Although Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play was published in 1999 by Mahan Khalsa, I was recently introduced to it. I’ve rarely been so impressed with a business book; it’s a must read for business owners, for anyone selling or leading a sales force.
His opening pages intrigued me and describe a prevalent business practice that has merit—the process of letting Requests for Proposals, commonly called RFPs. I’m suggesting minor constraints to improve delivered value.
My experience with RFPs goes back over 25 years, receiving and responding back to many RFPs and RFQs (Requests for Qualifications), predominately in an industrial services environment and as a general contractor in a commercial setting. I understand the intent of RFPs—to determine a vendor’s qualifications and understand their ability to solve a business or facility problem, to weed out underqualified vendors. RFPs can and should be comprehensive, but RFPs can inhibit the ability of the issuing company to see the value that an outwardly “underqualified vendor” might bring into your company.
The scale and complexity of a given project are relevant; small and less experienced contractors may not be the right choice. However, I have seen many smaller, seemingly less experienced contractors outperform project expectations. Recognize that up-and-coming contractors often come with an outsized desire and ability to exceed expectations.
I have seen numerous RFPs that pose unrealistic qualifications, inane questions, and rigid, formulaic response requirements that constrain rather that illuminate. Further, too often vendor responses are required back in a short span of days—to address business challenges that possibly took months or even years to unfold. And, opportunities to clarify the intent of the RFP are sometimes nonexistent.
Whether you look at RFPs traditionally or consider the broader concept of how a business engages with all types of outside vendors, the way a business deals with others can amplify or restrict total business performance. Well-constructed RFPs have value and can help boards and management teams eliminate unqualified suppliers. Take the time to know the people in the organization you will be working with. Take the time to build a working relationship with them.
The value to be gained from developing long-term relationships with solid, responsive suppliers is certainly more than the value capsulated in the typical RFP. I’m just saying …