Wednesday, January 21, 2015

RFPs: Demystify the Process and Win Business Without Losing Money

A doctor will not prescribe medication for you without an examination and subsequent diagnosis.

A mechanic will not order parts for your vehicle without first examining the car and diagnosing the problem.

We in the meetings and event worlds are not doctors. Life and death are not within the scope of our responsibilities. Nor are we mechanics that fix vehicles.

Or are we? We are responsible for the health and well-being of corporate messaging. We are often responsible for fixing a corporate problem with well though out and strategic events. Yet as event professionals we are often expected to respond to an RFP or even a first meeting with a complete proposal, renderings, descriptives and the like.

Provocative thought, isn't it? Is our industry taken so lightly that we are not allowed to think and plan, diagnose and solve?

An informal Special Events magazine poll revealed that event design and production companies spend from $12,000-$15,000 responding to a client's Request for Proposal. Many of my event planning and production associates agree that the cost of responding to RFPs has gone up over the last few years. I know in my own business that the cost has probably tripled at least primarily because my company is going after larger jobs.

Increased competition has also forced everyone to take it over the top spending more time researching, analyzing, diagnosing and creating our responses in order to be pertinent. Long gone are the days when we can take Proposal B-13 out of the archives and re-purpose it for a new client. So with an in-depth proposal as the goal we have to hire additional freelance creative staff, and design intricate floor plans and renderings, often even create film, to assure that our clients get our vision.

To double the pressure on all of us, clients want detail, detail, detail, including our financial statements as part of it all. [Translated: Our accountant needs to do double-time.) And, clients want it right now! Immediately.

The Catch 22 with extensive detail is that most RFPs also ask for subcontractor information. Along with that, you might find what I call the latest and greatest: Clients require they have the right to use your ideas, renderings, et al, at will. Oh, and guess what? Before they consider you, you must sign and agree to that nifty clause. If a client is merely window-shopping, where does that leave you?

Spending a lot of money with no clue what you are doing and why is my answer to that question. Why do you want to do that?

It would be sheer luck if you could win a bid before you fully understood the needs and goals of your client and this very specific project. Submit a capabilities document? Of course. It's not your capabilities that are changing. It's the specific client and their specific needs that are unique.

The Solutions

The perfect solution to all of the issues outlined above is to charge for your proposal. Most of the companies you are dealing with have R&D departments. They are paid for their time. An architect does not design a building for you without charging for his time, does he? This is particularly effective if you know someone is trolling for bids. At the very least, it might keep the competition limited to three instead of 23 bids. Explain to the prospective client that the cost will be refunded upon the signing of a contract (i.e. applied to the job). Admittedly very few clients will allow for this, but it's worth a try.

What you can always do is have clients sign an agreement not to use any part of your proposal if the job is awarded to another company. Do this before you hand over the proposal. Using your ideas is theft. (This will put a stop to the practice of being handed a proposal from a competitor and asked to price it out against them.)

These two practices will give your proposals far more perceived value. And, just think, if this became an industry practice, all the above problems would be solved. Consider it. I'd love for you to share your thoughts on it with me via

Andrea Michaels is the president of multiple award-winning Extraordinary Events EE just took home its 39th Special Events magazine Gala Award. Andrea was presented with the Steve Kemble Leadership Award during The Special Event, adding to numerous personal honors, including the Pillar of the Industry Gala and the Event Solution Hall of Fame awards. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower - Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life and co-author of a number of other business books.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Don't Avoid Customer Complaints. Manage Them.

Shep Hyken , a customer service expert, professional speaker and New York Times bestselling business author, has graciously agreed to share this impressive article published last month. Be sure to click on the links within the article. They lead to even more great articles! Learn and enjoy! -Andrea


It is typical that most companies want to create a customer service experience that doesn't give their customers anything to complain about. Well, it's not a matter if the customer will ever have a complaint. It's when the customer will complain.

Furthermore, the concept of complaint avoidance isn't about trying to be perfect and never having a customer complaint. For the purpose of this lesson, it's about avoiding reality. In other words, it's about turning your head from mistakes, problems and complaints - acting as if they aren't there.

Let's discuss two types of complaint avoidance.

The first is the potential complaint. This is a complaint that hasn't yet happened. It's there, just waiting to be discovered. You know about it, but choose to look the other way away and, for whatever the reason, you don't deal with it. It could be due to fear, laziness or apathy. It doesn't matter what the reason is. Avoiding the problem doesn't make it go away. Instead, you must seize this as an opportunity to step up and fix the problem before it becomes a complaint. You may have noticed a glitch or problem in your system. It may be an error on a report. It may be that you found out that your customer's shipment won't arrive on the date promised. Regardless of whatever the problem may be, rather than avoid it, manage it. Determine the issue, how it happened and what you can do to fix it. Communication becomes important. Be proactive. If there is a customer that needs to be informed, then inform them before they inform you. And by the way, that includes your internal customers as well. They depend on your good work, just as the customer does.

The second is simply avoiding the customer's complaints. Dodging phone calls or not responding to emails and hoping that the customer will just stop complaining and go away. Not dealing with the complaint may escalate it to become worse than it is. And, in some cases, the customer may actually stop complaining. They may even go away ... permanently. I'm not a psychologist, but I believe this is considered passive-aggressive behavior, aggressively deciding to passively avoid the issue.

In either situation, the reality is that there is a problem. It has either the potential to become a complaint or already is a complaint. Either way, it must be dealt with. So, here are three simple thoughts about managing versus avoiding customer complaints.

1. Be proactive. Deal with a potential problem or complaint as quickly as possible.

2. It may or may not be your fault. Either way, you must demonstrate an attitude of accountability to choose to own it.

3. Don't just fix the problem. In the process, work to restore confidence. Prove that the customer made the right decision to do business with you.

Shep Hyken may be reached via (314) 692-2200 or For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to Follow on Twitter @Hyken.

Extraordinary Events is an international meeting and event planning and production firm based in Los Angeles, California. To learn more, visit or contact Andrea Michaels via