Is it Time to Say RIP to RFPs?

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Businesses have better ways to find the right partners.

4 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In a world where personal touch matters, why are businesses still using an impersonal, fill-in-the-blank method to find the right vendors?

Companies that rely on antiquated Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to find the vendors they’ll need to rely on daily are making their decisions in the dark. The proposal might look good on paper, but what are the personalities of those who will be servicing the account? What kind of experience do they have?

Why should any put their trust in a partner without knowing anything about their true talents and experience? It’s way past time to put RFPs on the shelf or kill their use outright.

Related: 6 Ways to Build Strong Partnerships

Why do RFPs fail?

An RFP is what it sounds like. A company puts out a call for vendors, asking them to submit business proposals to provide specifics services or goods.  These paint-by-number proposals end up providing rote answers to a list of cut-and-dried questions that often offer very little insight into the vendor’s culture, values or how they can address the company’s true needs.  

When a company or nonprofit organization uses an RFP, you might think it could provide sufficient insight to choose the best partner at the best price, but it doesn’t. Asking potential vendors to answer the same set of questions may be consistent, but it’s very inside-the-box thinking.

The process does nothing to communicate whether the vendor’s culture and values are compatible with yours, and it forces respondents into a corner, unable to formulate individualized proposals that go beyond meeting your company’s obvious needs.

Standardized questions lead to cookie-cutter answers. Sometimes, the greatest service that a vendor can provide is helping companies recognize what they really need instead of what they want. I run a public relations agency, and I’ve seen situations companies might put out an RFP for a new logo, but what they actually need is positive publicity and a solid recommendation on community initiatives to pursue to generate goodwill. They’re not getting that answer from a proposal.

Who do you trust?

When it comes to selecting a vendor as a partner, it isn’t something to take lightly. You’re giving an outside party an outsized influence over your company. This takes a great deal of trust that you’re putting the business in the right hands.

Companies that continue to rely on RPPs are doing themselves a disservice. The process does not substitute for due diligence when choosing a vendor. In fact, many talented and qualified vendors simply don’t respond to requests for proposals. In my experience, they’re a waste of time. I’d rather engage with companies directly and hear about their struggles and challenges so we can create a custom strategy that fits their needs and their budget.

Related: Level Up Your Operations With Win-Win Vendor Relationships

Hiring a vendor means entering a relationship. It should be based on a lot of factors that can’t be gleaned from reading a document. An RFP will generate proposals for obvious solutions to textbook problems, not provide a way to judge the value that a vendor could add to your business.

There are so many subtle factors in play when choosing partners. Companies that have the best results with vendor partners are choosing them based on compatible cultures, in-depth knowledge of their specific industries, and whether their core values match up.

A better way

To find the right vendors, talk to more companies. Evaluate them based on their culture and unique talents and capabilities. A vendor should be able to tailor its services to meet the needs of your business. Ignoring the question of compatibility is a guaranteed path to buyer’s remorse. When your company needs to seek a vendor, be proactive:

  • Look for well-regarded vendors with direct experience in your industry
  • Get to know the company leaders and familiarize yourself with the corporate culture and values
  • Do your homework by interviewing their current and past clients
  • Research and read content created by the vendors
  • Look for vendors mentioned in discussion groups specific to your industry

RFPs may be a traditional way for corporations to search for vendors, but, in my experience, they’re far from useful. Before jumping into a relationship with a vendor, you need a better sense of who they are and what they can actually do for your business. Look a little deeper to find the vendor you truly need, not just a company that’s great at filling in the blanks. 



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