The telltale signs

27 Oct

I don’t get it. Someone help me out here.caution-sign

We respond to these RFP’s (Requests for Proposals) with the best intentions. We spend thousands of dollars in person-hours researching the business, the market, the competition. We find strategic partners to work with. We’re friendly and professional with the client, we ask questions. We package the proposals up in neat ways. We make the deadline. Always.

Then we have to chase the client for a decision well past the date when a decision is due, sometimes weeks after, only to discover the decision has already been made – and we didn’t get the business.

Happened three weeks ago. Happened again this week.

Am I just being a sore loser? Would I be singing a different song if we had actually won the business? Well probably, but I have a feeling that losing these things tells us more about the potential client/agency relationship than winning them.

Sure the point is moot. But when I break the bad news to the team and we all shake our heads at the lack of respect – and what else would you call it – that our efforts have been shown, I tell them that we learned an important lesson about this client.

The clients we have, and I mention them often so no need to repeat the list here, are great matches for us because they share our values. They respect what we do, as we respect what they do. We recognize the challenges in each other’s businesses and work to make life easier and business better.

The ones who don’t bother to tell us we didn’t get their business until we hound them into it, are probably not going to be good matches for us anyway.

Maybe the first question we should ask a prospective client when we next pitch one of these things is: What is your process for informing the losing agencies?

The answer could be very revealing.


26 Responses to “The telltale signs”

  1. Leandy October 27, 2009 at 9:22 am #

    I’m with you, Doug. It’s all about the lack of respect that’s become ubiquitous in North American society. Don’t even get me started…

  2. dougbrowncreative October 27, 2009 at 10:07 am #

    I have heard from a lot of fed-up agency folk today about this Leanne. It’s a sore spot for sure. I would love to hear from some of the clients who treat us this way to find out what’s going on from their end.

  3. Hans Jonckheere October 27, 2009 at 10:15 am #

    We are starting to ask more and tougher questions of the prospect in the early stage of an RFP process, and we are walking away from more of them, too.
    It’s time more of us started pushing back, displaying some confidence in the value we add, and at least asking for a level playing field and ground rules that work both ways.
    A whole other subject is the sheer ineptness of many of the RFP’s.


  4. dougbrowncreative October 27, 2009 at 10:24 am #

    I agree Hans…plus the fact that many of these RFPs are pre-determined, as the outcome inevitably suggests. Or worse: they promise that only 25% of the “grade” will be allocated to the pricing, and then make a wholesale decision based on someone agreeing to do it for less than cost. We all lose there.

  5. Leandy October 27, 2009 at 10:27 am #

    There could be any number of reasons, but it all boils down to bad behaviour on the part of companies (actually, individuals at companies who cower behind a corporate front) and agencies tolerating this bad behaviour. The cost of putting together a good RFP isn’t inconsequential — plus there’s the opportunity cost of spending time away from your current (paying) clients. And it especially hurts the small shops. I think agencies should be paid some sort of honorarium for RFP responses. Grrrr!

  6. Rob Fairhead October 27, 2009 at 10:49 am #

    Doug, I feel your pain. I am currently chasing a proposal that is 3 weeks past the date that they should have got back to us.

    This was a ‘friendly’ submission based on a client recommendation. I know that by now we have lost it. We had to have. How can 6 phone calls go unanswered? And, if by some weird twist of fate we actually end up winning it, I would be tempted (tough talk for an agency owner) to decline the business.

    I have now made it my personal mission to hear them utter the words “we have decided to go with another agency”. At that I will be happy! While I don’t take rejection well, I take the silent treatment worse. Just ask my wife.

  7. Bill W Sr. October 27, 2009 at 11:01 am #

    I always wanted to know WHY we hadn’t got the business and/or why we got it. In my view, our profession is all about people-chemistry….a lifetime study of it’s own! I never answered such calls…except one big Provincial one. We went against 90 shops and made the last 6. We got the account!…Why? I found out later from the client…..because we had a Woman on our presentation team! Hello!?!??

  8. dougbrowncreative October 27, 2009 at 11:38 am #

    I always ask “why” as well Bill. These days, with money playing such a big role in the decision, the straight answer seems harder to come by!

