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Requests for proposals overlook value of face-to-face communication

By   /   Friday, February 24th, 2017  /   Comments Off on Requests for proposals overlook value of face-to-face communication

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Scott Harris

I’ve been in business for more than 30 years and in that time I’ve hired quite a few people. But in all that time, not once, did I hire a person based strictly on their resume and certainly I’ve never hired anyone without having met them first. In every instance, I felt it was important, even critical, to meet the people in person before deciding. It’s also very important to have a strong and mighty cover letter or an outstanding reference. And that goes for everyone else I’ve ever met who has had hiring responsibilities.

I met my wife almost 40 years ago and married her 37 years ago. This was in the days before personal computers, before the Internet and certainly before online dating.

However, had online dating been available, I feel fairly confident that I would not have proposed to a woman based on her online profile.

I share this with you because two to three times per month, my firm is asked to respond to an RFP (request for proposal), or an RFQ (request for quote). Frequently, these proposals are sent out blind and with the sometimes exception of a joint Q&A conference call (with all RFP recipients participating).

Not only is there not an allowance for a true one-on-one discussion between the purchasing entity and the vendor/supplier/partner, they are often specifically forbidden.

Why would an entity (public or private) want to hire someone to provide a service based strictly on a paper exchange? No meeting to get a sense of how well the personalities might work together? No meeting to see if the potential supplier can add value to the search process? In truth, nothing except what almost always comes down to price.

Over the years, I have watched company after company hire a marketing firm based strictly on an RFP, only meeting the key players after the decision has been made. And while it works out sometimes, it fails a high percentage of the time.

And so, I have two questions. First, why would anyone who is looking to hire a service based company want to do so without first having met, interviewed, interrogated, challenged and perhaps, most important, listened to the candidates.

And second, why does anyone in the service industry respond to RFPs or RFQs? Do you want to lower your prices as far as you think you can go? Do you want to then work for someone who thinks so little of the service you’re offering that they couldn’t be bothered — or weren’t allowed — to spend time with you before making the decision?

I was recently in a meeting with a new client and they need a new website, something we suggested and they hadn’t talked about. We’ve worked with them for about six months and have invested time in getting to know their business and to run a couple of successful campaigns. At the same time, the CEO and his marketing team have invested time in teaching us about their company, their competitors and their industry.

The CEO then let us know that the board is insisting on an RFP, with price accounting for 50 percent of the total points in the ranking system.

My partner looked across the table and asked them to not include us in the process. She responded, “You know us, we know you. You know our work and our commitment to you. You also know we are not the ‘cheapest’ and that we won’t win the RFP.” He seemed flustered and said, “But we’ve invested so much in you, we would hate to not work with you on this project.” My partner responded with “We feel exactly the same way.” He’s going back to his board to try and kill the price-based RFP, so we’ll see what happens. But it was a good line to draw in the sand.

So, to be clear, I wouldn’t marry someone based on an online profile, I wouldn’t hire an employee based exclusively on a resume and I will never again respond to an RFP that restricts communication.

• Scott Harris is the founder and president of Mustang Marketing in Thousand Oaks.

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