Do Your Homework When Making Product Substitutions

As consumers, everybody tends to have a product preference or bias. If you’ve always liked Fords, you’re going to look at them first before you consider another vehicle. If your hot button is peanut butter, you may sneer at anything that isn’t Skippy Super Chunk. These products work for you, and while you may (or may not) consider alternatives, you’ll really need to double check things before you decide to go with Peter Pan Whipped Creamy on your sandwich.

When developing a request for proposal (RFP), consultants try to capture these product preferences. It could be that the consultant has worked with certain products in the past, there’s an installed base and compatibility must be preserved, the client has a preference, or any of a host of other reasons. Or, it could be as simple as making it easy for the bidder to understand what you’re looking for. Either way, bidders should pay attention to the brand and model number selected, and either match it or come as close as possible on their bid.

In many cases, the RFP will say “or approved equal,” indicating that a substitution will be considered. Sometimes that can be deceptive; many clients won’t entertain alternatives but have to put that to satisfy their purchasing department. At the other extreme, some clients will consider a product that is equal or better, even if the RFP doesn’t explicitly say so. If you’re not sure, it is always best to ask (sometimes “off the record”). If you can’t get a straight answer, consider providing the “equal” as an alternate.

What you don’t want to do is bid the project and install an unapproved substitution. At that point you are running the risk of having to rip the product out and replace it with the specified product, negating any cost savings you may have realized by making the substitution in the first place. Substitutions made after the fact are often denied, even if the client would normally have approved it. No one likes to feel cheated, and even if your intentions were noble, it may seem like “bait and switch” and leave a bad taste in their mouth. Like Peter Pan Whipped Creamy when you’re expecting Skippy Super Chunk.


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