  9. JP Holecka October 27, 2009 at 12:55 pm #

    It happens all the time and one of the key reasons I no longer waste time with RFP’s. Most RFP’s are already pre-decided from my experience. We started to see requirements that only curtain agencies were expert in etc that were dead give-a-ways that the results were already pre-detirmed. Did you go for any VANOC RFP’s? Those were the worst I have ever seen. I passed on those at two different agencies for the aforementioned reasons.

    It’s also a buyers market with regards to client and agencies. There are more hungry agencies than good work to go around and so there is less need for niceties I guess.


  10. dkutcher October 27, 2009 at 1:10 pm #

    I hate seeing this happen.

    I’ve written three articles that address this issue and hope that RFP-issuers read them.

    RFP Etiquette: Dos and Don’ts for Business Matchmaking

    Developing your Go/No-Go decision tree

    We seek RFPs for Innovation, not Inspiration

    Don’t give up on RFPs, but approach them with caution!

  11. Jon Lax October 27, 2009 at 1:15 pm #

    If you are responding to RFPs you should have a high confidence that you are right for the job. If your win percentage is below 60% you are probably pitching the wrong pieces of business.

    A great baseball player waits for their pitch. Don’t take a swing at a pitch in the dirt.

  12. dougbrowncreative October 27, 2009 at 1:24 pm #

    Great advice Jon. The most frustrating thing is we often have good relationships with these prospective clients and feel that we are the right team. When they fail to communicate back to us, we are left wondering what the RFP was really all about.
    And to jaypiddy’s point, there seems to be a lot of predetermined outcomes.

  13. dkutcher October 27, 2009 at 1:34 pm #

    Have you read Tom Searcy’s book “RFP’s Suck!”?


  14. dougbrowncreative October 27, 2009 at 1:38 pm #

    No David I haven’t, but I will. Thanks for the link to that and your other great sites. Very helpful… and I hope more people who read this blog will get to check them out too.

  15. MikeG. October 28, 2009 at 8:02 am #

    Very interesting post Doug. It’s interesting that you mention the lack of respect between clients and firms when it comes to RFP’s.

    Personally I can say that in my experiences with certain organizations even beyond the beyond the creative field seems to preach the same points. Even the realm of simple courtesy at responding to minimal requests has become how shall I say, abysmal.

    While I can’t under-estimate the value of time these days, especially with the workplace moving at a mile a minute, I can attest that even the simple gesture of replying to an e-mail with the words “no” seems to be beyond many people these days. This of course leaves folks like you and I just sitting around twittling our thumbs and speeding the progression of carpel tunnel syndrome after sending six to twelve additional follow-up e-mails and phone calls looking for some answers.

    I can very much sympathize with this post. I really think the workplace could use a courtesy revolution. Very well said, much appreciated.

  16. dougbrowncreative October 28, 2009 at 8:15 am #

    Email, in theory, should be facilitating these sorts of courtesies eh Mike? Ad agencies are not blameless. It can take weeks to hear back from someone in an agency, if at all. Am I right?

  17. Jamal October 28, 2009 at 4:24 pm #

    I agree with you Doug that clients/agencies should get better at giving you the news one way or another. However, have you considered that this may be an issue with the person at that agency/company and not the company itself? There could be a number of performance issues at play here (favoritism, poor communication skills) but in my opinion they are generally reflective of the person and not the client. Let me know if I am way off base here.

    Regardless of what’s causing the issue, it is an issue. And while this blog post is a good vent session for agency types about problems with client/agency relations, the post surely can’t help improve the image of Copeland or its ability to win business. My suggestion: delete this post and look internally for answers. Having a post like this on you site says two things… “We work really hard to win earn the opportunity” and “We will bitch when you with someone other than us”.

  18. dougbrowncreative October 28, 2009 at 4:32 pm #

    Thanks for the advice Jamal. Our blog is for everybody, not just potential new clients. If the ones who read this blog post thought it cast Copeland in a poor light, we probably wouldn’t be a good match for them anyway. I’m not always going to smile through the pain. Of course, there are certainly agencies out there for clients who want that. We are being real here.
    I never contested the result of the RFPs. I don’t like to lose but accept it as part of the business and our own growth process. Please re-read the post. I contested the fact that these businesses didn’t have the courtesy to inform us of their decisions until they were hounded into doing so. Apparently, as a reading of the comments here will indicate, this is a common occurence and we are far from the only ad company that is frustrated by this.

  19. Jamal October 28, 2009 at 4:33 pm #

    In response to Mike,

    Sending 6-12 follow ups makes an agency sound desperate.

