Many associations default to writing a request for proposal (RFP) when it comes to choosing a professional firm to help them rebrand their organization or redesign their website. And while it’s easy to assume RFPs are the way to get the job done fairly, effectively, and economically, this assumption tends to reduce a complex problem down to a simple matter of where to get the best deal like you would when buying a car.
The reality is that when you’re ready to buy a car, you start by evaluating your needs (car features and benefits) and then your constraints (your budget). Eventually you find the best option and then a dealer offering the best price. Then, you buy that car.
But it’s not that straightforward when it comes to complex, high dollar value, and customized solutions. When you rebrand an organization or redesign a website, you need to do much more than search for the firm with the lowest price. You’re looking for a firm that has solved the same problems as you’re facing in your industry. Working with a firm means entrusting them to correctly diagnose the source of your problem areas, and have the experience and expertise to solve those problems in your industry.
RFPs aren’t the only way to select a firm to do your long-awaited rebranding or website project. The RFP process doesn’t typically lead to the best qualified expert, solution, or even the best value. There’s a better way. When you use qualifications based selection (QBS), you’ll get a fairly-priced, customized solution from a true expert.
RFPs do work in cut-and-dry scenarios when:
When your association takes on a rebrand or a website redesign, you’re attending to a critical part of successfully moving your member-driven organization into the future — not a simple, cut-and-dry issue like the above criteria would cater to. Again, in order for the RFP process to work, you need an accurate self-diagnosis. But what happens when you take on writing an RFP and incorrectly define the source of the problem?
It’s not only writing the RFP that’s a challenge. It’s also identifying an expert vendor. Naturally, vendors who respond to an RFP will want to win the project. They’ll make promises based on your prescribed requests for the lowest price they can offer and bind themselves to it.
More and more expert firms won’t even bother participating in the RFP process. That’s because RFPs offer no incentive for firms to spend the extensive time necessary to research and diagnose the real cause of the problem or to generate custom and innovative solutions that best address it. After all, that would be a waste of their time and effort if and when you choose another firm.
Don’t end up selecting the wrong vendor or the wrong solution because you were lured by the lowest price or perceived value. By the time you figure out the solution you paid for is half-baked, you’ll have no budget left to start your project over. So skip the RFP and begin with QBS.
RFPs often don’t reflect an association’s true needs. Why? Because even those who do know the project best — and who have perhaps begged and pleaded to have it approved — are too close to the project to see all the variables. It’s easy to see the car needs fixing, but knowing what parts to replace or if you need a new car altogether? Those decisions take the know-how, experience, and eyes of an expert.
When you need expert solutions for complex problems, qualifications based selection (QBS) makes sense. The process was established by the Congress in 1972 as a method to ensure government agencies hired the most qualified architecture and engineering firms rather than the cheapest. Since then QBS has been adopted as a procurement method in the private sector as well.
The QBS process ensures:
QBS gives you an opportunity to collaborate, to ask tough questions — and be asked tough questions. You can have conversations with the firm that builds a mutual understanding of the problem and the real cause of it, before determining the most appropriate solutions, costs, and deliverables.
It might be tempting to stick with the RFP process to select a vendor for your project. It’s human nature to choose the familiar — despite evidence that the familiar isn’t the best for the desired outcome.
You can still lean on something familiar as you begin QBS. Treat the process like you are making a new staff hire and follow these 3 steps:
When you’re finally at the point of firm selection for your project, you should insist on one who has these two qualities:
Aren’t you looking to hire a vendor in the first place because you don’t have the expertise yourself? Old school RFPs simply aren’t designed to help you access top industry experts.
Instead of sinking time, energy, and budget in a process that proves inefficient at best, invest in a more effective selection process. QBS springs from a firm belief that only experts should do your work and that your engagement with them should be focused and productive. It makes way for you to hire the best available firm to build your association’s custom ride — empowering you to take your members where they want to go.