Cattle Fetch Higher Prices and Suffer Less Humiliation

A Story About My 'Favorite' RFP

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Jennifer Modarelli Jennifer Modarelli
We recently were invited to participate in an online RFP issued by one of our longest-standing clients. The RFP was for "strategic Web consulting and design services," and there was an exhaustive set of requirements to essentially prove our existence and our financial stability. They also collected a substantial amount of information about our processes, our disaster-recovery plan and even got a little into employee drug testing.

Mind you, we weren't offended by the fact that these services went to RFP; we've been working for this company for over nine years, and we have been through the centralized procurement cycle before. But this time it was different. This time it was fully automated -- no personal contact, just data into a machine. And this time it wasn't an RFP for creative production (the routine cycles of content updates and template building).

This time, they needed strategic web consulting and design services -- not exactly a commodity, at least in my mind. And they needed these services line-itemed out by role, by hourly rate (reduced by a required percentage below any prior rate we had given them). The rate reduction was required for continued consideration in the RFP. Samples of our "strategic web designs" and documentation of our processes had to be submitted into this implacable piece of RFP software.

You can imagine the thrill of learning we had made the cut and were now invited to the "bidding." Yep, that's right: blind bidding, role by role. Timed bidding intervals. Much like a cattle auction, except that cattle fetch higher prices and suffer less humiliation. Apparently the winner was the lowest bidder, although that still is not quite clear. We had to drop out of the bidding somewhere shy of a rate for which we would need to cut them a check in exchange for the privilege of working with them.

I just have to face the hard facts, I guess. Our agency is behind the times. We are not even at prototype stage on the creation of an artificial intelligence capable of generating volumes of strategic thinking and insight at blinding speeds. We still do our strategy work in human hours. But I suppose our lack of attention to this need is also what allows us to focus on providing solid work at great prices for companies seeking a fair exchange from their agencies and their employees. I think we'll just stay the course and maybe stay out of the bidding exchanges until we start selling steel.

If you're on the agency side, have you been seeing more of these cattle auction RFPs lately? And if you're on the client side, have you run any RFPs this way? I'd love to hear from you.

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