    When you have not head back after attepmting contact twice, sit back and wait. Otherwise, a slight tone of desperation comes across and that tone can send redflags to a company.

  20. Jamal October 28, 2009 at 4:40 pm #

    Just playing devils advocate 😉 Healthy resistance.

    I would have to disagree with the post and its negative reflection on the company… but lets just leave it at that.

    I agree that companies should be better at reponding… however, I have to disagree that it is a reflection of the company’s level of respect or values. I think it is a reflection of the person you are dealing with.

  21. dougbrowncreative October 28, 2009 at 4:52 pm #

    So a blog post by an individual at an ad agency casts a negative reflection on his whole company, but the action of an RFP lead on the client side is really just a reflection of him?

  22. Jamal October 28, 2009 at 5:13 pm #

    This is not just a post by an individual at an ad agency. This is a post by the Managing Director of that agency, on that agencies blog, that is posted on the agencies front page. It appears to be the opinion of the agency and not the individual. If its was your bog, that would be a different story.

    I am not saying here that the company(s) in question are blameless. They did after all hire the person you are interfacing with. However, I don’t believe a lack of follow up with an agency for a campaign is a reflection of that company’s level of respect or values.

    Now if the MD of those companies wrote a blog post on their companies homepage and called it “Why we hate persistent agencies” that would be different a different story.

  23. dougbrowncreative October 28, 2009 at 5:19 pm #

    To Jamal’s comment, the individuals we dealt with in both cases mentioned in my post were Directors of their respective companies.

    To Mike’s comments, I think the lack of formal approval process post-submission is what causes the breakdown. It’s a bit like the madness leading up to a wedding: what happens after is usually where marriages go awry.

  24. Stephen October 29, 2009 at 3:31 pm #

    Also dealing with this from time to time.

    Worst is when:

    • the job is issued through a general procurement person who has no idea of what value you offer because they simply look at cost (this is a massive red flag for us)

    • they simply follow up with an email and have no ability to provide insight into why they chose another agency

    • they won’t disclose who won the job so you have no way to gauge as an agency why the competition won the bid

    I think Jon has it bang on – make absolutely sure its a job you can win before you even put time in.

    We submitted a response to an RFSA for a major communication organization (which will remain nameless) way back in the summer. We were notified by the stated date that we did not win the job by typed letter, and were told that we could request feedback on how we scored. They literally have a scoring system like most RFPs.

    After following up right away requesting more info on why we weren’t selected, we were told they had no resources to follow up with us and that it would be in September at the earliest. Then it was October. I checked in last week because given the time spent on the submission i want to know our score, and was told they still have no resources to get us an update. This was followed up fairly quickly by another email with a basic summary of points and a statement that they arent able to tell us our score.

    So, we follow the rules of these RFP, we meet their deadlines, and after spending 5k+ in man hours on a submission or pitch, we’re given 2 minutes of their time to tell us we’re not on the list. Very odd process void of respect.

    Its too bad we have to consider these opportunities from time to time.


  25. dougbrowncreative October 29, 2009 at 3:54 pm #

    Thanks for sharing that painful story Stephen. I guess the silver lining on this one is that you only spent 5K+ on the bid. Maybe it’s time the agencies unionized! Solidarity brother.

  26. rgonterman November 2, 2009 at 2:41 pm #

    This is such an interesting topic, which I believe could move in thousands of directions. Being a graduate of economics, I can’t help but think about my courses in game theory and how this directly relates to the prisoners dilemma. RFP’s are based on the one fundamental assumption about human/business nature: people respond to incentives. Business is an imperfect world with lack of information and when businesses submit their own responses this effect worsens.
    RFPs seem to be an ancient way of thinking that doesn’t allow the invisible hand to properly run its course. It creates a barrier to entry, which, once a winner is chosen, allows the winner freedom from the rules of a free market. How can a company choose an appropriate supplier with little knowledge of their respondents other than their submissions? The incentive of monopolizing a potential client for a limited amount of time is an opportunity to jump at. Businesses will can’t help but omit there flaws which skews the research for a proper winner.
    The opportunity cost of submitting a stellar RFP’s is lowest to those businesses which have ample amounts of free time and/or large sources of capital. Shouldn’t it be the busy, capable businesses that are given the work? They are the ones engaged in a competitive environment and succeeding. But then again, what would be a fair substitute for these little devils?

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