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7 Reasons why RFP’s Don’t Work for Websites

I probably receive a formal request for proposal (RFP) once every week and most times I choose not to respond.  There are many reasons why I feel this traditional process does not work for web development and web marketing initiatives and what follows are my top 7.

1 – Ability to write a good response does not make a vendor qualified

I can hire the best proposal writers in the world if I want.  I’ve got a stable of contract writers with years of experience doing just that.  The problem is that just because I have good writers doesn’t mean I have the qualifications and talent to produce the desired solution.  I think it’s unfortunate that the responses received from the request often read very similarly but have estimates ranging from that of the purchase price of a new moped to a luxury sports car.  Can these really be competitive solutions?  I think not.

2 – Vendor selection is based on relationship and trust

I don’t consider myself a sales person.  I don’t buy from salesmen so why would I try that approach?  Instead I teach and advise.  An educated prospect will make the right choices.  Sometimes they hire us, other times they don’t. We’ve got to be a good fit and it’s got to be a win-win.  My customer knows that they’ve made smart choices and trust me to lead them forward.

3 – RFP writer doesn’t understand solution potential

Most times, an RFP is not written by a web industry professional.  Instead it is delegated to an internal IT resource or marketing coordinator.  While I have the utmost respect for these individuals, they simply don’t have the knowledge of modern web services and solutions.  Internet development technologies and marketing best practices change almost daily.  I myself find it difficult to keep up with the changes and have a staff of subject matter experts to constantly advise me.   Companies seeking to get the best return on their investment should involve their internet partner in the early strategy and planning stages.  Only then can all client and partner expectations be clearly understood and business objectives met.

4 – There are hundreds of ways to provide the same solution

I often see requests to develop an ecommerce website with little additional detail.  Having built hundreds of sites over the last 15 years, I can tell you that costs and features of an online store range from under $100/mo. to millions.  The proposal details are usually too vague to determine which solution to propose.  Most times, the customer doesn’t even know what the pros and cons of these solutions are or what they really want or need.  Unless I’m clairvoyant, responding to this request is like throwing darts.

5 – Without proper education client expectations cannot be met

In order for a web development or marketing project to be effective, business objectives must first be clearly defined and budget must be allocated.  Developing a strategy to obtain the best solution requires many hours of collaborative conversations with the management, key stakeholders, decision makers, developers, marketers and more.  It takes a team of experts to understand the goals, the strategy, and the approach that will best match budget and return expectations.

6 – RFP’s purpose is to solicit ideas

Sometimes a business prospect will put out a Request for Proposal just to get ideas.  I have friends who are previous technology officers for companies who tell me candidly that often an RFP project is never intended.  Instead, the scharade it enacted only to get ideas from industry professionals.  These are particularly frustrating because you’ll find out afterward that you’ve invested all of your time and energy into something that was never going to generate income for you.

7 – RFP responses are expensive

Probably the most common reason I choose not to reply is that I simply can’t afford to have my best talent working on a proposal for work that I may never win.  Expert web strategists and consultants are expensive. If I’m going to dedicate the 20 to 40 hours necessary to research and provide a quality response, I’ve got to recover that cost somehow.  Since there is no guarantee that I’ll get the business, it may take me two or three proposals before I generate income and it is very difficult to justify adding 90 hours of my top talent billable rate to every proposal just to cover my costs.  As the customer, I’d be frustrated if I knew that the solution price was inflated to cover these costs.