Just because a buyer wants to run an RFP process, doesn’t mean you should.
Buyers may choose to use an RFP procurement process to select a supplier for several reasons. On the surface it makes sense. It offers a level playing field, efficiency, and a way to drive down the price via a competitive process. These are all good things for the buyer, but maybe not so good for you as the seller.
A tender process could dilute your differentiation as it lets the customer decide how you do your job rather than being led by you as the expert. It can also put you into a box where you compete on price with half-rate competitors and worst of all… it’s often rigged where the decision is already made in your competitor's favour before you even submit a response.
So, if you want to avoid an RFP process - what are your options?
- You can give persuasion a crack and try to convince the buyer why it could be in their interest to select via a non-RFP process. For example, they may disqualify good potential vendors, relationship building will be prohibited and potentially important benefits the vendor could offer may be precluded if they aren’t included in the initial RFP document. You might instead be able to convince them why you should be their preferred supplier and to let you have a final “bite at the cherry”.
- Asking questions such as: “Under what circumstances would you consider a non-RFP process with us?” or “are there any circumstances whatsoever where you would consider a non-RFP process?” are killer questions that will test for any flexibility from the buyer.
- Are there ways the buyer can assist in making you happy to invest your time and effort to submit a response? You could trade with them. For example: “If you pay me my daily consulting fee for the time it takes me to write a bid response then I’ll gladly submit a response for you. I’ll even rebate the full amount back in the event I am the winning bid”. Or “If you can allow me a meeting with the key decision-makers so that I can understand how they can evaluate the proposals and provide me with the comfort that it’s worth my investment of time, then I’ll bid”
- Finally, you always have the option of simply not responding. If the risks/costs of responding are greater than not responding, then walking away may be the right decision. If it turns out that you are their preferred supplier, then this may motivate the buyer to negotiate with you directly, or if/when they engage with you in the future it will be on your terms.
Remember, as a buyer choosing to run an RFP process isn’t always in your best interest as both the seller and you do have options.
Next time we'll cover issues with the RFP process from the buyer's perspective.
Until then, happy negotiating!