RFPs: When To Answer And When To Pass
By Christy Lamagna, CMP, CMM, CTSM
RFP, as most of us know, stands for “request for proposal.” It’s a document that seeks information from potential vendors to determine if a client wants to do business with them. Whether you’re a hotel answering an RFP for a group, or a third party/independent planner answering an RFP for new business, think carefully before replying. In my experience, not all business is good business. Professional relationships should be about shared goals, values and respect. When those elements are absent, for me, the money is meaningless.
I recently received an RFP that I had worked for years to get. It was for a very large, internationally known company. Being put on the RFP list was a coup, and I was thrilled to have earned my spot. When I finished reading the 20-plus page document, however, my stomach was doing flip- flops. The butterflies I’d felt when I started were replaced by dread. I knew there was no way I would participate in this process.
An RFP is not a one-way communication tool. The company sending it is telling you as much about itself as do the questions it asks.
This particular RFP demonstrated a genuine lack of knowledge about how important strategic events are. What also came through was a strong sense of leveraging the company’s size to intimidate potential vendors into providing rock-bottom pricing while working under enormous pressure and breakneck turnaround times. Have you heard the phrase, “It’s OK if you’re losing money, you can make it up in volume”? That was the attitude in this document.
Much can be learned about someone by paying attention to the questions they ask, the words they use and the manner in which they communicate. In this instance, the RFP was due within a week of receipt and would require a full-time commitment to meet that deadline. Questions submitted by the bidders seeking clarification were left largely unanswered. So, respondents were left adrift, but accountable. For instance: “If you are chosen to work with us, what percentage of your business would our company represent to you?” That’s a simple mathematic equation, until the sender refuses to disclose the number of events it wants, the spend or the number of potential participants.
It became clear that this opportunity, while a feather in our cap and a boost to the bottom line, was more of a “request for pain” than anything else. I tell my team that people and work product are more important than money. Those words mean I turn down business or let clients go when they’re not in harmony with that credo. I could have won that piece of business. I know my company would have done a better job than anyone else. I also knew that in doing so, I would lose things that were much more valuable to me: the love of going to work for both me and my team, their respect and my own. It was an expensive decision for which I am all the richer.
Need help figuring out if an RFP reply is the right thing for you? Email me at Christy.Lamagna@strategic.events
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