To Bid or Not To Bid: When NOT to Respond to An RFP

Few things get an event company owner more excited than a new Request For Proposal (other than perhaps winning said RFP). A fully fleshed out RFP means there’s a real event opportunity that they want you to bid on. You can see the dollar signs, and envision your team producing a stellar event. And the creative brainstorming process that will be unleashed is exhilarating. That’s the good part.

The bad part, which you don’t think about right away, is that odds are you won’t win the job. If you’re lucky, the client has been judicious in only sending the RFP to a reasonable number of companies, say three or four. And if you’re really lucky they’ve done their homework and specifically picked companies they think are a good fit for the project, including yours.

Even if all that is the case, you’ve still got only a one-in-three or one-in-four chance. In many cases that’s deceptive, however, because the client may have every intention of re-booking the agency they previously worked with, and are only conducting the RFP process to satisfy the Procurement Department’s need for multiple bids.

In order to give yourself the best chance of success you’re going to need to put in a fair amount of work in terms of time, money, and focus. So, when it’s all over, assuming the odds play out and you don’t win it, you’ll have diverted time and money away from other areas where it could be put to better use.

Here are some tips for determining whether to invest that time and energy.

How many companies received the RFP?

You have every right to ask this, and there’s really no reason the client should refuse to answer. If it’s more than four or five, that’s likely a sign the client is not being professional in the process. I once had a client for a hotel opening tell me they sent their RFP out to 18 event agencies. Eighteen!

Is the incumbent company in the mix?

If the client is asking an incumbent agency who has previously worked with them to bid on this event, that’s an indication they’re likely to go back to them. It can be very hard to dislodge an agency with a successful track record, as the client will be taking a chance changing gears.

Can you pass the scoring process?

Most professional RFPs are run through a scoring system that assigns points to various parts of your proposal, much of which is about the profile of your agency, as opposed to your event ideas and capabilities. Things could include whether you’re a minority or woman-owned business, your financial status, etc. Often clients are required to rigidly stick to this scoring system, no matter how good your concepts may be.

Is the work in your sweet spot?

If your answer is “No, but we can do the work, and my pipeline isn’t so busy” you might want to rethink that. Better to tell the client you respectfully pass, and let them know the kind of projects you really excel at. Not only are you more likely to be considered when those projects come around, but now the client will be correctly telling others what kind of work you want.

Bid to win, or don’t bid at all.

Many companies will take the approach of sending in a quick proposal. It may not be our best, they think, but it’s something, and now we’ve thrown our hat in the ring. This can actually backfire, because if a client sees a mediocre proposal from you, they may not invite you to bid on the next job that might actually be a good fit for you. The best approach is, give the proposal whatever it takes to win, or pass.

The rush of getting an RFP needs to be tempered with a proper evaluation. Avoid the temptation to bid on events that aren’t the right fit for your company, so that when one comes along that is, you can devote all the resources needed to win it.