How To Respond To A Bad RFP

It’s inevitable that one day you will be faced with responding to a bad RFP for your professional services. When that happens do you know what your options are? We’ll discuss how to respond to a bad RFP in a bit but first we should clarify what makes an RFP “bad”?

A “bad RFP” is one that is MISSING key elements including:


  • The budget for the project;
  • Clear and specific evaluation criteria that is focused on expertise and includes weighting and scoring rubrics;
  • A commitment to answer your questions without sharing the questions or answers with other proponents;

and/or that requires:


  • Spec work (this includes free consulting, detailed budgets, or in-depth work plans)
  • Irrelevant information such as detailed ramblings about corporate philosophies and attitudes

“Bad RFPs” waste billions of dollars (literally) of otherwise productive time every year. They are a drain on our economy and the fiscal performance of the organizations that issue them.

So it makes sense that you should avoid them. That is your first option.

1. Ignore the RFP

If walking is away is not an option because of financial desperation on your part you have bigger issues that dealing with “bad RFPs”. It’s probably time to invest in some business development or practice management help.

2. Contact the Potential Client and Suggest They Issue an Addenda

Not a lot of individuals are comfortable with this one for the obvious reasons that (i) it can be an uncomfortable conversation to have and (ii) it has a significant probability of scuttling your chances at winning the project.

The hidden opportunity here is that if you do connect with a receptive potential client and offer a few suggestions that help them with their search for an advisor you have just positioned yourself as a very valuable advisor. Basically it’s an opportunity to prove how valuable you can be.

Now this only works if (i) you are really providing procurement advice that serves the interest of the buyers and not just your firm’s interests and (ii) you are dealing with a reasonable and professional potential client.

But if they are not reasonable and professional isn’t this a great time to find that out?

3. Respond to The RFP Anyway

Unfortunately this is probably the most frequently chosen path although the best firms are increasingly choosing the first option – to walk away.

If you can’t, or won’t walk away, then just swallow your pride, make a fresh cup of coffee and prepare to stay up all night writing a bad proposal as it is impossible to write a good proposal in response to a “bad RFP”.

4. Contact Your Professional Association

Part of the typical mandate of a professional association is to advocate on behalf of their industry and members. By addressing “bad RFPs” your professional association is advocating in a manner that provides meaningful and tangible benefits to all the members in your industry as well as serving the best interests of your potential clients (even though the clients may not believe so at the time).

In my opinion this is one of the greatest opportunities that professional associations have to demonstrate relevance and value to their members and the business community in general, yet most gloriously fail to do so in any meaningful manner.

It’s time professional associations stopped dancing around the “bad RFP” issue and started being more direct about how unethical (and not just unsustainable) some “bad  RFPs” really are.

5. Contact Beyond Referrals

Consider Beyond Referrals the “bad RFP” hotline. People you can call when there is none else to turn to. Exactly like Ghostbusters except for RFPs. Basically this is option number 2 without any individual downside for you as we can keep your name out of the discussion.

Typically we will review the RFP in question and then contact the issuer with some suggestions on how they can reduce their costs of finding a professional services firm, increase their chances of attracting responses from more and better firms, and not create any ethical issues for themselves.

Don’t get me wrong – we are rarely successful in getting a buyer to change their RFP the first time. Most “bad RFP” issuers will politely listen to us and carry-on with the RFP anyway.

BUT – when they issue their next RFP they are very likely to incorporate many of our suggestions. So we take that as a win for everyone.

To start your career as a professional services procurement whistleblower contact the Beyond Referrals “Bad RFP” Hotline at 1.866.820.0561 or by email at

It’s your chance to help make a billion dollar difference to our world.

One Response to How To Respond To A Bad RFP

  1. Pingback: Stop Trying to Brand Your Professional Services Firm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Join the anti-RFP community!

Sign up for our newsletter.

The Consultant with Pink Hair

"This should be required reading for consultants AND their clients - especially the part about RFPs." - Blair Enns, Win Without Pitching

Upcoming Events

New dates will be announced soon.