Let’s Do It! What Are We Doing?

by Matt Griffin

19 Reader Comments

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  1. Hi Matt,

    Very interesting strategy. From your experience, I would like to ask you about one detail. What percentage of that kind of proposals are rejected at the beginning?

    Thanks,
    Jakub.

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  2. Hi Jakub,

    It’s about the same as our full proposals. About 50/50, maybe 40/60. We haven’t been great about paying attention to the details of that pipeline, sadly (one can’t do everything all the time!). But we’ve just started setting up https://getbase.com/ to get a better idea of how things like that affect the success rate. I’l let you know what we learn from that!

    MG

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  3. Hi Matt,

    Great article. I’m on board with this approach and have practiced it myself.

    In your experience, how often has one party, you or the client, opted to split before the second phase? In the case of you not choosing to proceed, how has the client received your decision?

    Thanks,
    John

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  4. John,

    I’ve actually yet to have a second phase not occur! I think the motivations that come out of this scenario really encourage building a team relationship with the client. So usually everyone’s pretty stoked to keep things rolling for a phase 2.

    I think I’ve also developed a pretty good radar for bad fits from an initial meeting, and that often keeps me from taking things any further in that case.

    When I’ve had to deliver the “bad news,” though, it usually goes better than I think it will. If things aren’t jiving, it’s usually obvious from both sides. As long as you help them transition elsewhere (at least give them a few names or introductions), it doesn’t make sense for anyone to get too bent of shape. In fact I’ve found that, given a well-intentioned approach, most people will surprise you with their understanding, even when ostensibly rejection is at play.

    MG

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  5. Matt –

    Great post. I’ve used this approach many times and would agree with your points. Some of the challenges that we’ve faced:

    - As you mentioned, it’s a good idea to deliver some sort of range for the future phases. However, for those RFPs that are very unclear, it’s difficult to deliver a tight range. We’ve had to deliver ranges that may go from $100k – $500k, purely because of the unknown. This can certainly scare the prospective client.

    - The client will for sure receive a proposal from another firm saying exactly what they want to hear, with an exact budget and timeline. I’m assuming these firms have just guessed because of their desire to win the work. Clients that go with these types of firms probably aren’t a good fit for us anyway, but it’s still frustrating.

    - I have received feedback that this approach has a perceived lack of confidence/vision. “Tell us what we should do and how much it will cost.” As a result, I’ve had to adjust and carefully explain WHY we do it this way. Clients that value this approach tend to be a great match for us.

    Thanks,
    Billy

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  6. Great post. I was just having this discussion yesterday.

    Billy third point about client viewing this approach as a “lack of confidence/vision” is a clear warning sign that you might not want the project in the first place.  It indicates a “corporate procurement” type mentally that focuses on supposedly tangible things like number of pages, templates and design comps rather than solutions that meet real needs. 

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  7. Hi Matt,

    This article is so refreshing. I am a solutions architect for a firm in Boston, it’s really just a fancy word for sales. However, I have been a design and developer for more then half of my life. With that experience, this was something I introduced into our firm about two years ago and let me just say it was the best choice ever! it really works, it’s good to see others who think alike.

    Cheers,
    Michael

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  8. Billy & Chance,

    This is the tough stuff, right here! Trying to navigate a new organization’s culture and history, and all the baggage that comes with that, can be quite difficult. Sometimes all you need is more clarity and frank discussion; other times old beliefs are too deeply ingrained, and that alone will mean you’re not a good match.

    But certainly, there will always be those that will accept nothing but a precise definition of all work, right off the bat – regardless of its actual accuracy. In my experience, though, many organizations have been burned by that before, and when someone finally comes along and confidently declares “I don’t know the answer right now, but I’m going to find out,” they find the honesty refreshing.

    Of course, sometimes there is so much red tape, that no new ideas can squeak through, no matter how sensible.

    But hey, if this stuff was easy, we’d all be bored, right? :)

    MG

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  9. Thanks, Michael!

