We talk with Dave Hulsen about the wild world of responding to Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and why you may (or may not) want to consider diving into it.
We talk with Dave Hulsen about the wild world of responding to Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and why you may (or may not) want to consider diving into it.
- Professor Mark Wolters: https://www.youtube.com/c/ProfessorWolters/featured
This episode, we talk with Dave Hulsen, Co-Founder and the Chief Operating Officer of RFP360, which offers software to streamline the RFP process. Dave has an extensive history of issuing and responding to RFPs as a technology consultant and is “one of the few people that makes a living by loving RFPs.”
- Reuven Lerner
- Margaret Reffell
- Meg Cumby
Each episode, the panel (and guest) share their picks: a book, app, service, resource, or something else that they’re enjoying and recommend you check out:
- My Passport Portable External Hard Drive (Margaret Reffell)
- Calendly (Dave Hulsen)
- Max for Live (Jeremy Green)
- The Secret History of the Future and Cautionary Tales (Reuven Lerner)
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WHAT IS THE BUSINESS OF FREELANCING?
If you’re a freelancer, then you’re not just an expert in your field. You’re also a business owner, responsible for everything from bookkeeping to marketing to customer satisfaction to business development.
On the Business of Freelancing, our panel of experienced freelancers discuss the issues that they have encountered while building up their business — and give you practical, actionable advice to take your career to the next level. We also invite expert guests to provide their opinions and perspectives on how you can better succeed in your freelance career.
Reuven: Welcome to another episode of the Business of Freelancing podcast. Today’s topic is Requests For Proposals or RFPs. We’re joined by Dave Hulsen, who’s co-founder and chief operating officer of RFP360. We’ll talk about the wild world of responding to RFPs, and why you may or may not want to consider it for your business. Our guest this week is Dave Hulsen. Hey, Dave, welcome to the Business of Freelancing.
Dave: Well, thanks for having me today.
Reuven: Dave, tell us and our listeners a little bit about yourself, what do you do? And why have we invited you here?
Dave: Well, your guest list must have really been short.
Dave: I am the co-founder and chief operating officer of RFP360. To that extent, I help develop software around the Request For Proposal process. So I’ve been involved with RFPs for a long time. I’m one of the few people on this planet, who makes a living by loving RFPs because not many people love the RFP process. So our software helps people both…
We have two solutions, one that helps people issue RFPs, following best practices, and then another solution, and they’re tied together that help people respond to RFPs. So organizations that are trying to increase their win rates or decrease the amount of time they spend on RFP responses. That’s what we do with our software.
Reuven: Okay, so I’m going to tell you, I’ve been a consultant now, since 1995, for about 25 years or so. The handful of times that I’ve seen anything have to do with RFPs, my eyes have glazed over, I have closed that tab or jump to another page, and I’ve gone on to try to do something else. So what are RFPs and why should I take a greater interest in them than I have so far?
Dave: RFPs are elicit just that mentioned elicit emotions with people. Now, I met my wife talking about RFPs, which is also a sad thing about my life. So my wife is in the architecture space, she responds to RFPs on a daily basis, we talk about RFPs, literally every day, not a reality show you’d want to watch on TV.
The fact of the matter is RFP, it is just a necessary evil. I will say all the time I’ve spent with them and trying to build in best practices into software, the intent of the RFP is still very pure. In fact, my goal is to make RFPs not a four-letter word anymore, because there’s a time and a place for them. The problem is, as most of you are aware, responding to RFPs has always become this super challenging thing, you often have the deck stacked against you, it’s super opaque process.
So, all of the best practices about an RFP have been just destroyed over time. So helping clients of ours get back to really why are you doing this RFP, how to get the best responses, how to be transparent, and work in a partnership to find the best solution for your needs. It’s super idealistic. But getting that back to where the RFP is a vehicle that people say, “Oh, I’m going to spend a little bit of time bidding on this. Because it’s formal, it’s transparent, and I’m going to get the best shot, at it the most fair shot, and if I win it, great.” But yeah, that’s not the case in the real world, unfortunately, in most approaches.
Reuven: Who puts out these RFPs? Is it governments, big companies, small companies, and for what sorts of things?
Dave: When we started in 2012, I thought that we’d probably be in the government space a lot. Once we launched the RFP responding software that helps sales and marketing teams respond to RFPs, we found that they were coming from so many sources, industries we’d never heard of before. For example, in the US, retirement plans are provided by the employers and 401K’s are what we call them.
