Blackbean Industrial Marketing

RFP Hell and The Value of Discovery

2 min read

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Recently, we've submitted a number of RFPs for public and private projects. It's something we used to do a lot, and have recently done very little.

It doesn't matter if you are an agency, a distribution company, or a construction business: the process of writing a proposal for an RFP is one that's not very much fun, to put it mildly. Necessary, perhaps. A good skill to have, certainly. We've read some good RFPs, some bad ones, and some horrible ones. Regardless of the quality of the RFP, one of the pain points we kept bumping up against was a lack of understanding.

Not just our inability to understand the RFP (though that has happened as well). When organizations develop RFPs, they strive to communicate the objectives and requirements of the project as clearly as possible. At least, I think they do — sometimes, I'm not so sure.

The challenge is that we're trying to engage in a partnership, a two-way street. That's what our bid represents: an offer of partnership. RFPs, by their nature, minimize and limit communication between the client and provider during one of the most critical phases of that partnership: discovery.

Discovery is the core of your project

Without the ability to discuss, brainstorm, plan, and align our visions, a submission to an RFP is a best-guess. We don't know the exact resources of the client. We don't have insight into their communication styles and personalities, their personal wants and needs.

We can (and always do!) include discovery in our process when submitting our proposal. The struggle (and it's real) is that we're asked to plan the rest of the project sans discovery. It becomes difficult to pitch to the requirements of the RFP when what we want to write is 'we'll discuss your options with you and choose the best way forward upon reflection'. An RFP asks very direct questions before vendors can provide accurate answers, whereas a true service partner will take the time to fully understand your project's wants and needs before suggesting a solution.

Every struggle is an opportunity to learn and innovate. Our RFP struggle helped us realize that this top-down, waterfall approach to projects doesn't play to our strengths, and it doesn't help a client's project one bit. Once we laid bare the absurdity of pitching every detail of a website before we've had a conversation with the project team, we realized that the implications are bigger than just RFPs. We're considering how to embrace and pitch Agile project management. We're revising our criteria for which RFPs we bid on.

Ultimately, we're doubling down on our commitment to doing things the right way — and that isn't necessarily the RFP way.

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