If you don’t want sarcastic poor responses, then don’t ask stupid irrelevant questions.

“Have you ever successfully deployed a similar solution for a similar sized company with similar needs in a similar geography?” is NOT a good question for an RFP. I get it, the idea is that you want to vet the closest and most adequate solution to your needs, but that’s not the right way to do it. Yet, I see companies asking these questions to bidders all the time.

Let’s take that specific question from a binary response angle. Assuming a bidder response is simply “No,” that puts the bidder in a situation of almost automatic disqualification without being fairly vetted for capabilities, process, resources, and more importantly innovation. On the other hand, if the answer is “Yes,” it creates the illusion of an almost perfect match, without accounting for the facts that each company culture is different, circumstances are never the same, and potentially (and more importantly) it assumes that something that has worked in the past will produce the same level of success. This question carries little value to the analysis of innovation, creativity, flexibility and cultural alignment to the organization.

“How many years has your company been in business?” is NOT a good question for an RFP either, but yet again, I get it: experience and expertise comes with time, and proven sustainability and financial stability is an essential part of success, however that’s not the right way to measure any of that either. Yet again, probably nine out of ten RFPs will ask this question.

But what’s the value here? This question is not asking about experience, capabilities, controls or any success metric relatable to the bidders strengths, or the quality of the product/service being offered. If a response is 100 years, does that make that company better than one that has been in the market for five? If you think about companies like Uber or Facebook, time is not necessarily an influencer on their market leadership, or even an indicator of success, yet a younger company may get a lower score in an RFP just because of age. Keep in mind that in a lot of these cases, young companies are led by entrepreneurial and innovative resources with vast experience in their field; but the question is not gauging that, it’s just asking for a mere time metric. On the other hand, older companies probably observe some level of bureaucracy, and may have experienced (multiple) transformations (probably some drastic ones) that can make them undeveloped, inflexible, unadaptable, or even unfit to deliver products or services adequately.

The point here is that asking very specific questions can be as pointless as asking generic ones, and though sometimes these types of questions will serve a purpose when contextualized properly, the expectation is that questions asked in an RFP must drive towards an adequate assessment. In my previous blog, I spoke about RFP templates and I challenged their use, not because they aren’t useful, but because they tend to be abused. Asking the right questions will lead to the right responses. As a solicitor, your goal is to assess the market and find the best fitted solution to your business, not just the finest responses, so the questions you ask are paramount in achieving this, and even more so your evaluation strategy. Otherwise, you may fall in many traps, and likely qualify the wrong bidder in the wrong way. As a bidder, your responses should address the inherent need of the questions, not just provide an answer. Sometimes solicitors must be educated and reminded that capabilities and results are two different things; as previous successes don’t mean the approach is universally applicable, as much as sound capabilities don’t always provide the same results.

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Diego De la Garza

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