Every company bids out their 401k work on a pretty regular basis and just this mundane set of questions that people have to go through for their governance compliance. Did we make sure we asked the right questions to all these participants and the rule-following? It happens across every industry. I am shocked every day about a new industry I’d never even heard of before, the waste management to telephonic things to hiring consultants to ensure diversity in our supplier base. Everything has gone through our software over the last eight years. So, it’s mind-numbing, and exciting.
Meg: Can you tell us a little bit more about who your software helps on the bidding for RFP site? Yeah, tell us a little bit more about that.
Dave: The most impact that your listeners would have would be responding to RFPs to try to win new business, which is super important. The software that we sell, and there a couple of other players in our space, it’s actually a pretty small space for as big as the potential market is, but there are a number of players.
We help people with three main tasks; and that is collaborating together, so you’re not working in a vacuum, managing the tasks associated with the RFP response, which are largely, I have 500 questions, I need to respond to 500 questions. Then knowledge management, which is super important, especially in a large organization, making sure that the content that you’re putting in there is appropriate. It’s not obsolete, and it has a good voice to it, a consistent voice.
So, for example, a pretty typical customer of ours has a couple of hundred users in the software. A coordinator, who may have described her job before is trying to herd cats or reinvent the wheel every two weeks, is trying to answer 500 questions from a hundred different subject matter experts who have the answers. So, trying to put all that stuff together and making sure that it sounds like it came from one organization with one mission and vision and values, that’s very difficult. So the software that helps us with that.
It’s a combination of you’ve got Google Docs with information, and maybe you’ve got a if you’re a bigger company, SharePoint drives with documents and things. But trying to pull information bits, little nuggets, answers to specific questions, paragraphs, or sentences, putting it together into a comprehensive storytelling way, because that’s really what your proposal has to be is a story about why you are the best for this specific customer need.
There are probably three main personas too, that someone may find themselves in and that’s if you’re a sole proprietor or free freelancer, you’re wearing all these hats. The marketing manager who is responsible for that overall brand, and the message and the voice, that person needs to make sure that their content is concise and cohesive, and consistent.
Then there is this coordinator, proposal coordinator who’s trying to pull together all this stuff. He or she may not be an expert in any one field, but they just need to get this thing done and get it out the door on time. The last is the subject matter experts, they have all the answers. Maybe it’s some technical answers, and the person who is answering these questions has another job they do. So, bringing in the subject matter expert, that’s the third name role fit somebody who just has pinged a couple of times a month, and needs to provide some answers.
Marg: You actually just answered what I was just going to ask, that’s good. I was actually going to say from like a sole proprietor or freelancer perspective. Usually what request for proposal, not using a service or software looks like is like what Reuven and Jeremy just said, you find something on LinkedIn or you find something somewhere that looks like an enticing project that you want to throw your hat in for, you go through it, answer things the best you can and just send it off and keep your fingers crossed.
A lot of those times there are sorts of things going through your head of Oh, do they already have someone in mind for the role? How much time do I typically spend on it? So given that as the general experience for a lot of freelancers, what does it look like as a user going through the experience with something like RFP360?
Dave: Yeah. Now in most cases, so if an organization or an individual is using our software kind of standalone, they’re taking RFPs that they find on the internet or get via email. They can upload the document to our system, and they can make use of those three tools I mentioned before. They’ve got collaborative tools, task management, and knowledge management tools.
You can cobble that together using other types of software. If you use a Google Doc, you can be in a Google Doc, and you can assign tasks out to people. But this is custom made so that you’ve got these dashboards and things that really help you respond to this RFP, and maybe it pushes some data into your CRM with some graphs and things. So there’s nothing revolutionary about anything that we do in the software, it’s just pulling it together for this task-specific thing.
The freelancers that I have encountered in the last number of years in the software, generally speaking, fall into a couple of categories, where they might be an expert that is being pulled in for a specific thing, maybe they’re an expert in security. I think about this a lot because we’re going through these security audits and things. So we reach out to somebody, they provide some data.
So, they’re an expert who’s whose brain we need to pick, and we want to make sure we save that information because every time I need to go out and ask that person for more information, it could cost me and I and that person also wants me to save the information. So they don’t have to be pinged with all these small questions here and there.
