RFPs–Are You Requesting A Proposal Or A Price?

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My role requires that I respond to RFPs (“Request for Proposal” for those who are not familiar with the acronym) and I would be lying if I said that I enjoy doing so. I do enjoy working with the people who create these RFPs, and I even enjoy the investigative and design work that follows the reading of an RFP.

The RFPs themselves though are horrible to read through. It is not because of the many pages of legal terms and contractual agreements that the RFPs contain. It is not because of the many pages of standards and protocols that each RFP explains in detail so that your bid is not rejected based upon a technicality.

The reason that I hate reading RFPs is because rarely is the document an actual request for a proposal. Instead most RFPs are just a request for pricing.

For instance, if your RFP never actual explains what the problem is that your business is facing but instead is a list of part numbers to be ordered exactly as listed your RFP is merely a shopping list. I as a vendor cannot propose anything other than a dollar amount.

You might think that makes my job easier to do. In some ways it does. I now need only to look up the price of a part and find out the discount that my distributor will give my business. I then adjust the margin to ensure that my company generates a fair profit, and that would be that. All I have to do is bid low enough to beat the other vendors and still make enough money on the deal to justify my time and effort plus earn a profit. Simple enough, except…

What if the solution that you want me to price out is wrong? What if the solution that is being ordered is inferior to other options? What if by sharing the details of the problem that your organization is facing I could design a solution for you that is better and cheaper than the one on your shopping list?

The above questions are why I often respond with the requested option (the shopping list solution), and a second option (the design I come up with after calling the client to learn what the problem is that needs to be solved).

I am not suggesting that I will always design something better than what the customer designs, but I am saying that if you truly are requesting a proposal than it is in your best interest just to describe your problem in as much detail as possible and then see how others respond to it. If your vendor comes back with just a shopping list of part numbers and pricing you should be wary. If your vendor comes back with a detailed design and an explanation as to how it will address the problem you can then start negotiating on the proposed price if needed.

If nothing else you will get a great insight into whether or not your dealing with someone looking to make a quick buck, or if your vendor is a serious IT professional. Maybe that is what RFP should actually stand for: “Request for a Professional.”

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