No Shot At Winning Big Jobs Found After RFP Is Released?

I got into a debate with a local integrator on this point: If the first time you learn about a project is only after an RFP is made public, you're essentially wasting your time working up a response.

Our debate centered around three points:

1) Integrators/Dealers/Manufacturers need to be involved in the RFP planning stage, or else someone else will be and steer the specs towards a competitor.

2) Despite the appearance of being a 'fair purchasing method', the bid process is fraught with collusion wherever it is used, and the customer is much more likely to chose a familiar face than an unknown - no matter the quoted price.

3) If you learn of a big project only after it is made public, you've lost the initiative to foster influence or credibility with the customer who is focused on buying, not designing.

Here's a poll, please vote:


As a consultant who has assisted clients in issuing hundreds of RFPs over the last 28 years, and who has responded to many RFPs myself during the same period, I can tell you that this generalization is patently false.

Yes, there are many RFPs that are "wired" to a specific product or service provider, but I believe that there are many, many more RFPs where the customer is simply seeking to get the right product at the right price. While a customer may be predisposed to a certain product or provider, a skillfully written proposal can often make the case to use an alternative product or service instead.

I think that too many times when integrator (or consultant) loses a job, he blames it on a rigged bid process rather than admit the fact that he was simply beaten by a more skilled competitor that prepared a better proposal or offered a better price.

Sometimes our ego makes us think that we are so vastly superior to any of our competitors that the customer would be a fool to choose anyone else. The fact is that there are probably plenty of competitors out there that are just as good or better than we are.

A wise man once told me: "If you submit a proposal on a public RFP, you never know your chances of winning, but if you don't submit a proposal, you know your chances of not getting the job are 100%. I have responded to many RFPs where I initially didn't think I had even the slightest chance of winning. One of these resulted in the award of a contract that lasted over ten years and earned me hunderds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees.

From experience as a regular influencing "interested" observer position for hundreds of large scale RFP projects, I would say that this debate would actually get down to the actual details of the RFP in nearly every case.

  • If the RFP is invitingly written in terms of system specifications. Very open and inviting of outside ideas for the overall solution and leaving discretion to the experts eventually selected... Then Yes. Absolutely worth the time to quickly get up to speed on the project and the players and offer up a proposed solution.
  • If the RFP is very narrowly written and obviously filled with hard spec items designed to force a specific solution set and/or hardware agenda, then it is probably being driven by those controlling the channel that it will be openly "competed" in. Don't bother. You're not going to win it.

I agree with Michael and the undisclosed manufacture. There's no general rule.

I recently went through a 4 hour walk through of several school buildings with ten other integrators. One of these integrators was their current vendor and was present but was NOT writing notes about anything that was said or asked. It kind of got distracting after a while because everyone noticed and was commenting on it. Funny thing, he lost the bid.

We were second lowest but it taught me not to assume.

As others have said, each job is different. I've been involved in RFP's that the company I used to work for knew they were going to win, and ALMOSt lost, but did win in the end. And then others where I knew ew didn't stand a chance, and did lose. But at least we tried.

You don't know if you're going to win or lose unless you submit a bid. It's a terrible attitude to approach RFP's with the attitude you won't win. I know because I didn't give a lot of input on the big RFP that I knew we wouldn't get, but most of the other people involved were super pumped for it, and worked really hard. Just imagine if everyone had acted like me, wouldn't have even tried I bet.

I'll further upon what Michael said, If you submit a proposal on a public RFP, you never know your chances of winning, but if you don't submit a proposal, you know your chances of not getting the job are 100%." and I will further that by saying if you don't try and put effort into your proposal (ontop of submiting one), you know your chances are very very low.

But there is an opportunity cost to prepare a complete response. I am sure you can win some, but:

  • How often do you win them in such a situation? 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%
  • Does your success rate outweigh the cost for those occasions you lose?

A friend of mine in the integrator space once attended a walkthrough. The RFP was obviously hard coded to a certain particular manufacturer that uses exclusive dealers in a region.

After the walkthrough, there was a Q&A session. My friend simply asked, "Was it your intention in this RFP to lock yourself into one solution?" When the customer responded in the negative, my friend pointed out one of the camera requirements (an oddball number of megapixels and no subsitutions allowed) that only one company in the world could meet. Further, the RFP required that the integrator have local experience with the same brand. He asked everyone in the room, "Who here is a dealer for this manufacturer, and has installed it locally in the past?" Exactly one hand sheepishly went up. Then to the customer he said, "Well, I guess you're buying whatever he's selling!"

The customer went BALLISTIC, trashed the RFP, and started over a few weeks later with a more generic one. My friend didn't get the deal, but he sure had a lot of fun.

