Marketers Exhibit Cad-Like Behavior at the RFP Ball

We're Not Asking to Get Married, but Some Basic Respect Would Be Nice

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Jennifer Modarelli
Jennifer Modarelli
Have you been busy digging your way through the annual year-end/Q1 barrage of RFPs? A large volume of requests for proposals on the market is a good thing, of course, and we love responding to the ones that are qualified and aligned to our services. As you know, the RFP gauntlet can be a great source of new business, a chance for more team members to pitch in on pitching, and even a chance to dream up all the things you wish you could do for your existing clients. And who doesn't love a little healthy competition? I believe that deep down inside of us, agencies enjoy going head to head.

Lately, though, I have noticed four rather disturbing trends in the RFP process. Do these sound familiar?

1. Sending us a late invitation. It's back! Popular about six years or so ago, this scenario involves sending the agency an RFP after it is already well under way. Mind you, it's always nice to be thought of, even if it's an afterthought, and you're almost always given a reason, which you can weigh in considering whether or not to accept the invitation. But you're usually not given more time, which is going to prevent you from doing your best work. Yes, this type of late invite is an easy pass. I am just surprised to see the increase in volume and wonder what it says about the client's RFP planning process. Any insight, clients?

2. Standing us up for dinner. I implore those running the RFPs: If you are not going to make it to the restaurant as planned, call us and let us know why. We understand about these things, we really do. If your RFP has laid out a timeline for when you will respond, please keep it, even if your response is "We missed our date, but we're going to respond to you at a later date" (which I also implore you to do).

3. Leaving us at the prom. Was it something we said? Was it the pink taffeta dress? We thought the pitch went great, the chemistry in the room was just right, and we really liked each other. But ultimately you have to tell us you just don't think we're right for each other. Spend that extra time to really tell us why we lost. We've invested a lot in our courtship, and we have very thick skin. We do this for a living. Those who take that extra time to offer candid feedback are providing some return on the work that went into the pitch by giving us insights we can use in future pitches.

4. Taking us into the Bermuda triangle. So after days of preparation, there's a great meeting, a few follow-up e-mails, and then suddenly ... nothing. This actually happens. Phone calls go unreturned, e-mails unanswered for weeks and months, and often you never find out why. This is by far the most disturbing trend, and one that I will never understand. I once again encourage those of you running RFPs to remember that a little feedback goes a long way, and we have very thick skin. So just drop a note and let us know where we or the project stands. It is just good etiquette and it'll make us stop hounding you.

Now, lest I start to sound like a prom date worth leaving at the dance, let me point out that all of these requests are in the interests of helping agencies that are very eager to help you. Even though RFPs precede an actual business relationship, they contain an implied transaction: We'll invest heavily in time, brainpower and, yes, emotion to demonstrate how we can move your business forward. Your end of the bargain is to acknowledge that contribution at each step of the process. That's a fair exchange, which is the basis of every healthy relationship -- even the ones that don't get as serious as we'd like them to.

I'd love to hear from other agencies on their recent experiences with RFPs. Are you seeing the same trends? Anything else? Go ahead and dish on your bad dates; it'll make you feel better.

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