So freelancers often are experts that provide input. I have also seen freelancers come in as a proposal writing consultant. So they may help with the overall brand messaging, the consistency of communication, especially in an industry if they’re a healthcare-focused freelancer or writer. They will know how to tailor the answers for a specific industry and make sure they’re making use of active voice and things like that.
So a good writer might be kind of a generalist in that sense. So that’s how I’ve seen freelancers. The least common one would be that overall marketing manager who owns the return on investment of the tool and things like that. Because people are spending thousands of dollars, that’s not usually a freelance type of position.
But, I will say, numerous freelancers, have brought us into deals where they have been either a sales and marketing consultant, for a customer who’s brought us into the mix. The freelancer said, “I think you as an organization need a tool so that you can do all this stuff better and more repeatedly.” So we have aided a freelancer, in many cases in that way. The same way on the other side of our platform, where a freelancer might be a procurement consultant, helping somebody buy things more efficiently or get a better deal on things.
Reuven: I understand what you’re saying about freelancers being able to help as part of the RFP process. If I’m looking for more work as a freelancer are RFPs a reasonable way to go, or is it aimed really at large organizations, and I should be joining up with others as opposed to doing it on my own?
Dave: Yeah, that’s a great question. I’m not a sports person, I’m going to uses this analogy. Everybody wants more ad BATs. So, for a freelancer who’s out there looking for more opportunities to bid on, our software does not plug into various sites where RFPs are posted or opportunities are posted. There are portals like that out there, and some of them are good, some of them aren’t.
That’s not anything we do, but those portals are out there. So if you are a freelancer looking for your type of work, I’m going to pick on the marketing communication space because there is a portal called RFPalooza. I forget the guy’s name that runs it. But he scours the Internet for marketing communication type RFPs, and he puts them out there and you can pay to download this stuff.
Are they available in public sources? Probably I think that’s where he’s scraping them from and the other ones RFP DB, RFP database. They’re scraping places to pull these RFPs together and it’s a nice place. Both of these are nice places to go out and look for opportunities that you might not have otherwise stumbled across. Or like in my wife’s case, there are people in their industry often just go out to these public sector websites and they just… Every Monday they go out in a search. Do you have any opportunities posted?
So, they spend an hour every week looking for new opportunities that might be out there. So some of these portals are at least pulling them together into one place. So they’ve got their bots out there looking for opportunities. But again, our software is all about helping you once you know of the opportunity, how to, instead of spending 200 hours on it, you’re spending 100 hours on it and as an organization and bringing down that overall burden, but finding opportunities is tough.
Public entities often post them out, private entities, not so much. They might invite people to participate in an RFP, but they don’t necessarily broadcast out and say, “Who would like to answer this RFP?”
Reuven: But are they even appropriate for solo freelancers? Should I even be considering RFPs if I’m just in business on my own?
Dave: Yes, but read the RFP over carefully. There are many. There are some RFPs out there that I think are well geared towards a freelancer, but by the nature of RFPs, they’re generally larger companies that are looking for something more complex and more expensive than might be able to be satisfied by a freelancer. It’s probably better to align yourself with a larger organization, who has a proposal writing team, so you can augment their team when they need it. But you don’t have to be the driver of the RFP response.
Jeremy: Can you talk about how you evaluate RFPs to just get a rough order of magnitude on the size of organization that they’re looking to be awarded the contract? I used to own an agent. We had responded to a number of RFPs. On some of them, we thought we were proposing a nice big number that was going to be a really big project for us, like 300,000, or half a million dollars. Then when it comes a time it’s being awarded, we find out, oh, they awarded that to the shop that has 200 employees that charged $20 million for it. We were just not even in the right ballpark.
We didn’t really have any way to know that. We thought we’re good by “Hey, we’re going to use agile techniques, and we know we can do this with a small team.” But it just didn’t match what they had in mind for the shape of what a response would look like.
Dave: There are a couple of great internet memes that speak of this in humorous terms because it is so true. There’s a movie, an actor is it Jonah Hill? I think was in a movie, where they were a defense contractor and they underbid the next competitor by $2 billion or something. But in real life, the first RFP, we responded to with our own software, we way underbid the competition, and we won the customer. There are still our customer, but we left probably 40 grand a year on the table because we didn’t maybe ask the right questions.
