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February 18, 2020

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RFP Red Flags: DO NOT Respond to Wired Bids

Part 3 in a series (view part 2: When MSPs Share Data in RFPs Staffing Firms Respond)

Wired bids

RFPs are supposed to be impartial. That doesn’t mean they are. Have you ever responded to a bizarre, seemingly impossible RFP and had that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” epiphany? Your gut may really be raising the alarm. To be fair, some poorly conceived RFPs result from the inexperience of the procurement groups issuing them. You will encounter, however, what we call “wired bids” -- documents constructed to ensure that a favored bidder, with ties and deep insight to the client, will win. There are times when hiring managers, procurement professionals and HR leaders have identified preferred vendors yet are forced to undertake the RFP process by their superiors. Usually, this happens because the decision makers want to select an outsourcing partner based on merit, experience, past performance and quality. We tend to agree. Still, professional friendships and allegiances can create complex emotional dilemmas for some people.

If you’re the person who just distributed a wired RFP to a pool of vendors you have no intention of considering, you could be causing your company a fair amount of public relations damage with service providers that you may need later in life. Industry firms talk a lot. Word spreads quickly. While you don’t need to invite every supplier in the industry to participate in your RFP, you don’t want to alienate those you do by wasting their time with an opportunity that will never materialize.

Scoring your bids

Before responding to a bid, you’ll want to identify any red flags or signs that the RFP has been wired for a specific bidder. And in that case, it may be wise to recommend declining participation in the event. Scoring bids prior to beginning the response process is mission critical.

By bidding on any RFP distributed, regardless of feasibility or strategic alignment, the higher value bids often wither and die in the chaos of the unprioritized traffic. With this degree of dilution, every bid becomes a loser.

Before you fire off an executed Intent to Respond, score the offer. If you don’t have any existing relationship with a prospect -- even just a single conversation -- you can bet the RFP process has not been undertaken to seek new ideas or innovations; it’s there to determine reasons for rejecting you. Before you spend all that time, effort and money preparing an onerous proposal, with the odds stacked against you, score the bid and disqualify yourself if need be.

If you’d like a scoring calculator, we offer one as part of our RFP Template Kit.

Red flags and signs of wired bids

Following is a brief list of red flags that may indicate wired bids. Pay close attention to these criteria when deliberating on your decision to participate in a bid. For those issuing RFPs, know that a lot of proposal teams will recognize these warning signs. And that could come back to haunt you.

  • Overemphasis on the relevance of experience, such as an RFP comprised almost entirely of case studies and responses to abstruse scenarios.

  • Emphasis on criteria that are easy to bias.

  • Prohibitions against contracting or rehiring incumbent staff.

  • Overemphasis on key members of the vendor’s staff, with an unusually large number of questions focused on biographies and resumes, along with atypically high weighting in the evaluation.

  • Evaluation practices reaching outside the norm for similar clients. For example, if service delivery is typically evaluated at 40 percent, this RFP scores it around 10 percent.

  • Using multiple evaluation criteria to address the same thing. For example, requiring that past performance projects include resumes for the staff being bid when resumes have been requested elsewhere in the RFP. Staff qualifications are now being counted twice in this scenario, making that particular element disproportionately heavy in the scoring.

  • Short, inflexible deadlines. Only a bidder with pre-existing knowledge and intimacy with the client could effectively respond in the timeframe slated.

  • Ambiguity that favors an incumbent. For example, requiring a vendor to provide a detailed and customized staffing plan without divulging the parameters or needs to be addressed. Also look for undefined scopes of work and deliverables that are named yet not described. Other examples include Statements of Work that require knowledge of the client’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), set aside mandates and processes.

  • So much detail, the RFP overwhelms.

  • Redundancy -- the same question is asked repeatedly, verbatim.

  • Page limitations that make it impossible to respond to all requirements -- only a preferred bidder could know what to focus on and what to skip without being branded noncompliant.

  • Fixed price proposals that provide insufficient information about program spend, volumes, the time needed to implement, etc.

  • Unusually brief responses to bidder questions, especially when only a handful of vendors have been invited to the RFP.

  • No responses to bidder questions that could easily have been answered.

  • Unusually lengthy answers to bidder questions delivered past the promised date, without an extension to the RFP.

  • “Processes” specified in the RFP that can’t be mapped or charted -- only a vendor with insight and experience could figure them out.

Zenith Talent’s RFP template kit

To make RFPs a painless and efficient way for MSPs to achieve their goals, Zenith Talent is proud to present a complete RFP toolbox, which can serve as a great starting point for your next round of sourcing.  We have prepared a common sense package that delivers results in a straightforward manner. We also understand that nobody should hand you an RFP template and say “just use this, as is.” The point of our toolkit is to give you a firm, customizable foundation from which you can craft a unique RFP, tailored to your company’s needs, and accompanied by tools to help with evaluation, scoring and pricing.

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