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A new client of mine was complaining that the RFP they were chasing was wired for another vendor. Wired generally refers to the situation when the RFP has specific qualifications that only one vendor could reasonably address. The team felt they were not being dealt with fairly. They explained that the RFP process, in this case for federal government procurement, was supposed to create a level playing field on which everyone could equally compete. If they were technically compliant, passed the minimal test of competency, and were the lowest price, they should win. Yeah, right! When I was delivering a keynote address at a recent conference, one of the participants shared my now-favorite description of an RFP: a document to justify a decision that has already been made.
So, what devious plot led to the wired RFP? It was probably something like this.
The agency that put out the RFP had a meeting with another vendor several months ago. During that meeting, the now-preferred vendor helped to diagnose a challenge the agency was facing. The vendor illustrated how they had successfully helped others through a similar situation. During the process, they helped the agency discover how much this issue was impacting the organization, and how important it was to solve. Over the coming weeks or months, they had numerous conversations and meetings where the agency developed a sense of comfort that the vendor understood their situation better than the agency understood it themselves. Indeed, they had become a trusted advisor. However, the agency had one serious concern: What if the procurement people selected the wrong vendor? How could they ensure they didn’t get a low bidder who could not deliver results? This issue was important enough to the agency that they couldn’t take the chance of getting it wrong or missing the deadline.
You might be content getting your grass cut from the low bidder. If you are purchasing a true commodity, then the low bidder might seem like a good choice. How about if you needed open-heart surgery? Do you want the lowest bidder to represent you on a critical legal matter? Of course not. In short, the more important the situation, the less likely you are to base your decision on price. If you are a body shop – the term for companies that merely supply personnel that meet a set of baseline skills – then price might be your only competitive tool. But, if your organization is seen as strategic advisors, the client knows that your brain power may be more valuable than someone else’s brain power on a given topic. Once the client believes that you have the best detailed understanding of their situation, and they have shared soul-searching conversations with you about their challenges, do you think they want to take the chance that another vendor can reach that same level? If the issue is important for them to solve, they are not going to take that chance. In most cases, the notion of an RFP being wired is not the result of a devious/deceptive plot. Rather, the customer has developed a comfort with a specific vendor, and they feel that their preferred vendor can deliver faster, better, and with less risk than anyone else. They may even feel that the vendor has earned the business by helping them discover the challenge and associated solution.
So, the next time your team is whining that your competitor wired another RFP, stop the whining. Instead, discover how to get to the next opportunity early. When you get there early, be sure to bring enough value to the table so that if the client is inclined to wire the RFP, it will be for you.