That’s the tough thing with an RFP, they’re supposed to be telling you all of this stuff that’s going to allow you to bid the right amount, but sometimes they don’t. You don’t always know who you’re competing against. Sometimes you don’t even know who’s on the other side of that, who’s going to be evaluating this? How big is their team? Are they really… They push this out to, is this one department or multiple departments across geographies?
Sometimes that’s by design, that they do that, but it’s not always fair. So this is why RFPs get such a bad reputation. Because you spent all this time doing this and you realize that you weren’t ever even in the running because the buyer had their firm in mind or their agency in mind. You should be all equal when you go into an RFP response, but we’re but they’re not. One of the things that we encourage on the other side of our platform is we encourage people to score objectively with the scoring criteria.
So that when you get the graphs are built at the other end, it says, “Based on your scoring and all the teams that went in and evaluated this, here’s how the suppliers or vendors or respondents rank and their strengths and weaknesses by section.” Not all of our customers use that, when they do use that it shows me that they are really cognizant to make the right decision for the right reasons. It doesn’t matter if you’re a two-person shop or a 200 person shop, you answer the questions, and they want to partner with you because of the content of your answers.
So, again, that’s the disconnect between the idealism and the reality of the RFP process. For people who aren’t thrust into the RFP world, I would almost say don’t go in there. If you can make a living without responding to RFPs, you should. It’s only when you are thrust into the RFP process that you should try to do it as quickly and as painlessly as possible, and track your success rate. Because if you find that there are decisions that are out of you, you should cut and run as quickly as possible, just like anything, just like when you’re pivoting your own business.
If you have a one in five, win rate, that’s pretty good in the RFP world. But if you find that it’s one in ten, by going after certain types of projects, then don’t go after those projects anymore, don’t. There are plenty of RFPs that we say, no thank you to because of something we read in there, that just doesn’t feel right. Or when they ask us for like, does your software, send faxes? And we say, really? What’s a fax? And who is using this? And if you’re asking this, you’re, you’re so disconnected with how the software works or should be working that we don’t want your business.
Reuven: I’m just curious about something you had mentioned before about like scoring is that a standard thing where like, when an RFP is done, you find out how everyone does and you can evaluate yourself?
Reuven: Against everyone else?
Dave: No, internally. So when I used to run… When we started the company, I had been on the buyer side, and I always created scorecards. I would go to the unit that was trying to buy this thing. I would write down all their needs and get detailed needs, create RFP questions based on those, and then create a scorecard. Then the evaluation committee or evaluators would go through when the responses came in and read their responses and put little notes and scores whatever, then I would consolidate it all. All the stuff the software does, and I would do that manually back in the old days.
They should then have the stack of data on their side of why they made a decision. That data is rarely ever released to anybody else. One of the things that we have built into the software is the ability to track all that so that it’s possible if someone were ever open to sharing that sort of data, it’s possible for somebody to take all of that anonymized information and share it with, for example, one team, let’s say a team lost, to be able to get a report, we have this available and for various privacy and legal reasons, nobody… We just don’t anybody using it right now.
But they would be able to see where they ranked against their competitors in an anonymized fashion. Wow, you were really strong in your approach. Your relevant experience wasn’t judged to be very good, so let’s work on that.
If anybody responding to RFPs consistently had this sort of data, at the end, to do an after-action review, they’d be able to make continual adjustments. The problem is, even though our software can and does capture that it’s not made available to anybody because what that does is it opens up a can of worms to the buyer. Immediately, you’re reading through this and you said, “Gosh, well, we were strong in all these categories. It looks like we should have won this thing. How can we didn’t win this thing?”
Then the buyers are now in this difficult spot of “Well, you didn’t take us out for dinner, did you? You didn’t take us for golf? All these other things that factor into the buying process, that should not factor into the buying process, still are introduced into the buying process. Some organizations are very transparent about it, and definitely go by the books, but they’re in the minority. Therein lies the problem with the RFP. So some bad actors have completely ruined the name of RFP over the last however many years they’ve been used, so decades.
Meg: Assuming that, let’s say it’s right for someone to be like they’ve determined that “Yeah, RFPs work for us.” Probably more likely in a situation where you’re not a buyer yourself, but when it comes to winning more RFPs what’s some core things or core idea that our listeners should know about, and keep in mind to try to win more fees or some best practices to keep in mind?
