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Here’s why we won’t respond to your RFP

Imagine for a moment…

that you want to hire a social media marketing agency, a search marketing agency, or a web development firm.

Your goal (presumably) is to find the best agency…right?

So, naturally, your starting point should be to create a lengthy and painstaking process to see how well potential candidates can follow your orders.  We’ll call it an RFP: “Request for Proposal.”

In this document, be sure to include as much language as possible exhibiting your authority to disqualify applicants for stepping “outside of the box.”  This entire process is about YOU, not US.  Make that clear, or risk getting into the wrong kind of relationship.

I cannot stress how important all of this is if you want to weed out any of those “creative agencies.”  You must start out by showing them who is boss.

The RFP Document

The RFP document itself should be no less than 20 pages long.  The longer the better as the first test is to see if applicants are willing to set aside the time to read about your entire history.

Make sure this document contains specifications about everything!  Please describe in detail the work they will do, how they will do it, and make it clear that they have no power to influence or sway anything about this dog-and-pony show.

In this document, be sure to be specific about the things that are really important.  For instance, you should be sure to outline the acceptable fonts, and exact sizes that will be allowed. If you are accepting paper responses, please note the weight of the paper, the size of the paper, and the shade of whiteness.  Again, it’s important to stress that use of the wrong font or paper, will be regarded as a blatant disrespect for the process and cause for immediate disqualification.

Make sure that the process is entirely on your terms.  Try, if possible, to have a mandatory call or meeting with as little notice as can be managed.  This will also ensure that agencies that have other obligations will be unlikely to participate.

Your goal is to filter out any applicants that might value themselves enough to avoid doing mountains of work, on someone else’s terms, for the possibility, of a possibility, of competing for a contract that they have little influence over.

It’s time to question your proces

An RFP–like the one described above–says three thing immediately:

  1. “We do not value your time”
  2. “We do not value your expertise”
  3. “We don’t value your individuality”

If the first thing you’re asking of my agency is to submit to your will, set aside a few hours to read your document riddled with rules and dominant language about “your discretion” and then put together a proposal in the exact format you want to see, then #sorrynotsorry, but I’ll pass on this “opportunity.”

Bottom line is we don’t even know yet if you’re the kind of client we want to spend the time creating a proposal for in the first place. The one BIG thing that’s being left out of an RFP, is that we don’t get the opportunity before doing all of this work to determine whether WE think YOU are the right fit for US.  It’s a two way street.

That’s one of my biggest problems with the RFP process.  It’s asking me (or my team) to do a tremendous amount of work, follow a laundry list of directions, and ignore the entire brand identity we’ve been building in favor of 12 point Times New Roman…for work we may not even want!

Maybe it’s time for a new approach…

Here’s some food for thought before you send out your next RFP:

  • The best agencies want no part of your RFP.  You can trust me on that one, I have friends that run some of the other top agencies…none of us like your RFP.  None of us.
  • The best agencies don’t have time for your RFP.  We’ve got opportunities flying at us from all angles.  In the end, I’m sorry to say you’re simply not that important, you’re just another opportunity.  The ones who will take the time to go through your process, are dying for the work and have nothing but time.  Does that sound like the one you want to hire?
  • The best agencies are as selective of the clients they choose to work with as you are about the agency you select at the end of this process.

What’s the worst thing that could happen if you just picked the agencies you think you might want to work with, and asked them to come in to pitch your leadership team on their capabilities and approach?

What’s the worst thing that could happen if you went through the normal process that we go through with every other client?

Or, you can just keep doing the same thing

Alternatively, you can keep posting your RFPs and specifying the correct font sizes and setting mandatory meetings.

But don’t ever expect us to go through that process.

We’re too busy, we respect ourselves, our other clients, and our other opportunities too much to let you have that kind of power over our time.

If you’d like to have a regular talk with us, we’d be glad to fit you in.  Until then, good luck.



What do you think?

What did I miss? What did I get wrong? Help build this idea with me by leaving a comment below.

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