THE BLOG
12/19/2012 03:45 pm ET Updated Feb 18, 2013

An Open Letter to Big Companies Requesting RFPs of Small Companies

Allow me to introduce myself. My name Mitch Ditkoff. I am the co-founder of Idea Champions, a "boutique" innovation consulting and training company headquartered in Woodstock, NY.

We've been in business since 1986 and, since that time, have responded to more than 1,200 RFPs.

Along the way, we've noticed an increasingly disturbing trend -- the RFP process, in most organizations, is borderline cro-magnon, at least in the way that RFP-requesting companies treat the companies they are requesting RFPs from.

And so, as a public service to you, our prospective clients, and all the other "boutique" consulting firms out there who have long since pulled out their hair, here are 10 simple guidelines to improve your RFP process in 2013 and beyond.

At the very least, your integration of these guidelines into your daily business practices will radically reduce your chances of being reborn as a gerbil.

10 TIPS FOR IMPROVING YOUR PROPOSAL PROCESS

1. Be Prepared: The odds of my company delivering a meaningful proposal to you increase exponentially in response to the accuracy and thoroughness of the input you provide.

If the person you report to has asked you to "Google innovation consultants" and put five proposals on his/her desk by next Friday, make sure you are sufficiently briefed so what we deliver to you will be fully aligned with what you really need.

2. Be Clear About Deadlines: Is the proposal you are requesting of us really due yesterday? The first thing tomorrow? Two weeks from now? Please be willing to give us the scoop on when you really need it and we'll be happy to deliver it by then -- or sooner.

When you give potential vendors a fake deadline, it doesn't bode well for your future working relationship -- one that needs to be rooted in mutual trust, respect, and integrity. And besides, unnecessarily stressing potential vendors may end up working against you, significantly increasing the odds of you receiving flawed, incomplete, or incomprehensible proposals.

3. Be Transparent: While your proposal process is your business, not ours, there is something to be said for letting us know how many other companies you've invited to respond. If you're asking another 25, our chances are 4 percent and we might decide not to throw our hat in the ring. Make sense?

If you already know you have only $2,500 to spend on your three-day event in Orlando, let us know that, too. This information will save us the time it takes to write a proposal you will never accept and you the time it will take to read it. Win/Win.

4. Be Ethical: If you are contacting us only to get some useful thought starters about your event or initiative and already know you will not be engaging our services, there's really no need to ask for a proposal.

Chances are good we'll be happy to talk with you about your event, anyway, just for the opportunity to spark a future business relationship with you.

We subscribe to the notion that the more you give, the more you get. But asking us for a proposal that has no chance of being accepted is really not playing fair. Put yourself in our shoes. The Golden Rule applies.

5. Be Direct About What You're Asking For: If what you mean by "a proposal" is merely our fee, simply ask for it and we'll give you at least a ballpark figure. It will save us both a lot of time -- and more than a few trees.

If all you need is two pages' worth, mention that, too. If we give you 10 and your threshold is two, both of us lose. You won't read it and we could have used that time to feed orphans in faraway places.

6. Be Honest: If you've already decided to engage the services of your brother-in-law, but need three competitive bids for "legal reasons," let us know. As part of our newly launched "Consulting Companies for a Proposal Savvy World" campaign, we'll send you -- within 24 hours -- our "They've Already Decided" proposal.

Much less work for us -- and no bad karma for you.

7. Keep Us Posted: At reasonable intervals, after we've submitted our proposa to you, be willing to let us know where things stand. It's a common courtesy.

If you haven't read our proposal yet, that's useful to know. If you can't find it, ask us to send you another. If your conference has been canceled, we're just an email away. If you've decided to do it in-house, just holler. If budgets have been frozen... or your CEO has been indicted by the FTC... or you've decided that one of our competitors is the perfect fit, you know how to find us.

This information, delivered in a timely way, will allow us to release the dates we've been holding for you, significantly reducing the odds of you feeling guilty (or cranky) the next time we ask for an update.

8. Respond to Our (Infrequent) Emails: Often, when a prospective client asks us for a proposal, they ask us to "hold the date." This is perfectly understandable. It's common practice.

But sometimes another prospective client, the next day, will ask us for the same date. That's when we'll ask for an update.

Since we will have given you the right of first refusal, all you need to do is let us know what's happening. Takes less than two minutes.

9. Provide Authentic Closure: Let's say you decide not to engage our services. Maybe you liked another consultant's approach better or decided to go with the low cost provider. So be it. Your choice. No problem. Yes, we might be disappointed, but we'll get over it.

What's harder to get over is when there's no closure.

Of course, we realize you owe us nothing. You are not, by law, required to do anything after we submit our proposal. We also realize that your silence isn't synonymous with a lack of care. Indeed, sometimes it's the opposite -- since you may have grown to like us and don't want to be the bearer of bad news.

For us, bad news is better than none. That's how we learn and, hopefully, get better at responding to your future requests.

And that's not all.

You get to maintain a positive relationship with a company (us) whose services you may want to engage in the future. You also avoid getting a bad rap among the other consulting companies with whom we are regularly in contact.

And we get the kind of feedback we need help us grow our business. How long does this closure effort take? Three minutes? Five? Ten at the most.

10. Consider Reinventing Your RFP Process: The above nine suggestions, of course, are only from our perspective. We're guessing there are at least a few other improvements you can think of that will significantly raise the odds of your future RFP process being more effective, efficient, and humane. How about getting your team together, within the next few weeks. to on what you can do to improve your process.

If you're stuck for fresh ideas about how to improve your RFP process, click here and conjure up some new ways you can change the game for the better.

While the author of this article, Mitch Ditkoff, may seem a bit cranky at the moment, he's generally in high spirits. He loves his work and is grateful for the opportunity to be of service. The company he co-founded, in 1986, Idea Champions, helps organizations establish sustainable, humane cultures of innovation. Mitch is will be delivering a series of innovation keynotes around the world in 2013. Contact his speaker's bureau if you would like to engage his services. If you need him to submit a proposal, please review the above article.

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