Custom Proposals: Why Better Questions = Better Answers

No More Small Talk RFPs

I loathe chit chat with a special kind of hatred. Many moons ago I was a Barista (professional maker of coffee), and for 5 years a significant part of my day was spent making small talk with customers while they waited for their drinks. You know the kind of conversation I mean:

“How’s your day going?”

“Oh pretty good.”

“You doing anything fun this weekend?”

“Oh, nothing much.”

Gripping stuff. At some point, I couldn't take it anymore, and started asking more offbeat questions like: “what’s the best meal you’ve ever had?” “What's your favorite spot in city?” “What did you want to be when you grew up at age 5?”

These questions resulted in much more interesting answers. People came alive and told me about the time they rode a bull in Spain, were part of Hell's Angels, or ate moose steak while on vacation. It was a much more interesting conversation, and I got to really know customers much faster, getting insight into what excited them and made them tick. 

The experience taught me something crucial: better questions = better answers.

No More Small Talk RFPs - better questions

It's a lesson that applies to our vendor management as well. 

Chit chat RFPs 

Let's be honest, too often our Requests for Proposals come out generic. An RFP, for the sake of the RFP. We reuse the last batch of questions, without tailoring or tweaking, because it's just easier. But no matter how long and thorough it seems to be, a one-size-fits-all RFP will leave the Buyer with unanswered questions, and the Vendors wondering why they should bother to respond. 

It comes out like chit chat. Uninteresting, and not all that insightful. 

No More Small Talk RFPs - chit chatImage credit: Gilmore Girls - Tumblr

You’d never start a business with someone you didn't know. You wouldn't accept a job from an employer who didn't know your name. And you probably wouldn’t be wooed by a corny pickup line (“did it hurt when you fell from heaven?”); so why should we expect trite RFPs to yield valuable partnerships? 

As a Marketer, I can tell you from experience that "generic" is junk and simply doesn't work. So if you want to engage vendors in your procurement process, if you want responses, you have to make content relevant, proving to them that you've done the homework, and know something about them.


Make it relevant

Bottom line, it requires taking the time to tailor your questions every time you issue an RFP. I'm not saying you shouldn't reuse previous content or templates, on the contrary, but be sure to double-check them to make sure they're on point for each project. Don't be like the buyer who sent us an RFP asking us to detail our car rental policy… (we're an RFP software company). Irrelevant questions like that prove you used "boilerplate" material and makes potential vendors question the pertinence of the project. 

The lack of effort both deters them from engaging and leaves a bad taste in their mouths.

A good rule of thumb for RFPs is quality over quantity. 


Make it easy

With relevance as the first secret of vendor engagement, the close second is making responding easy. Nothing will frustrate a vendor more than an incredibly long RFP (one Vendor told me they measured Requests by the height of the stack of papers) which will cost them countless man hours with little likelihood of winning the project.

So make your questions count. Consider doing RFP rounds if you have several prospects, keeping it to the crucial questions on the first go (or opting for an RFI), and then getting more in depth once you've created your short list. 

Or take things up a notch by overhauling the system and going digital. Try a tool that gets the RFP process out of stagnant documents and into something more dynamic. Something that will allow you and your vendors to collaborate, reuse past work, and analyze data.

RFPs aren't going anywhere anytime soon. We might as well learn how to do them well. 


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