not to wax poetic, but RFPs are like going to France and holding a contest to see which vineyard can make the best Arbor Mist clone.
  • RFPs are incompatible with The Golden Rule+. Internally, we have five Sacred Truths that we’re willing to stake the company on. One is the Golden Rule+. One way we express that is “Give value first and last.” We always try to give ideas away on the front end, and consulting or videos on the backend. We seek to be generous, and RFPs by their nature inhibit that.

RFPs suck because they exclude trust. Trust in a quality approach, trust in employees, trust in a client. Without trust it’s impossible to be friendly.

I <violently> agree with the sentiment here. I understand the role RFPs play and why they are used. However, time and again, RFPs prove to be a horrible way to buy video surveillance/physical security systems. Those that claim RFPs 'save money' for the spending agency/tax payer are out of touch with the real results they yield.

Shopping for commodities like paper clips with an RFP is one thing, but shopping for an integrated, site-specific video surveillance system is vastly different! The points this marketing company makes about promoting shallowness, undermining trust, and 'inhibiting diversity' are dead on, in my opinion.

Money quote: "Not to wax poetic, but RFPs are like going to France and holding a contest to see which vineyard can make the best Arbor Mist clone."

Completly agree.

I've staked and built my business on delivering solutions in such a way that the client never thought of. Do we meet or exceed their needs every time? Hell yes, we do.

But would we be able to do that if there was an RFP? No. We would be boxed in by the design and engineering thought processes of the person who wrote the RFP. We would be stuck delivering suboptimal solutions that don't meet our internal standards because RFPs restrict our ability to be creative.

We simply don't do business that way unless the RFP has open language in it allowing for creativity.

I cant tell how many government site meetings for an RFP I have been to in the last 5 years that were to replace a camera system that was just installed less than 3 years ago that was not meeting the end users requirements.

I have been to several RFP's for two or more times for the same project! In the Toronto area at least 30 to 50 companies bid on these jobs with several bidders having very little experience. Guess who wins most jobs?

RFP's are generated by the purchasing dept. who's sole purpose is to accept the lowest bidder. Period

You all would have hated us then. I believe that the RFP we submitted to prospective bidders is/was our primary protection from misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions on their part for our upcoming project. Without it, we would likely have received several bids that would not have met our needs. With it, the number of questions by prospective bidders was far less than expected and all proposals met most of our requirements. Post-RFP discussions took less than a month and we were able to make our decision in less than a week after proposals were received.

That contrasts with our 2003 project, where post-RFP (it was very brief) discussions and negotiations required several months.

By the way, the RFP was generated by me, with a lot of useful input from our staff, my boss and our Legal Department. Our Purchasing Department had nothing to do with it.

<Edit> And kudos to the AIA for providing the basis for the legalese...

I must say that I could not agree more with Carl.

We have tried the approach of setting minimum performance standards, then allowing each company to present their "best" solution. This resulted in many Integrators submitting the cheapest solution possible all in an effort to "win" the project. It took months to fully descope the bids, negotiate for better equipment than that offered, rebuild for redundancy, address change orders, etc, etc.

Honestly, the horror stories I could recount here are nearly limitless.

If only all Integrators were "creative" with the Client's best interest at heart. "Creative" goes out the door in an open competative bid scnerio where everyone's goal is to be low. Assumptions, misunderstandings and differing interpretations abound all resulting in a system that ultimately does not meet the needs of the Client.

Our RFP was generated by our surveillance project team (over 200 years cummultaive experience) and our legal department. No purchasing department involved.

As a consultant, I am on both sides of this issue. I write RFPs for end-users to procure security and surveillance systems, and also respond to RFPs issued by various entities requesting proposals for consulting services. I can understand the negative feelings towards RFPs expressed by many, but the fact of life is that RFPs are here to stay, and integrators (or consultants) who refuse to respond to RFPs may be missing significant opportunities in their market.

You can't put all RFPs in the same category. Some are very well written and carefully define what is required to make sure that all proposers are proposing equal quality products and services. These RFPs can level the playing field and actually be of benefit to the qualified integrator. The RFP that Carl Lindgren describes that he wrote sounds like it falls into this category.

There are also very poorly written RFPs that actually create more questions than they answer. In my early days, I used to run from these, but now I examine them closely to see if they are diamonds in the rough. In some cases, the client has good intentions but simply doesn't know what he or she is doing. A few friendly questions and a carefully crafted proposal can sometimes turn these "dog" RFPs into real opportunities. Remember, if you are struggling in responding to an RFP, your competitors probably are also.

I recently wrote a short article on how to write an effective security systems RFP. This article is primarily intended for end-users but may also be of interest to integrators and others:

One of the things I've seen commonly as both an integrator and manufacturer is the Security / Loss Prevention dept. making the "decision" on specific technologies and then procurement bidding it out. The only problem with this is some integrators bidding are not competent in the technologies they are bidding. Their level of experience & certifications is usually not questioned in the RFP process

The RFI is a totally different subject. In that case the end user is asking for specific feature sets they perceive they need and are "culling the herd" in terms of which technologies can provide them


We went through a year-long RFI and system evaluation process before generating our RFP. During the RFI's two phases, we narrowed our focus, both in terms of our goals and the number of manufacturers and Integrators we invited to participate in our RFP. By the time we did issue our RFP, we knew pretty much exactly what we wanted.

The RFP specified our budget and our exact requirements and goals, while leaving each bidder some "wiggle room" to differentiate themselves in terms of what brands of hardware they would provide and what options they would offer. The successful bidder provided everything called for in our RFP ("must haves") plus many of our options ("nice to haves") while still keeping under our budget. We felt that provided some buffer in the event of unforeseeen problems (which as everyone knows are certain to crop up).

That was actually a major key - the unsuccesful bidders met our basic criteria but either incorporated less of our options or bid so close to our budget limit that we were certain that figure would be exceeded when all was said and done.

I could not get any business done without RFP’s as my company requires I get three bids for anything over $5,000. It is a real treat. I would title this string something along the lines of “Badly written and horribly out of date RFP’s suck.” because that is what we are really talking about.