Return of the Dead (RFPs!)

I'm reposting this item from a couple of years back. Because Zombies never really get old, do they now?

Whether your company's future is tied to programmatic selling or the development of native advertising concepts, it's impossible not to feel the diminishing relevance of the legacy request-for-proposal (RFP) process. But even though more of the digital ad dollar is flowing to automated buys or non-standard opportunities every day, a great many sellers and agencies apparently missed the memo. They continue to party like it's 1999: drafting, over-distributing, responding, defending and evaluating cattle-call RFPs long after the practice spiraled into irrelevance.

Welcome to the age of Zombie RFPs. Not realizing they're dead, they continue to walk among us. And they are eating the brain of your sales and marketing teams.

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For the uninitiated, some quick background: In the earliest days of digital publishing and advertising, we co-opted the RFP process common to the magazine industry. When it came time to spend, ad buyers would prepare a document asking for availability of certain features, adjacencies, capabilities; pricing; and of course that extra "big idea" that - if good enough -- would certainly clinch the deal. But what was moderately effective when there were dozens or scores of competing sites quickly became a grotesque charade in an age of hundreds of networks and thousands of sites.

Yet still today - whether fueled by ignorance, inertia, cynicism or all three - the RFP staggers on at the center of buyer/seller interaction. To foster the "illusion of inclusion," buyers routinely include 8-10 vendors in the process for every one that will ultimately prevail. Feeding off false hope, seller organizations burn money, time and creative energy each time an RFP hits the inbox. And collectively the industry chases its tail in service of a buying practice that's already dead.

Sanity must be restored. The zombies must be dispatched. And sales leadership holds the stake in its hand.

As I've suggested in a previous Drift, impose a triage evaluation process on the RFPs your team receives. Politely decline to participate on those where you had little to no advance notice and whose pricing or appropriateness to your company are spurious. Respond fully and creatively to big dollar plans that seem clearly written with your property in mind. And for group three - those in the middle - qualify, qualify, qualify.

Seller organizations can't change the way in which agencies choose to field opportunity. But we can control the way in which we respond. And in doing so, perhaps we free ourselves to pursue a path of real innovation and value creation. Free of zombies, life just gets better.