Dave: Yeah. We just did some webinars with… Some of your folks may be members of the APMP, Association of Proposal Management Professionals. So we did a webinar for the Canadian group and the New York, New Jersey area. I know we had a segment on the factors that help you win more. I have to find my notes on that. If with all due respect, can I come back to that at a later time? Let me find the slides on that. Great question, I will write that down.
Marg: Oh, please.
Dave: How to win more.
Reuven: I have to say, I’m just still stunned that there’s an association of procurement managers. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by such things. But clearly, this is a common thing in so many companies that they need their own Association.
Dave: Well, not to be confused. So there is an association of supply chain managers riveting group of people.
Dave: But the Association of Proposal Management Professionals, so they get together virtually this month, historically, in person, worldwide, they have these chapters, and they come in. I’ve been to the annual convention, and it is a bunch of writers in a convention hall, technical writers. How do I write something better to win business? A lot of people from the education space and construction space and things like that. So this carries over into the how do we win more business, and there are some various strategies with this.
There are to stop. When you read this RFP, or whether it’s an RFP, or it’s just a pitch, you’re making to somebody, just take a step back, and put yourself in the customers’ shoes and say, “You know what, I’m not going to tell you about my services quite, quite yet. What I need to first do is actually make sure I understand your needs. So I need to put myself in your shoes, and understand what are you really trying to solve? Then I’m going to be a partner in in helping you solve this. That is understanding your specific needs, your budget, how what you consider to be a win, what’s your return on investment, or whatever that is, however, you guys talk about that. And now I’m going to try to answer as many questions as I can, with those core tenants in mind. So that I’m always taking it back.”
It’s always very customer-centric, which is an easy concept. In theory, it’s harder, because I’m guilty of this all the time, I will always talk about, oh, this feature, oh, it does this? Well, our salespeople are really good about saying, “Well, how does this really impact you?” So that there’s a dashboard? Great, well, what does that mean? Oh, it means everybody is on the same page. They know the status of this opportunity without having to hold a meeting? Oh, well, that’s a big time-saving thing. It publicly humiliates people who don’t get their tasks done. Oh, that’s a great thing, too.
So, if you’re a freelancer, and you have to answer an RFP, take a minute to read over the RFP, and to do some research on the organization. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to find out, you go through LinkedIn or whatever, to find out, any connections you have to get the inside scoop. What’s not on the paper, because you find out maybe, oh, there’s some politics at play, or they’re unhappy with their current provider. That just gives you some insight into what’s going on.
There’s a software platform that helps people write proposals, irrespective of whether they’re RFPs or not, and they had a really good blog on how to how to respond, how to increase your win rate. So I’ll send that over, make sure that you get that out to your listenership.
Meg: Wonderful. We’ll include that in the show notes for sure.
Jeremy: So if RFPs may not be great for solo operators, and very small shops, in your estimation, is there a sweet spot for, your organization should be this large before you really start getting serious about RFPs? Or are there certain roles that you should have people in, in order to effectively respond to RFPs or just, any sort of neighborhood guesses?
Dave: In the beginning of our business I put on the website. If you have fewer than five people that are part of the process this might be overkill. I thought about that mainly from a cost perspective. But we have sole proprietors that purchase our software, and it is because they have a tremendous amount of information that they’re trying to manage. Even a Google spreadsheet, for example, is not the best way because like in our software, if I use an answer, the system knows that.
So it shows up in the metadata, this answer has been used X number of times, it’s been used in these situations. So that helps you with the management of that information. What’s being asked, what’s not being asked, what information do I need to throw away because it’s two years old.
In certain industries, even as a sole proprietor, you have RFP challenges. So if you’re in the nonprofit sector, and you’re helping people write grant proposals, that’s all done through the RFP90. Well, I don’t know, stats-wise, a lot of it’s done through the RFP process. So, you’ve got to learn how to play that game.
Grant writers are really, really successful, the successful ones are hyper-focused, they help people win stuff in this area, and they know so much more than just what the RFP says. There are strategies around that also. There are people in big organizations called like, capture management people, and they go out there looking for opportunities, and they know how much spend an agency has on this, or a nonprofit has on this or whatever.
So they just know the context around the RFP and that sort of knowledge is really insightful, it’s worth a lot of money. I think you can charge a lot and have a very good career in that sort of field, but you got to be very hyper-focused, like ad agencies sort of things, or marketing agencies, helping people rebrand. All the freelancers we’ve used in the last eight years of our business.
