Why the best agencies don't want your stupid RFP

Josh Walsh headshot
Josh Walsh

I belong to a mastermind group of fellow consultants. We get together quarterly to share our successes, failures and learn from each other. There’s one bemoaning complaint which is consistently brought up… what do we do about RFP’s?

If you’ve never been a consultant, this may sound perplexing. As consultants, our clients naturally come and go over time. The ebbs and flows of new business are our leading cause of stress. In the lean times, it means long hours of hustle to find new work.

If that’s the case, why don’t consultants celebrate RFP’s? They represent new business opportunities. They should be our lifeline. Someone put real time and energy into building that RFP because the resulting product will create value for them. They are quite literally asking to spend money with you.

RFPs fail because they present the client's problem as a requirements document. Every consultant knows the job, once won, never resembles the client's real "keep awake" issues.

Dan Yurman

Here’s the harsh reality. Most people who assemble RFP’s aren’t experts at putting technical solutions together. They write detailed requirements with the limited knowledge that they have and ask us to fill in the blanks. In my experience, they usually aren’t open to hearing about our proposed solution either. And this is where the problem becomes very thorny…

To win a project from an RFP, you have to do more than convince your client that you are an expert. You also have to convince them that they aren’t. It’s hard to sell to someone after you deflate them like that, downright impossible, frankly.

So here we are. A real client, with a real need, and a real budget, but this RFP process kills the best path forward. This means that the best agencies won’t engage, and so the odds of launching a great product are reduced.

Flip the script and evaluate the vendor instead.

We’ve reinvented the RFP process to try and change the game. It’s our belief that the right vendor will guide you to the highest value solution to your problem. With that in mind, you shouldn’t present the solution, you should instead focus on evaluating the expertise and trustworthiness of the vendor. Then, after you’ve found confidence in the right vendor, you can embark together to craft the solution.

RFP should be "request for partnership" over "request for proposal." Can't develop meaningful products that change lives on a one way street of client->vendor relationships.

Tim Stephens

This post was last updated on: Feb 15, 2021.