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Many RFPs allow you to respond YES/NO or COMPLY/DO NOT COMPLY on a item by item basis and address your answer in a comments section. This is where you can state the case for your product. I've also seen an RFP that specifically stated ANYTHING entered into a comment section was an automatic NO and would be scored as such. I would say that one went to the shredder but I didn't waste my time even printing it out.

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I hate specsmanship with a passion, because it ultimately doesn't serve the customer. Recently an engineering friend of mine sent a copy of his employer's A&E specifications document to a consultant to help the consultant get started creating an RFP for a very large project. The document was full of the typical manufacturer specsmanship. Normally my friend would strip those out, but this was just an outline for the consultant, so no harm done, right? To my friend's horror it went to the street word for word exact. Not one of his finest moments. :-(

Currently in a situation where we've made the 'short list' on a FEMA funded RFP to a port shipping container site, mandatory walk through.

All of the products that were listed/suggested as acceptable fall within our wheelhouse from the VMS, wireless backhaul, cameras...so let's give it a shot.

One week ago this RFP was advertised and Friday at 3 was the submission deadline. It was a series of paragraphs written out over 4 pages and riddled with errors. For example, frame rate is to be 7-10 but the Arecont cameras listed can't pump out more than 3.5. The RFP was not put together by an engineer or architect rather the safety manager of the 65 acre site. IT manager was not there to give a network map, and changes to the RFP were made verbally and if anyone wanted information they needed to submit questions. The questions were then relayed to the bidding list, all of which were our questions.

There were the ususal suspects at the walk through including a few analog dinosaurs who I could tell wouldn't be submitting anything. About halfway through the walkthrough, one in particular bidder left and missed most of the information that was given such as which poles had fiber/power and which ones did not. You would have to know this information to give an accurate proposal. Also, the installation deadline/timeline is less than 6 weeks from date of award (tomorrow) another red flag.

So we spent quite some time putting a comprehensive proposal together and to Michael's point, were proud of the work we put in. Bid opening was at 3 decision to be announced at 4 - another major red flag, how can you make a decision on a design build RFP in 1 hour? I get a call 30 minutes after dropping it off saying we were one of the two finalists and that they would need until Monday morning to make the decision.

I firmly believe that in design build situations where decisions are subjective and I lose, it is 100% my inability to beat my competitors no doubt about it.

This situation fails the sniff test all over (there is much more questionable information that I don't have time to regurgitate), however, does anyone know the disclosure rules on FEMA funded projects? Is the grantee going to be required to disclose bid results, even if they only list bid amounts? The reason I ask is because the 'engineer's estimate was $275-$350K yet with plenty of margin we still came in at $250K with all of the unknowns taken into account or excluded.

Again, tons' of information I haven't written here but just hoping to get some advisement on how to make sure (without pissing off a potential customer if we do in fact get awarded the job tomorrow) that this a fair RFP and not rigged in some fashion?

Hopefully I'm wrong and this RFP is on the up and up...

Undisclosed D Integrator,

Sounds like one of two things to me:

1 - Classically screwed up public works job that you have a good shot of winning.

OR

2 - Client intends to award the project to a favored contractor who had the job from the beginning, and you are the guy assigned to play the role of "a close second".

Jobs that give off these kinds of warning signs can be scary, but they can also be cries for help from a client that doesn't have a clue as to what they are doing. There can be great opportunity in situations like this for the right integrator.

One of my sayings is: "a consultant who refuses to take on screwed-up projects is like a doctor who refuses to treat sick people.." I think that this saying can also be applied to design/build integrators.

I wish you the best of luck with it

On most public jobs, bid results should be public information.

Is it a job that you would like to be awarded? If so then it doesn't matter is an RFP has been released or if you were invited first, the point is to get in on the opportunity and put your best system and number forward. Just because an RFP has been sent out doesn't mean the party is over. Might not be that job you win but there will be several down the road.

Depends on what market and how bid is written.

Most government bids are written to exclude rather than include and are too often carbon copies of another projects bid docs or a specific manufacturers marketing materials and specifications. If an advertised bid has everything specified except the manufacturer and model number you are wasting your time because a protest will easily knock out any innovative or cost cutting proposals. Follow the herd, baaaahhhh. You must be in before the spec is written in order to influence.

Depending on the consultant who writes the spec, same might hold true.

Smarter RFQs have the end desired goal and result well defined and then ask how the respondent would meet the solution.

Yes, we have all won those "cards are stacked against us" bids, and too often they consume an inordinent amount of time and resource and are at a heavily discounted rate. It depends on where the product/respondent is in their life cycle and sales quota. The upside is that those wins usually result in increased business and more profitable business as a result, until they become the standard that gets specified.

Absolutely take the time as vaction it will be far more productive.

I've been on the good side enough times to tell you your wasting you time chasing those fabulous opportunities.