10 Things I Hate About the RFP Process

Some businesses prefer to use RFPs (Requests for Proposals) when selecting a new ESP or Marketing Automation vendor, because it standardizes the process of evaluating a supplier. Though it sounds like a great idea, I will tell you why I hate RFPs!

And as it turns out, we were just asked once again to do an Request for Proposal (RFP), and once again the whole process made me want to vomit… or drink.

Here’s the first issue with RFPs:

Company XYZ calls us up and says “we would love to work with you. We need help with our email marketing.” We say great, tell us about the problem. They begin to tell us about their RFP, to which they add the caveat at the end of the sentence – “by the way, this is being handled by our procurement department.”

To which I ask…the same procurement department that purchases toilet paper and coffee filters? And of course, there response was “yes, that’s the one and the same”.

At that moment my heart sunk. I thought to myself, what the hell does a procurement department know about purchasing marketing services?? But wanting to work with this company, I expressed an interest to look at the RFP and get back to them.

Here’s where the disconnect comes in:

The marketing manager who called me neglected to tell me some very important details which would have validated our interest in participating.

Despite this, we’re still going through the motions but have an awful taste in our mouth and feel whatever effort we put into this RFP will be wasted because of the lack of flexibility that the procurement department has outlined as part of the requirements.

Thus bringing me back to my original article – ‘10 Things I Hate About The RFP Process’ I wrote some years back. Please make sure to pay close attention to point number 9.

Here’s the new net takeaway

If you are really looking to work with a partner, build a relationship with them. Invite them in for a sit down and learn who they are versus sending them16 pages that outline business requirements that were never communicated, to begin with.

10 Things I Hate About the RFP Process

Some businesses like to use RFPs (Requests for Proposals) because it standardizes the process of evaluating a supplier. Many purchasing decisions are based on complex requirements that need to be addressed. RFPs are the quickest way to understand if the vendor is capable of servicing your needs.

Though it sounds like a great idea, I will tell you why I hate RFPs!

  1. Companies don’t tell all about their RFP process. They typically do not disclose to whom and how many providers they have sent the RFP. In many cases, they do not send it to their top three or four prospective suppliers, which they’ve already selected (at least unofficially).
  2. Who the hell can read 100 RFPs? In many situations, we have been in an RFP battle with over 100 companies. At the end of the day, no one can properly evaluate 100 RFPs. There are not enough hours in the week to even begin to review that many dead trees. And if there were, the person evaluating 100 RFPs could never give enough time to do each one justice.
  3. The RFP process removes the human element. In order to establish relationships between requesting companies and submitting businesses, it is best to meet, talk, and take the time to see if values and goals align. There is very little communication, and in some cases it is even prohibited, in the RFP process.

    Consider this: Would you hire someone to work with you that you never met?

  4. There is no feedback after rejection.
    If I could learn from past errors, it would improve my chances in the future. In many instances companies will not let me know how I stacked up in the RFP process. Even though I spend 30 hours, 50 hours, or more on preparing the required documentation, when I fail to be hired the requesting companies will not tell me why.

  5. RFPs can stifle a company’s creative side.
    Often the RFP process is a checklist of requirements and does not allow for a company’s creativity to shine through. Companies may even get penalized for going outside the boundaries of the RFP structure. Digital marketing is not an assembly line of ho-hum interchangeable parts; it’s a skillful and dynamically creative process honed to produce each customer’s ideal solution.
  6. The quality of RFPs varies widely.
    Okay, I am being way too kind. Some of them totally suck! They appear to have been put together at a moment’s notice by someone who hasn’t the first clue what to ask for. Or they seem to have a little of everything from every individual who has a stake in the matter. Poor quality RFPs make it hard on the vendor to properly respond.
  7. Inadequate turn-around time is common.
    The RFP request-to-submission process is often restricted to two weeks or less, and this eliminates many prospects from participating or putting forth their best effort in preparation. Sometimes the best providers are busy with ongoing projects that are a greater priority when the RFP comes along. Too bad, so sad if they can’t wait for me.
  8. Some RFPs ask for trade secrets.
    Give me a break! They want to know exactly how I do what I do (my special talent). They want me to break it all down into a granular formula with each separate item priced by time spent and expected results obtained. They ask me to compare and contrast that detailed information with their current campaign (with which I am not even familiar!).

    All this work and divulging of trade secrets for a mere chance at this one job? Not likely. How do I know they won’t just take all my strategic tricks and tactics and use them going forward with their own personnel? All that work for no pay makes Jeff a dull boy – that’s what I say.

  9. Procurement departments should stay away from the RFP process.
    RFPs are often executed by those in the procurement department, and in many cases they have no idea about online digital or email marketing. Procurement departments are ideal for buying reams of paper, cardboard boxes, and pencils by the truckload.
    Why would you ask your procurement department to step outside their comfort zone and make decisions when it comes to evaluating marketing technology?
  10. RFP responses are too often requested on paper.
    Who does that anymore? Why are we printing anything that we don’t need to print? They want multiple copies? What about those trees? Am I not being evaluated as a digital supplier? Why can’t we just get that pattern set up from the get-go? Why do I have to ask these obvious questions? Why do I hate the RFP process? Why, indeed?!

So, now you know a few of the reasons why I hate the RFP process. Don’t even ask me to fill out your form or answer all your questions on paper. If you want to understand what I can do for your company, please invite me in for a coffee, let’s have a conversation, and see if we can build a relationship.


As a technology vendor or service provider, if your clients put you through the hoops and hurdles of an RFP, then be prepared to fight an uphill battle. RFPs are unfair, time-consuming, and in many cases the best provider does not win.

About Jeff Ginsberg

Jeff Ginsberg has 17+ years’ experience and is an industry known authority on email marketing who gets in the trenches with clients and helps them fulfill their marketing objectives, increase revenue and brand engagement. He is former Chief eMail Officer at The eMail Company.

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