Is responding to RFPs a waste of time?

Posted on October 21, 2008

I was having an email exchange with my friend Kevin Shoesmith. He knew I had been with the guys at silverorange, and he pointed out a blog post from Dan James earlier this summer, about how to grow a Web development company.

One of the pieces of advice he gives might be shocking to a lot of people:

Don’t bid on projects, respond to Requests For Proposals (RFPs), or do mock ups for free. Number of proposals silverorange has written in nine years: 20-30. Number of projects silverorange has won by writing proposals: 0.

I was a little taken aback by this. No RFPs? Isn’t that how stuff gets done?

I mentioned this to Joe today, accompanied by “isn’t that nuts?” or something. But Joe responded thusly:

Well, remember that we’ve never won a wide-call RFP.

I was a little stunned, but he’s right. We have never “won” an RFP process at Blend, despite completing 12-15 of them. I know David complains about them as “cattle calls,” but I thought for sure that we had landed at least a couple deals from them.

But no, the RFP response effort at Blend has been a total bust over the years. And they’re so time-consuming – to really respond well to a typically in-depth RFP is a 6+ hour proposition, stretched over several days as you go back and forth, getting questions answered, rolling the dice and guessing on hours, etc.

As for never writing a “bid,” I’m not quite sure how they get away with that. We write “bids” all the time, though they’re usually just comprised of a couple pages that essentially say, “this is our basic understanding of what you want to do, and this is roughly how much time we think it’s going to take, and how much it’s going to cost, but this is just an estimate...” A lot of companies need these for internal documentation, budget approvals, etc.

But, the traditional RFP process – is this a complete time-waster? I mean, someone has to be winning these things...right?

This is item #175 in a sequence of 357 items.

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