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My (updated) thoughts on RFPs, 15 years after creating the RFPdb

by on December 10, 2019
Last updated on

15 years ago I created the first iteration of the RFP Database, RFPdb.com.

For those that don't know the story, I had incorporated my company, Confluent Forms, in January 2002. I was young, naive, with nary a lick of sales experience. I had a few clients, one that followed me from my previous employer, and a few that came about from referrals in my tiny network. I was only a few years out of college, and to be frank, I had no business selling technology. I stumbled across an acronym that sales people kept on repeating in discussion threads, "RFP", found it stood for "request for proposals", and was how companies solicited competitive bids in an open market.

Cool, a way for me to find opportunities to bid on, a way for me to use my "nimbleness" to win business. I then promptly joined a RFP marketplace service hosted by Forbes (I think?) to the tune of ~$5,000 for a 1 year subscription and received exactly zero leads I could use.

I then set about creating a way to democratize RFPs; creating a website where organizations could publicize their RFPs for free, and for small businesses such as mine, a way to find leads worth bidding on.

It has been incredibly successful these last 15 years. Over 150,000 users have registered, and over 950,000 RFPs published. And along the way we've been featured by Mike Rowe, I've provided information to our government (GSA) and a consortium of European governments seeking ideas on tapping SMB and government innovation, and I've counseled numerous organizations in how to run a better RFP process as well as companies in how best to approach RFPs.

But you know what's funny?

As the years have gone by, I've responded to fewer and fewer RFPs. I used to respond to any RFP I found that sounded moderately interesting, seemed to have a solid budget, and that my company was qualified for. Instead, I've stopped responding at all to RFPs where my company wasn't one of a small number of pre-selected companies asked for a bid. Cattle-call RFPs have been deleted or passed along to the RFPdb.

It's not the RFPs that have changed; what's changed is my perception of how much my time is worth.

In order for me to spend the time writing a proposal in response to an RFP, two of the three items below need to be true:

  • The project needs to be something I'm passionate about
  • The project needs to have a worthwhile budget
  • I need to see my company as a shoe-in for being a finalist (top 3)

If the RFP doesn't check at least two of those boxes I'm not going to invest my time.

So how does a company win at the RFP game?

By spending time investing in their own SEO and digital marketing, getting invited into short-listed RFPs, and making sure to capture their winning value propositions in their proposals.

How does an organization get the right vendors submitting thoughtful proposals to their RFPs?

By doing the research to make their RFP/project interesting to prospective bidders and finding companies that will want to win their project, wasting less of the vendors' time by doing more upfront work in preparing the process for the project.


In short, RFPs can still be a valuable tool for both issuers and vendors, but only if both sides are strategic in their usage, respecting the time investment of themselves and the other party.

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1 comment:

  1. I had no idea how the whole RFPdb thing happened. Way more interesting than imagined. But I still don't know how it was done. Or is that the magic?

    ReplyDelete