Why Do Vendors Hate RFPs?

When you asked us to the dance

We believed we had a chance


You called for answers, samples, fees

But then ignored our expertise


If we don’t play we have to walk.

Don’t you like us? Can’t we talk?


We’re so much more than spreadsheet cells.

We think your ‘process’ really smells.


Ten thousand vendors could have written these lyrics after an RFP. They would likely find their voice in an angry, ranting rap (maybe Kool Moe Dee, back then) or a plaintive, wounded country ballad (Patsy Cline or George Jones, back even further).

Or in a less artistic expression, the answer might just be a string of curse words. I’ve heard a few of those as I have asked sellers why they don’t like RFPs.

It’s an important question if you care about getting the most out of the process, and it raises some other good questions we’ll address later, namely:

  1. Should you CARE that vendors hate RFPs?
  2. What is a wired RFP, and is it ever appropriate?
  3. How do I tell my incumbent vendor that we are doing an RFP?
  4. How do we get the best out of vendors during an RFP?

In this article, our focus is simply why vendors feel the way they do. We’ll group it into two valid answers, and two lame answers:

  1. Sellers Want a Fair Chance
  2. Sellers Want a Conversation
  3. Sellers Want it to be Easy
  4. Sellers Want to Control the Process

 Sounds reasonable, right? Let’s go beneath the surface.


Sellers Want A Fair Chance

In a game or a sporting event, each participant has the chance to win. Their opponent may be stronger and have advantages, but the rules are the same and they get to perform and be judged on their performance.

A seller responding to an RFP is also competing, and naturally they want and expect a fair opportunity to win. This doesn’t happen because of some abuses of the RFP system:

  • The Wired RFP – that is clearly intended for a specific vendor, and sometimes even written by that specific vendor.
  • The Fishing Expedition – an RFP that is intended to find information, including pricing benchmarks that will be used for negotiation – but where the buyer has no intention to change their current vendor.
  • The Window-Shopping RFP – where an organization has not committed to pursue a solution, but asks vendors for an RFP just in case they do.

My belief is that all three of these are rare… but they do happen. And when they happen, sellers don’t forget.


Sellers Want A Conversation

If you’ve ever sent a resume to a job opportunity and received a polite “we’ll keep you on file” reply, then you may understand this feeling. It’s hard to get everything important on a few sheets of paper, or even a website and some case studies.

Most sellers believe that they need to talk to the buyer to understand the buyer’s needs and also communicate their strengths more effectively.

Also, sellers want to talk to the decision-maker. The RFP process is often facilitated by a gatekeeper, procurement person, or someone else who is not the key stakeholder. This can result in a flawed, oversimplified evaluation, as non-experts seeking the coveted apples-to-apples comparison may mislabel their fruit.


Sellers Want It Easy

Don’t judge so fast… don’t we all want it easy? Most RFPs are a lot of work to answer, and bidders know that they will be rigorously compared against others (perhaps unfairly). Their product and pricing will be poked, prodded, and dissected.

Who wants that? They’d prefer less competition (“let me take you and the CEO to lunch”). They’d prefer to sell only against the problem they can easily solve rather than other direct competitors.


They Want To Control The Process

Granted, the list is starting to tail off… but consider that traditional sales training is oriented around controlling the sales process. (Think of Blake’s speech in Glengarry Glen Ross – A-B-C.)

The RFP process is fundamentally about the buyer driving the process. It’s hard to Always Be Closing if your answers are limited to 200 words in an Excel spreadsheet, and you’re not allowed to have communication with the vendor. Sellers know that this is how RFPs work and they accept it… but that doesn’t mean they have to like it.


THE NEXT QUESTION – Should you care that vendors hate RFPs?

Do you know how to organize your RFP properly? Make sure that you read our article titled: How To Organize An RFP.

Are you sure that you and everyone else in the decision making process are on the same page about what you are buying? Make sure that you read our article titled: What Are You Buying Anyway?


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