First of all, I never took any of that stuff out to RFP, but we did want to have a substantive conversation. So having somebody pitch us their credentials, was very important. So it’s, not dissimilar to the RFP process like that the person pitching their services to us needs to understand, they need to ask us a bunch of questions. So it’s almost the opposite of an RFP, in that sense, to put themselves in our shoes to be able to really understand our needs, and to have those tough conversations about, do you really have the budget to hire a PR firm, and there’s only two of you right now? And the answer was no.
Marg: So I have a question about some external factors if a company goes in, wanting to and they see that they fit a lot of criteria. It’s a project that they want to go after and fulfill and submit and complete an RFP for in creating a proposal. Are there any external factors, and how much do they have weight on it? By external factors I mean, like, does there has to be a lot of social proof, their social media following like these other… Because I know all this stuff is fairly new, this whole, all these social online aspects, we know they can impact our business in so many ways. Can they impact to the positive or to the detriment of potentially winning an RFP?
Dave: I don’t believe that the procurement space that has historically embraced RFPs has caught up to that yet. I think that the most advanced group, that listens to social media and the knows about the tools, they’re all in the marketing space. Unless an RFP is coming out of a marketing department, I can’t imagine that a procurement person having been one myself, I did well, of course, Twitter hadn’t been invented yet, but I would not have gone out to Twitter to look at someone’s thought leadership.
It didn’t cross my mind at the time because they had invented it yet. But also procurement, most of the people who are going through an RFP their boss told them to do an RFP, their company charter sets over a certain dollar amount, they have to use an RFP. They’re going to have a section on references as opposed to going out to… Like in our case in software, you can go out to one of multiple software review sites. You can read third party gathered software reviews on us, the good, the bad, the ugly.
Is that better than asking us for three references? Yes. Do people do it? No. So, it’s a weird world, it’s just, a lot of things they’re not matched up, married up in the right way. A lot of RFPs, my frustration with RFPs we get is I can tell that they were, somebody just took it off the shelf. Maybe they dusted it off for the last time they did it or maybe they didn’t.
That’s why the word fax simile is still in the RFP. A city government that we do business with, in 2014, let’s say they stopped accepting paper proposals. But before that, you had to physically deliver your proposal to their place of business. Well, if you’re in this, I know they did a diversity consultant, RFP. They wanted to hire consultants to go through their data to make sure that they were being fair and equitable in their awarding of contracts, which is admirable.
But if you’re only limiting yourself to consultants in your geographic area, who have the means to physically deliver six copies of the proposal into this bin, in the lobby, well, you’ve just limited your pool of people to who can do that. So, this kind of stuff is still going on. The world has a lot to catch up. Anytime that you can, this is… This is why the RFP process stinks also.
There’s also oftentimes, a wall, and you cannot get past that. In the really open organizations, they’ll make sure that there’s a window of opportunity where you can ask questions, and then they’ll provide answers. You definitely want to make use of that. If you spend your time, if you read the RFP and you say, Oh, I think I could win this, and there’s a question and answer period, and you can bombard them with questions, thoughtful questions, some procurement people might discount you as like, “Oh, my gosh, these guys are so needy.”
But the really good ones whom you want to work with, with whom you want to work, will say, “This is a person trying to really understand us.” If you can get good responses back, that’ll help you decide whether you want to go forward with your bid or not. But that also gives you an insight into how they do business, and they’re really there. If they’re willing to put the effort forward to answer your questions, then maybe they’re going to give you a fair shot.
So there are some ways you can test a procurement organization who has an RFP out there. There was a big state in the US that had a big RFP, it would have been a life-changing thing for us as a small business. During the question and answer period, I asked some questions, and they just did not have good answers for them, and so, we didn’t bid on it. The procurement officer called us afterwards said, “Well, we really wanted you to bid on it.” I said, “Well, it wasn’t obvious to me that you wanted to bid on it. I thought the RFP was one of the most poorly written ones I’d ever seen.”
In another case, an educational institution had an RFP they posted online. I said we could really streamline this process if you did it electronically. “Oh, we do it electronically.” And I said, “Well, you wrote this in Word, printed it off, and then scanned it in and saved a scanned image as a PDF.” I couldn’t even parse it. I couldn’t parse it into using Adobe products. He’s like, “Well, I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
That is also the problem, too. You have people who don’t understand, maybe they’re not understanding what they’re supposed to be doing the best way or they’re checking boxes and things. It’s as quickly as you can figure that out, you can cut and run to your next opportunity. I’m saying this as a guy who loves RFPs.
