In addition to the standard requests for agency information, RFPs often require participating agencies to provide confidential financial information (we politely decline since it's none of their business). And, if that's a deal breaker, so be it.
Other RFPs will request creative thinking. We'll only submit to that indignity if we've already been selected as a finalist and feel we have a better-than-even chance of winning.
When we have failed miserably in an RFP process, it's almost always because the prospect says one thing, but means another. Case in point: a leading floor wax manufacturing company had heard good things about us and invited us into a 'limited' RFP. Since we had little, if any, floor wax experience (I'm a carpet guy), we were hesitant. But, the lead prospect assured us 'category experience' wasn't necessary (and the RFP said just that).
Now, fast forward to the first round presentation. In between checking their Blackberries, the prospect team asked us about our floor wax-specific credentials. 'Well,' we said. 'We handled ABC and XYZ for discrete projects.' The prospect asked when we had worked for those brands. 'Between 2006 and 2008,' we responded. 'That's it?' The prospect sniffed. 'That's all the floor wax experience you have?'
Needless to say, the meeting went South from there with even more enthusiastic use of their Blackberries by the prospect team.
I'm not sure how to avoid the experience trap when the prospect says one thing, but means another. This most recent holocaust reminds me of another particularly heinous RFP a few years back. We were up against two other midsized agencies in a pitch for a large law firm's business. We'd answered all their questions in the RFP, nailed the presentation and, as is often the case, waited for weeks to hear a decision. Finally, we were told a fourth firm not in the original process had been selected. 'Why them?' we asked. 'Because they have an L.A. office. You and the two other competitors don't.'
Needless to say, there had been not even a hint that an L.A. office was critical during the entire process.
Suffering through a lengthy, costly and time-consuming RFP process with a disingenuous prospect reminds me of an Abraham Lincoln quote which I'm paraphrasing, 'It hurts too much to laugh, but I'm too old to cry.'