The Unexpected RFP

Have you ever received an RFP out of the blue? I’ve received two and I was gullible enough to respond to both and both times I received exactly what I deserved—nada!  Really,  I should have known better.   An RFP that slips into your mail box is a Trojan horse.  In fact,  I received a phone call this morning from an unknown person who claimed that she was looking for corporate trainers  (or some such)  and wants to include me in the search,  so I am about to receive unexpected RFP #3.

In reality,  what this dame and other stealth RFP senders often want is to round out a list of candidates in accordance with their company directives,  to make it easier for them to hire who they’ve already planned to hire.  Or,  the game is to either get the job done at the lowest price,  or free consulting advice through a fake RFP.

I was caught in what I suspect was the latter game a couple of years ago by a Harvard University-run charity,  no less.  They were looking for ways to juice their fundraising strategy and invited me in to talk for an hour.  I suspect that either no one was hired,  or the person hired was pre-determined and may have been given my ideas  (and maybe also the ideas of other suckers)  to implement,  along with my pricing info as a benchmark.

Whatever the motive,  beware the out-of-the-blue RFP.  The targeted Freelance consultants gain nothing but false hope and the  “opportunity”  to sally forth on a fool’s errand.   However,  I’ve decided that if  this latest RFP is sent  ( I provided my email address),  I will respond—my way.   I will telephone the contact person and ask a few questions…..

The first question I’ll ask is,  who referred me?  The second question I’ll ask is,  who is performing that job now?  The third question,  what is motivating the change if someone is already doing that job,  whether in-house or a Freelancer? Is that person doing an unsatisfactory job and in what ways?  I shall listen very carefully to the replies.

If the answers do not add up,   I will decline the RFP and politely state that I don’t get why I’ve been invited to apply,  that I typically respond to RFPs from clients with whom I have a relationship,  after we’ve discussed project objectives.

On the other hand,  if the answers to my first three questions pass muster,  I will ask three more:

1).   Who is the project decision-maker and the stakeholders and may I meet with them?

2).   What information will the perfect RFP for this project contain?

3).    How will success for this project be measured and who holds the yardstick?

Nevertheless,  while meeting is helpful,  it is not a fail-safe.   My fake RFPs both included a face-to-face.  If you are invited to come in and speak about the project,  do so without submitting a proposal.  Give them nothing beyond an hour of your time.

If the company insists on wheedling information out of you  “What would you do in this situation…?”,  tell them you’ll be happy to discuss that going forward if it looks like you should work together.  Put nothing into writing.  If recipes to solve a problem are required beforehand,  know that it’s an RFP shake-down.

RFPs are awarded by clients with whom we have a relationship and even then,  you might not win.  Three years ago,  I brought a program concept to a decision-maker at a not-for-profit.  During a $40.00  lunch that I paid for,  I was invited to write a proposal.

Bingo! I said,  but it was not to be.   After more consideration,  it was determined that the staffing needed to support my proposed program was not available and there was no budget to hire.  I believe that the intent was not to screw me,  but I was devastated and it still stings.

So what should you do if an unsolicited RFP comes your way? Proceed with caution,  ask questions to help reveal the sender’s motives,  listen carefully to the answers and whatever you decide,  do not get your hopes up.

Thanks for reading,



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