Reuven: What are your examples just now I just have to make sure that I got the meta-ness of it. It was an RFP for RFP software in a municipality?
Dave: Oh, yeah, it happens all the time.
Dave: I will give you. There’s a better meta one. That was, I went down to visit this county government, and they said, “Well, we really shouldn’t be having this conversation because we can’t talk about this until we issue an RFP.” I said, “Well, how many RFP software companies do you know of?” “Well, we didn’t even realize there’s such thing as RFP software.” So I said, “So the chances of you issuing an RFP for RFP software, in light of the fact that you don’t know that RFP software exists.” “Now we’re getting.” This is like the movie Inception, this is buried in so many levels. I don’t even know where to start.
Meg: Oh my Lord. It’s funny when you mentioned a while back there, but I’ve seen a case of that like, yeah, you have to have this physically delivered by a courier or something like that if you’re not in town. That even more recently at least three or four years ago, I’ve definitely seen. It’s like there are people who’ve not heard of email.
Dave: People I know, very well have lost a business because the courier didn’t arrive on time. This is the third, it’s like, I just don’t get it. If somebody misses a deadline in our software, we added a feature where they can request, “This was due on Friday. Well, we missed it. It’s Monday morning. Can we still bid on this?” And the buyer can say yes or no. Because what happened? Like, what if the Internet is down that’s happened before? So when the Internet’s down, you can’t submit but did it really matter, or did you read this over the weekend? Did you already make a decision on Sunday night on this? No, you didn’t. You haven’t even opened the mail yet from Friday.
Jeremy: They made the decision before they issued the RFP.
Dave: I did hear sadly, in all this time, in all these years, I’ve been talking to people at RFPs. I talked to a person in the government space. These were huge defense contracts stuff. This is back when they had paper stuff that would be delivered. On the day that things were due, the trucks would show up with the six copies of all the stuff. These are thousand-page binders of defense contract proposals.
They would guide these carts into one of two rooms. There was the room for, here are the two defense contractors we have a great relationship with. Here are the three other ones, that these are going to go straight into the vault. Stories like that, because I’ve heard them once, I know that they go on a lot more. It saddens me when you think about in some cases, those organizations that have quantified how much it costs in time and dollars to put a proposal like that together.
If you’ve just spent $4-5 million and a couple of years of your time to put together a giant project proposal and you are going to be carted off into the archives. That is disheartening in a horrible use of taxpayer… It’s not taxpayer money that’s at that stage. It’s just reeks of the worst of humanity right there. So well, relatively speaking, though. I’ll say lower to mid worst of humanity, it’s a lot lower.
Reuven: So, we should probably wrap up before we get into picks, do you have any general advice for people who want to learn more about RFPs since you’ve described them as a scintillating subject, we should all be rushing to learn about. If people want to learn more about what’s a good resource to understand the whole process better?
Dave: Well, there’s a marketing professor at the University of Illinois, who has a couple of lectures on RFPs as part of his marketing class. I’ll share with you links there, there’s a bunch of YouTube videos he has on lectures. There’s a university professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City, and I just did a class with him last week. He wanted his students to understand RFP.
So we took a very high-level intro where we talked about the terminology, the different personas, and things like that. I think that’s a public thing. So I’ll get you a link to that. It just as an intro, just what are they? How do I learn about them, some resources, and things? Because there’s a lot of mechanical stuff too, there are everything about the templates, and how to present yourself and things.
So a lot of what we do as software is just making sure that people have the communication means but then there is the art of the pitch. That’s nothing that… I don’t think software really helps with that. That’s all about how you craft yourself and how you stay true to your own brand, so a lot of tactics therein.
Meg: Speaking to what the customers looking for?
Dave: Mmhm. Yeah. The short answer is if you’re like my sister who doesn’t know what an RFP is, then you should turn around and not talk to me anymore, and go on with your happy life.
Dave: Don’t learn because you won’t like it.
Reuven: There’s the man who loves his job.
Dave: Yeah, at trade shows when people would come to our booth and say, “I see your booth, what’s an RFP?” I would say, “Congratulations, you’re going to live a fulfilling life without knowing this. The bar is over there, you got to go take your time over there.”
Jeremy: Looking out grateful. That’s good.
Dave: Yeah. Yes.
Marg: Oh, dear.
