The benefits of failing fast

In a recent conversation with a friend of mine, CEO of a small Consulting firm, he explained me how he energized his small company using Lean Startup principles and tools.

Especially when it comes to answer calls for tender or a request for a proposal, Frederic (his name) has gotten pickier.

My test, he said, is to ask when I can come and present my proposal. If the person asks to receive it by e-mail or tries to escape the presentation, chances are there is no genuine interest. I can save myself precious time for something doomed from the beginning. I won’t inflict pain to myself starting to answer. Fail fast, save time.”

Being still somewhat old school, educated in a system and at a time when failing was not fashionable, I realized that “failing fast” is not only about physical widgets or apps not working (even if called Minimum Viable Products) or services nobody care about except their creators, but also about the more mundane and lukewarm requests from prospects.

I recalled how many proposals I wrote myself, for which I got stupid excuses to turn them down, if any answer ever came. I could have failed fast and saved myself a lot of time!

Indeed, some prospects are asking for proposals to gather some intelligence on a subject, fuel their own creativity, get a free guideline to roll out the proposed program by themselves or just to please the purchasing department with more than their favorite proposal because the procedure requires at least three.

In a time of harsh competition it’s sometimes hard to discard an opportunity for business, but here one has to remember that every inquiry and call for tender is not a true opportunity.

And failing fast has real benefits, it saves time!

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2 thoughts on “The benefits of failing fast

  1. I was once advised never to respond to an RFP unless I had written it. As I found out, it’s not uncommon for companies to ask consultants to write RFPs for them, which substantially raises the probability that the consultant — or his or her firm — will be highly qualified.

    Many companies issue RFPs because their process requires them to. The people who issue them already know who they want to work with, but they have to show “due diligence” by collecting a few proposals that have no chance of being selected. I suspect that you and I have been thus “due-diligenced” more than once, and it doesn’t make you feel smart.

    Before investing the time in a response, you really want to know whether the request is sincere. In one case, I remember asking the issuer point blank over the phone. He assured me that it was on the up and up, and I believed him. I sent in a proposal, and we got the job. I remember it vividly because it happened once in 29 years.

    Generally, I don’t think the RFP process is a good way to recruit suppliers, mainly because it favors those with a large marketing budget and a sales team that can spend all its time responding. Large consulting firms have impressive senior partners writing and presenting proposals. Once they have closed the sale, however, they dispatch what the Wall Street Journal once called a “schoolbus” of rookies to do the job.

    It’s faster, cheaper and better to vet a few suppliers based on basic information, and give each a small project for which you pay. The amount may be 1% of the project for which you are recruiting, but it is vital because it immediately gives you access to their technical teams, not just to their sales staffs.

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