Doing Battle Against RFPs

Best Practices : Article

Stop. Analyze. Correct Course. Even in the Middle of Action.

By all accounts, World War I was one of the deadliest armed conflicts in the history of mankind, a four-year campaign in which the technological capabilities of the combatants far surpassed military strategy. One of the more sorrowful realities of the war, though, was the fact that the brightest military leaders of that era kept repeating the same mistakes; namely, sending wave upon wave of their men forward into the teeth of sophisticated enemy firepower. The tragic results were mind numbing.

While there are many key lessons to be gained from the horrific World War I experience, perhaps one is paramount: retaining the ability to stop, analyze, and correct course – even in the middle of the action. Or, put more succinctly, leaders should always pursue strategies that are optimal for their teams or organizations instead of simply following the tactics that have always been pursued. This guidance certainly applies to many business scenarios, but it is particularly relevant to how non-profit associations tend to select their management partners.

In the association world, the majority of organizations seek and select their management partners through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. The process is usually pretty simple: the association’s leadership determines the services needed, writes up those requirements into an RFP, and asks for management companies to prepare proposals to perform the work. As might be expected, cost is usually the main selection criteria. And just like the sordid World War I references above, these RFP processes generally fail to move the needle on the core problems the association was seeking to solve in changing partners. There are a few core reasons why.

Association Leaders Should Focus on the “Where”

First, our belief is that association leaders should focus on the “where” their organization seeks to go in the future, not define the specific services they want their management company to provide. This is the critical vision work that all groups need to do from time-to-time. Upon having a clarity in vision, associations can then petition potential management partners to submit proposals detailing how they will drive that organization to meet or exceed those strategic objectives, not the specifics around the day-to-day support work. This of course follows a basic management principle that effective leaders clarify the priorities, then empower their employees to execute against those plans in the ways they deem most effective. At Virtual, one of our core principles is to deeply connect the work we do for all of our clients to their strategic priorities.

The Best Client-Provider Relationships Emerge Out of Conversations

Second, our experience dictates that the best client-provider relationships emerge out of conversations, not requirements documents posted on the web. A key value-add that Virtual brings to a client relationship is its depth of expertise having managed more than 100 organizations of different shapes, sizes and areas of focus. We can leverage sophisticated pattern-matching to educate clients about what has worked (and what hasn’t) across that broad client universe we’ve supported. In most cases, rather than pursue tired strategies for the same old problems, we’re able to get our clients to look at their challenges and opportunities through a fresh lens – and then collaborate with them to build engagement plans that truly move the needle in the most critical areas.

Delivering Results Against Strategic Objectives: The Virtual Approach

Finally, many RFP processes tend to yield disappointing results because many of them center on cost as a primary (if not only) criteria. Sure, every organization needs to be mindful of budget, but there’s also plentiful truth in the adage: pennywise and pound foolish. Organizations that drive down the cost of services provider tend to get just that: lower-cost transactional work that’s notably decoupled from the strategic results the association seeks to achieve. The Virtual approach is to create customized service packages for our clients that, while cost-effective, are geared entirely toward delivering results against strategic objectives. After all, when our client organizations grow, so does the amount of money they have to spend on the programs and support services their group needs.

Still, despite clear advantages in taking a different tact, most associations seeking new management partners push out tired old RFPs that request low-cost proposals for the services they’ve prescribed. For those associations that want results, dare to be different. Give Virtual a call and ask how we can help you drive the success you envision.

Greg Kohn is the Chief Growth Officer for Virtual, Inc. and is responsible for driving the growth of the company as well as its client organizations. For Virtual, Greg leads business development activities, including the positioning of new services and offerings to markets that we serve. He also collaborates closely with client teams and clients directly to help ensure that every client that we serve meets or exceeds its strategic objectives. 

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