What is a ‘Prescriptive’ RFQ/RFP and why is it bad?

by Frank 22. July 2012 06:02

Twenty years ago our main way of competing for business was to respond to Request For Quotes (RFQ) and Request For Proposals (RFP). Our sales people and technical people spend months on end laboriously responding to detailed questionnaires and spread sheets with only a small chance of winning because of the number of vendors invited to respond. Luckily, this is no longer the main way we compete for business and we now complete only a fraction of the RFQ/RFPs we used to; much to the relief of my hard working sales and pre-sales staff.

Now we only respond to RFQs and RFPs if we have prior engagement plus the opportunity for questions and engagement during the process together with a good fit for our software and services (we sell information management software and services). We also heavily qualify every opportunity and the first step is to initially speed read and scan all proposal documents for what we call ‘road blocks’.

Road blocks are contractual conditions, usually mandatory ones, which would automatically disqualify us from responding. Sometimes these are totally unfair, one-sided and non-commercial contractual conditions and sometimes they are mandatory features we don’t have and often, the road block is simply the prescriptive nature of the request document.

By prescriptive I mean that the request document is spelling out in detail exactly how the solution should work down to the level of screen design, architecture and keystrokes. In most cases prescriptive requests are the result of the author’s experience with or preference for another product.

As we produce a ‘shrink-wrapped’ or ‘off-the-shelf’ product, the RecFind 6 suite, we aren’t able to change the way it looks and works and nor can we change the architecture. In almost every case we could solve the business problem but not in the exact way specified by the author. Because our product RecFind 6 is highly configurable and very flexible we can solve almost any information management or business process management problem but in our particular way with our unique architecture and our unique look and feel.

In the old days we may have tried to enter into a dialog with the client to see if our solution, although working differently to the way the author envisioned a solution working, would be acceptable.  The usual answer was, “Why don’t you propose your solution and then we will decide.” Sometimes we did respond and then learned to our chagrin that our response was rejected because it didn’t meet some of the prescriptive requirements. Basically, a big waste of time and money. So, we no longer respond to prescriptive RFQs/RFPs.

But, why is a prescriptive RFQ/RFP a bad thing for the client? Why is it a bad practice to be avoided at all costs?

It is a bad thing because it reduces the client’s options and severely narrows the search for the best solution. In our experience, a prescriptive RFQ/RFQ is simply the result of someone either asking for the product they first thought of someone who is so inflexible that he/she isn’t able to think outside the box and isn’t open to innovative solutions.

The end result of a prescriptive RFP/RFQ is always that the client ends up with a poor choice; with a third best or worse solution to the problem.

The message is very simple. If you want to find the best possible solution don’t tell the vendors what the solution is. Rather tell the vendors what the problem is and give them the opportunity to come up with the most innovative and cost-effective solution possible.  Give them the opportunity to be innovative and creative; don’t take away these so very important options.

Please do yourself, and your organization, a favour. If you want the best possible solution clearly explain what the problem is and then challenge the vendors to come up with their best shot. Prescriptive requirements always deny you the best solution.

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