Wednesday, May 17, 2017

REDEFINING THE RFP PART III Or REDUNDANT, FORMIDABLE, PLODDING

The catch phrase of the year is “disruptive,” and so we have been and will continue to be as we attack this subject. I thank so many of you for your input. I’m going to use it all for this Part Three. All of you have fantastic input, definitive opinions, and great interest in making some changes. And all of you are asking “how do we do that?” By standing together and effecting change… haven’t got it all figured out yet, but with all of you continuing to weigh in, maybe we’ll get there.

I’m going to add to this some comments by Bob Abbott, a former client (now retired) and meeting planner. Here’s what Bob had to say: “Typically I did a lot of homework leading up to selecting a supplier; therefore, I knew going in which potential suppliers were likely to deliver what I needed. Enter the Finance VP or Purchasing Manager: policy demands three bids. Did I need them? No. Did they? Not really. But they didn’t understand the process because they were in the mode of purchasing manufacturing process, commodities, and services. They also tended to buy the least costly whatever. To them, relationships and results didn’t matter as much as bottom line costs.”

Bob also adds that time is at a premium so often that some “cut and paste” is faster and sometimes appropriate if the event repeats year after year. “I” (Bob) “thought of the RFP as a door opener, inviting my selected potential suppliers to the table for interaction and dialogue. If I were one of those suppliers, my first action would be an exploratory phone call to address questions.”

So, believe it or not, we are on the same page with this savvy planner.

Hopefully Bob will read this and help us out with some common concerns:

1. Many RFPs state that the client will own all ideas. This means they are receiving a ton of creativity that they can unfairly give to their chosen vendor.

I say "never"!!!! I won't bid on a job which has this clause. What about you?

2. We find that no matter how many questions we ask to make sure that the project is for real and qualified we are dependent on the prospective client to tell the truth. They ask for bids without even knowing if they have the permission to carry out their plan, have the funds, have the time, or have the decision-making power.

We always need to ask "who is the decision maker?" And "is this a definite project?" Perhaps we should consider saying that we will respond to the RFP for no charge if it is a for-sure project (check with the venue; check with the city). However, if it is a proposed project that has not been approved, then we'll need to charge for the response. Thoughts, everyone?

3. You receive an RFP on a Friday before a holiday weekend. You send questions that need to be asked in order to respond. A kick-back email message advises that the sender is out for a week, and, of course, the RFP is due upon sender's return.

I would respond that "RFP was received at... questions submitted at... as soon as answers are received we will have our response to you within 48 hours (or your time frame) of receipt. And one of the questions should be "when will the responses be reviewed and read?"

4. One reader suggests that we interview people who have worked for these companies before.

I say "amen" to this suggestion.

5. Another reader suggests that "It's sad that most procurement specialists feel that the process is their attempt to do what is best for the company. However, anyone who is good at responding to RFPs knows that you bid low, be very specific, and make your money on the add ons.

How do you all feel about this? We base our business on the fact that we don't do this; we bid fairly and rarely have add ons to the RFP requirements, only to things that were not originally included.

6. Here's a new piece of information, and I hope that hoteliers will respond to this and let us know if it is true. And if so, could it work elsewhere in our industry? So here's the claim: Most hotels have an automatic RFP response system. They are too busy to respond to the RFP by reading the requirements in it. The system reads the event dates and automatically populates a response/proposal to be accordingly emailed back to the RFP sender (event company). If the RFP sender is really serious, he/she will contact the hotel to follow up. So the hotel doesn't work on it when they receive the RFP, only if the sender follows up.

The sender (event company) had sent an RFP that was clearly written as six (6) bullet point items which were main decision points for their client's event project. Not one hotel gave a complete response to those six points in their proposals. In order to collect relevant data, back and forth email traffic took place to ascertain all the needed information.

Hmmmm... when am I "too busy" to read an RFP?

The consensus is obvious: Everyone, planner, supplier, hotelier... everyone wants the process to change. And it seems to all boil down to qualifying the business from both points of view. Let's keep on working on this together, okay? Let's share our thoughts on solutions. I think we have a good handle on the challenges. As all of us would tell our employees: Don't come to me with the problem. Come to me with the problem and your proposed solution.