    MG

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  10. Hey Matt, thanks so much for taking the time to write this – it’s an excellent approach I’d definitely like to start adopting myself.

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  11. Great article Matt.
    This is exactly what we are doing now in our organization with one difference. The firm that will do the pre-project research will not be able to apply for the actual redesign as it is considered by our legal department unfair competition for the rest of the firms that would apply for the redesign tender due to the knowledge that will acquire during the research phase and the influence that the research will have in the definition of the specifications.

    Unforunately public procurement legislation is not so flexible.

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  12. Nikos,

    Interesting! My perspective on this is that it’s assumed that we’re the firm that has been chosen to do the whole project, barring unforeseen incompatibilities. There’s no need to do another RFP search, unless it seems like it’s not a good match after phase 1.

    MG

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  13. Matt – good read! We’ve been talking about this very thing for some time. Good to see there are others that get it, which is going to kick us in the ass to actually implement this in applicable situations.

    Typically, we don’t respond to RFPs because it assumes one (the client) could check off boxes of a requirements checklist and assume they’ve got the perfect match (the agency). Everyone knows relationships don’t work that way. Heck, if my wife were to go back and see if I was someone that “checked off the boxes,” we wouldn’t be married. ;-)

    Thanks, again!

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  14. Hi Matt:

    I think this is good way to tackle larger projects; by splitting the entire project into a stage for discovery, research, and scope definition, and the rest of the project. For clients that have a large budget and a project that will take a long time, this allows both sides to see if they can work together with minimal damage if they decide “No”. The client has a well-defined scope at the end that they can take to another agency if things don’t work out.

    A small project is always best for a first project when you are dealing with someone you have never worked with before.

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  15. Great article, especially for an IT architect who gets called to help creating RFP and evaluating the responses.
    I find it very hard to create RFP with no details and get more surprised when I see vendors responding with exact time and cost to vague RFPs!
    This encourages irresponsible, vague RFPs and can only be avoided if vendors are willing to refuse to provide all inclusive initial response, instead proposing a two phase approach.
    It hurts me more to see such proposals (when it happens) being rejected just because they did the right thing in my opinion by suggesting a two phase solution!
    Well, I can only hope that conventional wisdom will eventually prevail and IT folks gets educated on writing clear RFPs with two phase proposal, which may require a cultural shift for both parties?.

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  16. I like the integrative approach, you may be reaching a latent need. The typical rule here is consumption depends on availability,  the typical outcome is usually over budget. This can lead to the building of an aversion, maybe a systemic problem why it’s tougher to get jobs if you are new to the prospective company. Since they believe it’s probably going to be over budget. So this approach can offset that aversion and reframes the question as well.

    I think one place that needs to be covered and is salient to the client is to also ensure them that Phase #1 is modular enough to simply pass it off to the next firm if they wanted to go another direction, again calming another aversion of the failed tech projects in the past.

    Unique approach.

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  17. Thank you for this article.  I’ve often mused that clients’ requests for proposals are like asking a building contractor to give a quote for a skyscraper when the architect hasn’t even finished the design.

    I just offered a version of this to a client whose WordPress site needs a rather major update of WP and all 30-some-odd plugins, and I can see there’s quite a bit diversion from best practices already.  So rather than stabbing in the dark for what it’d take to do the whole job (2 hours? 20?) I suggested that I simply clone the site locally and run all the updates in order to figure out what will break.  That’s a job for which I can actually estimate a number of hours.  Then I stand a chance at an estimate for what phase 2, the actual fixing, will take.  It feels so much more prudent to proceed this way. 

    And as Christian noted above, I actually stated that the client may wish to call on another developer to do phase 2, and/or I may even recommend that, should I determine that the work is outside of the scope of my own skills. 
    Thanks again all.

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  18. Thanks, everyone! Glad the idea was helpful to you.

    Susan: that sounds like the perfect approach for a problem like that. Thanks so much for sharing!

    MG

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  19. I literally JUST followed this approach with a proposal I submitted yesterday. It’s so logical, I wonder why it feels so radical?! Anyway, great article, thanks for sharing.

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