RFP Process: Courtesy, Please

Posted on July 24, 2012


Last week, I was able to meet with a hospital to get a debrief, which is a short meeting to gain insight into why you were not selected in a request for proposal (RFP) or interview. It is invaluable because firms can get an unvarnished perspective on how to improve their content and communication, as well as find out who did get selected and why. It is the best way for firms to improve proposals and presentations.

I was glad to have my debrief and learned a great deal. My dislike of the RFP process is noted elsewhere, but when prospective clients simply act in a considerate manner even I do not mind doing a proposal every once in a while.  It is the bitter taste of frequent defeat mixed with a lack of courtesy that has soured me on RFPs.  That, and RFPs rarely provide demonstrable value, which is my way of looking out for the client’s best interest.

When an RFP comes along, I think participation and quality submissions would increase if clients (including program managers and owner’s rep’s, who often help manage the process) did six things:

  1. Have a clear scoring method.  There are thousands of ways to rank and decide on a team, all above-board, too.  Do everyone a favor:  let all submitting firms know what you value in your scoring rationale.  Without a clear method of scoring (firms can decide for themselves if it is ‘fair’ before proposing), participants are more likely to ask more questions, treat you, your hospital and project with skepticism, protest the outcome, and possibly never respond to your organization’s future RFPs.
  2. Notify all participants of results.  Imagine applying to college and only hearing back from the school if you got in.  This is pretty common behavior with hospitals.  If you are taking the trouble of running an RFP process, firms expect follow through—or it calls into question what you would be like as a client.  That means a letter, email or call to each party, yeah or nay, that made a submission.  It is a nice touch to let the rejects know who did make the short list (or get the job).  This can be posted on the hospital website.
  3. Play by the rules you set.  Nothing frustrates a firm more than working hard on an RFP submission knowing you will be one-of-three if selected, and then making a short list that includes five firms.  Sure, great for the hospital, but the win percentage for the short-listed firms just plummeted.  RFPs are a low percentage numbers game, and proposals can cost into six figures to create.  Companies must pick and choose their opportunities carefully and win percentage is a real consideration.
  4. Keep to the schedule.  This is similar to number two above.  Companies must plan resources and work several weeks out on RFP logistics.  Delaying or revising a component of the RFP schedule can mean the difference between guaranteeing your A Team and having to present with your C team and whoever else is around.  Firm leaders schedule meetings, project travel and vacations around RFPs.  Treating the schedule as flexible only throws the participant teams into chaos, which undermines the final product.
  5. Provide a debrief to those interested.  Some firms could care less, but those that contact a hospital for a debrief should be able to receive constructive feedback, time permitting—even if it is only a short phone call or email.
  6. Treat those submitting as equals.  Hospitals with an RFP on the street can feel like a pretty woman with many suitors, and it is easy to abuse that attention.  Yet, it is a teaming arrangement being sought, and it takes two to tango.  The more rudely a hospital begins a relationship or takes a power position, the more contentious the project relationship will become later if that team is selected.  In some cases, it is Relationship Management 101, mastering a first impression.  Treat everyone with trust and respect because you never know when you may need your second, or third choice team if a contract negotiation falls through.

If hospitals and their consultants follow the six above guidelines, RFPs will be more highly regarded as a reasonable and fair way to compete for work.