Let's open up a discussion of this additional dilemma. Many of you had one major issue: clients "stealing" our ideas. If the RFP calls for creative ideas, what can we put in place to protect ourselves from this unethical behavior? Any opinions out there on this topic? If so, I'll use them to further our discussion.

Let's all work together to disrupt things and change them up so everyone benefits. Okay?


Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

REDEFINING THE RFP, PART TWO: Revolting, Frivolous, Preposterous?

Admittedly revolting, frivolous, and preposterous were not the words I received in response to the existing RFP process in Part One, but similes. Universally (and I received a lot of input) no one defended the process as we know it to be now.

I am going to refer to a very thoughtful correspondence I received from Kate Patay, an event industry consultant, as she summarized what so many of you readers have shared... the process has to change.

1.We are in a fully transparent world. No one can hide anymore. Nothing can be hidden anymore.

2. Time is money. And we are being wasteful of both.

3. Kate closed with an Oprah quote that resonated: "Let excellence be your brand... when you are excellent you become unforgettable. Doing the right thing, even when nobody knows you are doing the right thing, will always bring the right thing to you."
     
      Should we assume that the purpose of an RFP should be to discover excellence? As written, they are now designed to discover mediocrity or lack of relevance. Am I wrong?

So why is this happening? Companies are sending out blanket RFPs. They lack real information. They lack an achievable goal. And they are not designed to discover the core competency of the responder. In many cases, they are designed to give a budget number that can be compared to other responders' budget numbers.

Let me tell you a story... a true one... I was asked to present my response to an RFP to a committee. I walked into a conference room and handed out my proposal and immediately saw that almost all of the committee had turned to the budget tab in this beautifully constructed document filled with photos and renderings. So, I sat down. Obviously puzzled, my contact said, "Aren't you going to present your proposal to us?" My response was, "No, I'm not." And then I shut up. Everyone got very uncomfortable until my contact said, "But you're here to give us your proposal for this event, aren't you?"

I politely responded with, "That's what I thought I was going to do. But it is obvious to me that all you care about is where the dollar sign and decimal point fall and how much it will all cost, but so far I haven't seen that you're interested in what design ideas, concepts, or value you are getting for those dollars. So if you have no idea what you're buying for the money I've quoted, then there's no point in my presenting anything to you. If you'd like to close the budget page and hear what I'd like to do and why, and why every cost brings value to your project, then I'm happy to present to you." Note: they closed their books and listened. I won the business. At least that time. 

So the question remains: is an RFP a demand for the best creative idea (and this brings on an entirely different discussion) or is it designed to filter through prospective companies and find the one best suited for collaboration? And how do we do this if we do not have enough information about the project to appropriately answer the RFP and be relevant?

Shouldn't clients return to the information pipeline and understand how crucial it is to give out concrete information? Why? So that when those of us choose to respond (and yes I believe we should choose based upon the quality of the RFP) we can showcase our strengths and what we bring to the table when we make that choice. We can only do that if we know what we are being asked to do in specific detail. 

All of that is very general, isn't it? Read Part One and some of those questions will be addressed. 

Moving forward and continuing this discussion, I would love to get the input of some of the corporate planners who issue RFPs to find out the following:

  1. When you are asked to bid out a project, are you being challenged by time? (This is an assumption, of course, that a planner or procurement department has some other department or person with a need, and you are responding to that need on their behalf.)
  2. How often do you cut and paste your inclusions versus creating an original document?
  3. How much of what you ask for are you actually reading?
  4. If you send out an RFP to 10 companies (or more), are you reading all of them page for page, line by line in consideration of the great amount of time and money it took to respond?
  5. Do you send out RFPs even when you know who you are giving the business to in advance?
  6. Do you ever pay for companies to respond to an RFP and send you a creative proposal?
  7. What would you like companies that receive your RFPs to know about the process you go through to qualify them?
       Join in here folks... it's the topic of the day, and it's up to us to find a way to solve the problem we've all helped to create. Let's not complain. Let's find ways to fix this. Thoughts anyone?     

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.