Reuven: All right. Well, on that happy, exciting note, we’re going to do around picks. See what everyone has to recommend for this week. Marg, why don’t you go first this week, what you got for us?
Marg: This week, this is super exciting. It’s not exciting at all. I just got new hard drives, because I had bigger clunkier ones before, but I got new, my Passport hard drives, and I’ve dropped them twice. They still work, so that’s a win for me. So they’re my Passport hard drives, I’ll put a link in. They’re relatively inexpensive too, you can color-code them, you have different for different files and different videos or pictures and stuff like that too, just cool.
Dave: Have you heard of the Cloud?
Marg: Yeah, I know, right? They’re more expensive.
Reuven: Boy, would you drop the Cloud you lose a lot of data.
Marg: These are for my backups of my backups.
Meg: Very smart.
Marg: And also video from vlogging, and webinars and all that fun stuff.
Dave: I’m just kidding. Yeah, no, there’s a good reason for that, yeah.
Marg: But yeah, the Cloud in case you haven’t heard of it? Good. That’ll be my pick for next week.
Reuven: Meg, what about you and what you got?
Meg: I actually think I’m going to skip picks this week. But nothing crazy to recommend, or particularly on the line this week to recommend. But yeah, we’ll look into those hard drives though.
Reuven: Dave, how about you? What do you got?
Dave: I have been repeatedly responding to emails with Calendly links in there. Calendly, I’ve used it for a number of years. I set up meetings with our entertaining new auditors, and every person responded with a Calendly link, which meant that I could book the intro call in four and a half seconds. I sent Calendly an email and I said thank you. Obviously, other software there are other competitors out there. But goodness, how many emails do we use to send back and forth to schedule a 30-minute meeting? So thank you technology.
Meg: I will underline that 100%. So somebody whose business relies on scheduling phone calls and interviews with people across who knows how many time zones, say lifesaver for sure.
Dave: It’s tied in now, I just realized that I had it tied in with my calendar. So when I’m on, your calendar looking, it’s showing, it’s comparing, it’s doing that comparison. The only difficult thing is when you’re trying to coordinate with your colleague and so you’ve got your calendar up and their calendar up whatever but for the most part, Oh outstanding.
Reuven: Agreed, agreed. Jeremy, what about you? What do you got?
Jeremy: I’m going to go with a leisure pick this week. It’s a software program called Max for Live. That’s a visual programming environment for music stuff. Lets you create new musical instruments, digital musical instruments, process sounds in various ways, do all sorts of automation inside of Ableton Live. I’ve been enjoying learning that and digging into it. I recommend everybody that’s in to music and programming. Check it out.
Reuven: Excellent. I have two podcasts to recommend. After of course, people have listened to ours. They both are sort of similar, and they’re from similar sources, two of my favorite British writers about economics and society.
So the first is called The Secret History of the Future, is from a combination of slate and the economist from Seth Stevenson, who’s from Slate, and Tom Standage, who’s writing I have just loved for years and his books are amazing.
The other one is called Cautionary Tales from Tim Harford. Basically, both podcasts are simply telling interesting historical stories, and what sorts of parallels they have for today. So for example, they talk about virtual reality and how 150 years ago, in the Victorian era, they were trying to simulate reality by sending plaster casts of sculptures from European art museums all around the world. So people could experience it, even not seeing the original sculptures.
They talked about forks and Japanese toilets. When technologies are actually adopted, become normal, versus weird, and such things. So super, super cool stuff, different podcasts, but similar things and both lots of fun.
That takes us to the end of this episode. Dave, thank you so much for making us, putting the fear of God into us about RFPs, and yet teaching us quite a bit a lot about them. If we want to learn more about you, your company, and so forth, what are good places for us to do so?
Dave: Well, we can be found on the Internet at RFP360.com. My last request, if you could just edit in some hair on my forehead for this podcast, I would appreciate it.
Reuven: Do you have a fax number we can reach you out?
Dave: Yes, it is 1800 go to the Internet.
Reuven: Excellent, excellent. David, thanks so much for being with us.
Dave: I had a great time. I didn’t realize that talking about RFPs could be so much fun. So thank you for cobbling together this team from all around the world and I really enjoyed it.
Reuven: Excellent. Likewise.
Meg: Thanks for coming.
Reuven: That’s that, and thanks to you for listening, and we’ll be back next week on the Business of Freelancing