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Love Me Tender: In Praise of the RFP Process

Adam Rubin is an alumnus of Spektrix.

If you’ve worked for a really big organisation, like a city or a university, you’ve probably had the experience of working on a Request For Proposal (RFP); a way of comparing pretty much everything you use at work, from pencils and dry cleaning to your IT and ticketing systems. In my experience, they usually involve a lot of paperwork and not a lot of fun. Not only can they be complex and time-consuming, but the formality and lack of flexibility can be frustrating.

But although they can sometimes seem like a bunch of bullet points, signatures and deadlines, RFPs serve a valuable purpose for the organizations that issue them and the vendors that respond for two big reasons:

  • First, they guarantee that procurement processes are fair and free of bias, for whoever wants to bid. A supplier who might be new to the market can go up against one who has been there for 15 years or more, based purely on functionality and merit.
  • Second, they give venues the opportunity to take a step back and evaluate their mission and goals, ahead of making a major commitment. As a result, they’re a great way of evaluating how much of a good fit a supplier is for you (and how much of a good fit you are for them, too).

My overall experience with RFPs has been really positive. In fact, a lot of our clients have come to us through processes like this and we find that they often work really well for both sides. But from the many that we’ve experienced, the ones we’ve enjoyed the most are where the venue has found inventive ways of using them to their advantage. We wanted to share these experiences with you in praise of the RFP process (because we don’t say it enough). Here are the characteristics shared by our favorite RFPs:

They solve problems

I’ve worked on RFPs where the venue identifies their common problems and goals, then asks the supplier to explain how they would approach and solve those problems. These are my favourite types of RFP questions. Answering them, I can give the venue a great insight into us as a supplier, making it clear how we can improve day to day life at work for them and also help to achieve the long terms goals. We love solving problems, so RFPs that focus on business scenarios are particularly interesting to work on.

They’re used as an opportunity to get to know each other

You wouldn’t be running a complex RFP if it wasn’t for a big part of your business and a major spend. So it only makes sense to take the time for venue and supplier to understand each other at this early point in the relationship. I’ve seen venues that give a long history of their theatre, talk about how they’re changing their business model and what their strategic goals are for growth. These give me a great chance to really get to know the type of venue that we’re writing a proposal for, and it gives me the chance to decide if we’re the best fit for their business.

They include facetime

This one can be one of the hardest but most beneficial things to arrange during the RFP evaluation process. Getting a chance to meet face-to-face allows venues and suppliers to be open and honest with each other. I’ve been to whole day ‘pre-RFP’ sessions, two-day demos during the evaluation and four-hour meetings too. At this stage, the more time spent getting to know each other the better – and I think it goes for both sides. You’re buying people not software, so why not meet them? Meetings like these, combined with the RFP documents themselves, can provide a great foundation for a strong partnership.

They’re used as an opportunity to re-evaluate the old system

Getting a new ticketing system is never going to mean getting features which are identical to your old system. Because of this, we’ve found that RFPs are really useful as an exercise in analysing the gaps. An important aspect of the procurement process is finding out where the gaps in functionality might be between what you need and what your potential new supplier offers, or finding out what might need a workaround. But it’s also an opportunity to find the areas that will exceed your expectations – for suppliers like us, it lets us show the really positive impact we can make (even beyond what the client was expecting).

Hopefully this gives you some inspiration the next time you have to face that mountain of paperwork. In essence, it’s all about personalising the process and getting to know potential clients really well before they sign. We want to have long-term, rewarding relationships with our clients, and the RFP process is a great way to kick those relationships off.