Why the Top Suppliers Aren't Responding to Your RFP

Why Top Suppliers Aren't Responding.pngAre you one of the many purchasers frustrated by the fact that as many as 50% of vendors don't respond to RFPs

Here are the three key problems which keep the best suppliers from responding to your RFPs, and how to fix them. 

Get a thorough Checklist on the Do's and Don'ts of Issuing an RFP here


Problem 1: you haven’t done your homework

Let's be honest, hiring top-tier suppliers is similar to hiring the best people -- it's a "talent war" and they have their pick of options. It's more your job to prove you're a good fit than theirs. 

So not doing your homework before issuing out your RFP is like interviewing job candidates when you're not sure what you're hiring for... it quickly becomes obvious that you didn't prepare. This will put off top suppliers in a hurry; because they're the best, they don't need to be wasting their time with amateurs. 


The fix: start by asking your team some critical questions before you issue the RFP, and distinguish whether or not it should be an RFI or an RFP. Second, issue a broad RFI first if necessary, then follow up with a more targeted RFP.

By the time you issue the RFP you should have a clear idea what you're looking for as far price range and technical/service requirements, and you should have also done some general market research. 

Want a quick overview of how to issue a great RFP? Check out this infographic How to Write, Send, and Review an RFP in 9 steps or less


Problem 2: you're asking too much

Again, top providers will always be in demand, so if your RFX process (RFI, RFP, RFQ, etc.) has too many questions or requires too much time, chances are they'll just bid on easier projects. 

If you want engagement, responding has to be easy. Nothing will frustrate a supplier more than an overly lengthy RFP which is essentially "asking something for nothing," since there is no guarantee of winning the contract. 

We've heard some pretty terrible horror stories of companies (including big brands) being sent the "standard" 500-question RFPs. First off, no one likes a 500-question RFP. And while a small organization might be motivated to answer it because they need the business, an established supplier will simply have better things to do. Not to mention asking too much too soon like this, will definitely leave bad a first impression which can disincline them toward future requests. 


The fix: make submitting proposals easy, keep the RFP short and sweet and avoid being overly rigid. Don't require using Microsoft Word when Excel would work better.

Likewise, don't use an RFP software that doesn't save vendor information (like a couple of the big legacy platforms which we won't name), or that are difficult to learn to use. Instead, use one that makes the process easier for both of you

Balance the commitment level to the amount of interest. Consider doing RFP rounds if you have several candidates, limiting the first round to the crucial questions (or opting for an RFI), and then getting more in depth once you've created your short list. 

Your last rounds should be targeted towards 3-7 serious vendors spending quality time on their responses. Any more than that and it gets difficult to effectively evaluate or compare responses. 


Problem 3: they think they have no chance  

Suppliers usually have a guess at how likely it is that they'll win a bid, and if it's too low they'll obviously refrain from participating. 

But what happens when we inadvertently communicate that they have no chance? Both this article and this post explain red flags that indicate providers have a low chance of winning. They're great examples of how to scare off candidates. So if you want engagement from your suppliers, make sure you're not doing the following: 

  • Gatekeeping the decision-maker. Meaning sales has to demo, and explain everything to multiple stakeholders before getting to talk to the one who would actually pull the trigger.
  • Including vendors to try to force a more competitive price from the incumbent/favorite.
  • Giving them a "cold RFP" without any pre-established relationship (no research email, call, etc.)
  • Inviting too many vendors -- no one has a high chance of winning so why try? 

These are not things you want to be doing if you're trying to hire a high quality supplier, as it will only communicate that you're not serious and damage your reputation overall. 


The fix: once you've done your initial research, make sure the key decision maker is involved in all important discussions/demos/meetings. Don't include a company for the sake of pushing price or a Hail Mary due diligence. Don't issue a cold RFP -- instead make an initial connection (over phone or email) both to qualify them as well as start building relationship. And don't issue a blanket RFP to a myriad of vendors, no one will find it relevant

Ultimately, by being considerate throughout the process, you'll show those top-notch suppliers you're serious and a worthy partner.   

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