Why RFPs? Timelines Matter

Whether you know it or not, you may be weeding out the best agencies at the very beginning of the RFP process based on timelines. We’re talking about two timelines: the timeline within the RFP itself, and the timeline given for agencies to respond with a proposal.

The first two things we look at when we receive an RFP are issue and due date. These time variables usually set up one of the following scenarios. Most often, their implications inform our decision not to waste valuable agency time or resources crafting responses that aren’t likely to receive due consideration.

Scenario #1: We receive a company’s RFP with 48 hours of the issue date, but the window for response is relatively short, usually less than two weeks.

Scenario #2: We receive a company’s RFP well after the original issue date and since it’s so late in process, our response window is also relatively short – usually a week to ten days and sometime only a matter of days.

So, what are the implications of these two situations?

In the first scenario, receiving an RFP in a timely manner but with a condensed timelines is almost always a clear indication that the issuer already has a partner in mind. Yet often the issuer has to go through the process in order to satisfy procurement or other regulatory requirements.

In many instances, the favored partner is either the incumbent or an agency with an inside track that has helped to craft the RFP in a manner that effectively weeds out the competition (i.e., the short timeline). In either case, the RFP is most likely a mere formality.

A short response timeline may also be an indication that the company who issued the RFP is on a fishing expedition. What they are really after is free information in the form of initial research – market or competitive – a technology solution recommendation or spec creative. And sometimes they want prospective agency thinking in all three areas.

Even if we do receive the RFP in a timely manner and the response window is tight, we will often pass since it does not give us enough time to craft a well thought out and thorough response.

In the second scenario detailed above, where we receive it very late in the open-window process, it is also very likely we have received the RFP as a formality. Here too, the issuer may already have an agency in mind. Given that fact, they still may be short of the minimum number of respondents needed to satisfy either procurement or other regulatory requirements. So, what do they do?  Sent it to a few more “prospective” partners to whom they have no intention of awarding the contract.

Having addressed these eventualities, if your company absolutely has to go through the RFP process, don’t squeeze the response windows, avoid late candidate additions and create a level playing field from the start. Otherwise, you risk raising red flags that may exclude the best firms without ever knowing it.

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