At ISC West, I had the honor of teaching a class on bright and early on April 6. Early in Las Vegas was at 11:15 a.m.
The session, “Developing, Influencing and Responding to Request for Proposal’s (RFP’s)”, focused on practical, hands-on tips to make the whole RFP process work better for all involved. The class was well attended (I estimated 60 people), with a mix of end-users, manufacturers, consultants and integrators, although integrators were the most vocally represented, judging from the questions.
I will use some of the questions and comments in future blogs, but one thought that generated some discussion centered on what integrators can do when they are confronted with a really bad RFP developed by a consultant. The consensus was that, no matter how strong the integrator’s relationship is with the end user and no matter how bad the consultant (and RFP) is, an integrator isn’t going to win an argument with a consultant. The consultant is usually perceived as being unbiased and an expert, while the integrator is just looking to make a buck. Now I’m not saying that is true; there are many good integrators looking out for their clients. Unfortunately, there are enough bad consultants to make this a valid question.
After much thought, my recommendation is this: If you think the specification is really bad and that you’re not going to win the job by doing it right (or do it right by following the specification), you have only one choice. Write a letter to the end user, copy the consultant, and tell him your firm will decline to bid the job and give the reasons. If you’d like, you can go one step further and recommend an alternate consultant. If there’s someone you’ve worked with, put his name out there. A surprising amount of our consulting business comes from integrators that we have successfully worked with.
Either way, by doing this, you will alienate the consultant. Who cares? You’re not going to win his jobs anyway. You probably won’t alienate the end user if you have a good relationship with him. You certainly won’t appear to be a whiner, as you might if you just protest loudly and bid the job anyway. And, if another prospective vendor does this as well, you have an excellent chance of effecting positive change. I know that a big part of our value to our clients is our ability to deliver a range of competent and competitive bids. If a prospective bidder were to go around us and point out legitimate flaws in our RFP, we’d have some serious explaining to do.
But, more importantly, you’ll be above the fray and in an excellent position to pick up the pieces and save the day if the project crashes and burns. And there’s always a happier ending for the team that cleans up the mess than there is for the one that created it.