Why the Request for Proposal Process is Broken

The way we hire has changed over the last few decades, but pitching remains more or less the same the same thing. The traditional approach to selecting a supplier has been around for more than 50 years, and it is completely out of date. The process is complex and does not really give you any contextual information. RFPs are simply too slow for a business world that moves at lighting speed. They can sometimes take four or five months, or even an entire year to finish in the worst of cases.


What is we picked our doctors in the same way that we pick our outsourcing suppliers? Imagine this scenario:

Doctors, I have a headache. Attached is my RFP. Please view all of my requirements, decision making factors, and objectives. I will make my final decision based on price and best criteria met.

I want a physician with a doctorate in medicine, with four years specializing in the headache field. He or she must also have 10 years of experience in the field of neuroscience, and must include three professional references.

I want you to stop my headache. Please describe how you will end my pain and stop it from happening again. My budget is $500. Please have your RFP responses ready to me by the end of the day. Thanks.

In such a crazy world, there would be plenty of doctors who will agree to fix your pain for $500. But of course, it would be a lie. In order for the doctor to know what is actually wrong with your head he would need to interview, examine and conduct tests on the patient to see what the cause is, and if he is even able to make it stop.

That is the same problem we face with RFPs. Suppliers are not given adequate time to understand a client’s true needs. Therefore, quotes are given blindly and a few months down the road everyone is unhappy. Suppliers are unable to supply clients with what they need, and everyone walks away angry.

What is the Alternative?

RFPs are dead. They are an inferior tool for evaluating outsourcing agencies. At the very best, all they do is give you a rough idea of what the agency accomplished in the past. However, you’re not hiring an agency for what they did yesterday, you are hiring them for what they can do tomorrow.

An alternative and smarter search is to facilitate a number of paid workshops with potential agencies. This gives you more time to see how they develop strategies, create work, think, how fast they are, and how passionate they are. In other words, you can see weather the agency’s level live up to your expectations.

Have meetings with agency leaders in the beginning. If you do not like the leader, then you will not like the agency. Take time to hear the leadership’s concerns and their views on innovation, creativity, insight and intuition. Basically, since you are hiring their organization for the future, you want to know what they are prepared to deliver.

Another great option is to give them an assignment and evaluate their solution. This is the perfect time to find out how passionate they are about helping your business, and if they are cooperative and collaborative. How proactive are they? Are they creating new apps? Starting new communities?

Unlike a conventional RFP, this approach will give you a better idea of how agencies work in real life. At the same time, it will give them an opportunity to look at your organization in more detail. This has the potential to save valuable time, efforts, and disruptions on both sides.