The RFP: Procurement's answer to "Blind Date"

27 January 2017

I am a child of the ‘70s, and have most memory of the ‘80s.  Lucky for me then, my formative years took me through some of the most “interesting” periods of popular television, as Channel 4 was born and ITV started to compete with audience participation shows rather than relying on TV celebrities to entertain us.  Shows such as “Game for a Laugh” became a thing, and then on 30 November 1985 a new format was trialled called “Blind Date”.

For those who were not fortunate enough to be part of this movement, the show was built upon a simple premise.  3 single “contestants” were lined up behind a screen and an appropriate suitor was brought in to ask them questions to assess their suitability for a love match of some description.  A decision on whether prospective match is available was made on the basis of their answer to some inane questions, usually not at all related to their requirements, and a summary of each contestant was provided by “Our Graham”, who picked and chose the points he wanted to present for comedy value.  After choosing one of the contestants, the couple were whisked off to some destination and filmed in awkwardly staged poses, for presentation back to the show the following week to see if they are likely to form a long term beautiful relationship.

The show ran for 17 years, in 18 series and over 370 shows.  According to Wikipedia, 4 couples achieved married bliss, with the rest just passing it off as their 15 minutes of fame.  So in short, about a 1% success rate for long term relationship forming.


It strikes me that the IT and Telecoms industry could learn a thing or two from this show.  Tenuous it may feel, but the traditional Request For Proposal or Tender process doesn’t feel wildly different from this.  3 “suppliers”, picked at random from Google, lined up behind a confidentiality “screen” and asked inane questions.  The answers, usually pre-canned from other RFP processes, are then chucked into a document which is reviewed by a panel of Our Graham’s who pick a supplier on the basis of their ability to write a good proposal, not on the basis of their ability to service the true requirement.  In my time, I’ve seen some truly shocking RFP’s (very few good ones), where the quality of questions asked is likely to lead to a similar outcome to the “I was wondering, contestant A, what is your favourite breed of dog?”.

I fully understand the need to run formal processes to select suppliers, but there needs to be a marked difference between running a proper supplier selection process and a blind date.  Some form of pre-selection of suppliers should be mandatory, performed by informed and independent profiling of capabilities, and other attributes.  A pool of verified suppliers from which you can pick based on your actual requirements, not just technical, but location, size, culture, strategy etc. 

Supplier selection in this context is not “selection”, but matching.  The RFP process needs to provide a documentary audit of a suppliers attributes, but the questions need to be pertinent to how you would choose someone you are looking to form a long term relationship with – if this is the objective of the process.  For a potentially 5 year contract, you should ask for a view of their business and product strategy and assess whether the owners are planning an exit from the current arrangement, so you can assess the risk of change of ownership at the start of the engagement.  Just using the RFP process to assess the cheapest price is an opportunity missed, and you’ll be kicking yourself when the supplier has sold themselves to some megalith 6 months after contract – rendering your service irrelevant.

RFP processes in my view need to have some critical attributes:

  1. Proper assessment of the requirement AND what a good supplier looks like holistically (price, culture, size, service level, account management approach, financial and commercial terms, broader capabilities to name but a few).
  2. Pre-Selection of suppliers from a pool based on these requirements, using an informed set of opinions not just Google or “my mates down the road”
  3. Documentation and issuing of this requirement in a form that draws out the facts, not just the stock answers.  This cannot be done from behind a screen, true engagement of as broad a set of staff from the company as possible top to bottom – you need to meet the guys you work with day to day not just the shiny suited sales guy.
  4. Assessment criteria that reviews the response but also the cultural fit / sense of the supplier that you got from meeting them.

Embedded can operate as an independent consultant to help you at each stage of this time consuming process.  We maintain a pool of suppliers who we work with and have pre-profiled in terms of capability, size, sector experience, financial profile, geography etc.  We have the experience to document your needs in a form that makes it easy to pre-select, and have the ability to manage a process to get you to a proper relationship.  It might feel like overkill, but it could be a selection that could affect your whole working career.

Just call me Philla Black.


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