Proposals: Is It Time to Rethink the RFP Process?

I recently found myself in the unique position of being on the client side of an RFP process. As a member of the review committee for the QRCA Qually Award, I had the opportunity to evaluate a number of outstanding proposals.  The top three will be presented to the QRCA membership for a vote at our annual conference in Savannah in January 2019.

I had three thoughts as I was reviewing the submissions:

  1. What a smart group of researchers we have as members of the QRCA, and what outstanding thinking was demonstrated in each proposal!
  2. Admiration for the beautifully designed presentation decks submitted by each of the entrants and the skill it took to produce them; and,
  3. I got to wondering if the industry’s established RFP process is unintentionally hindering our ability to put in upfront muscle with our clients and, instead, causing us to focus more on visual delivery as a means of differentiating ourselves.

More and more, we are receiving formal RFPs that construct a barrier between the end client and the researcher.  A formal document arrives, and we are asked to review it and submit questions in writing as a Q&A that will be distributed to everyone.

Philosophically, I have two problems with the process:

  1. I feel like the questions we ask during the formal Q&A are a demonstration of how we think about our clients’ research objectives, and I’d rather not share that thinking with our competitors (I know…bah humbug).
  2. The inability to directly interact with the researcher we will be working with on the project, should we be awarded the business, is detrimental to great research design, which is the critical component to great research learning.

I wonder…would we ALL (clients and researchers) be better served, and more productive, if we re-imagined the RFP process and, instead, had a conversation with each other about the project, debated various study designs together, agreed on a course of action, and pulled together pricing to be delivered in a beautifully designed one-page document?

I see multiple benefits to making these changes:

  • It would take no more time on the client’s part to have a conversation with each of three carefully chosen research companies than it takes to create, disseminate and manage the RFP process and,
  • During the course of the conversations all parties would benefit from the dialogue, get a sense of whether they would work well together, and a better study design would be the result.
  • The time spent on the process would be focused on the upfront dialogue rather than on the back-end deliverable.

I think there is value in producing a beautiful presentation proposal like the ones I reviewed, particularly if it’s our first time working with a company.  A detailed proposal is a way to showcase our ability to translate research into insights in a professional, visually appealing final report.

But let’s put as much muscle into upfront conversation – all of us – as is spent on back-end design. Great research will be the result!