In several recent gatherings of law firm marketing professionals, most notably at the Hubbard One Innovation Forum 6, I listened as colleagues spoke with disdain about the avalanche of Requests for Proposals and Requests for Information that buyers are issuing. There is nearly universal acknowledgement that the number of RFPs and RFIs is increasingly dramatically. Many law firms have, or are, organizing ways (including full-blown partner committees) to determine whether or not to respond to these RFPs and RFIs. I’m just one voice at my firm, and I’m a definite minority in the world of law firm marketers, but when it comes to RFPs, I say “bring ‘em on!”
For years, my group has been laboring to be afforded the opportunity to gain work from major companies who, in the past at least, relied on larger, more recognizable (and more expensive) law firms. Large companies, more so than middle-market companies, have organized the legal-services buying function, often with the help of procurement specialists. To me, an invitation to respond to an RFP or RFI represents a significant step forward in our efforts to be invited to the party, not to mention a signal that big-time buyers are considering law firms off the beaten path. RFPs and RFIs are how, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, (R)evolutionary companies identify and engage providers. If we turn away when asked to respond, all of the investment that has gone before is for naught.
Yes, I agree that responding to RFPs and RFIs is a time-consuming and difficult process. Yes, I know that the odds of being empanelled are not particularly high. Still, I say, “bring ‘em on!” Even if we don’t win the work, we’ve gotten our very focused credentials into the hands of a very focused audience, and there’s a lot more value in that than in the torrent of shotgun shells we’ve fired over the decades.
Obviously, no reasonable marketing professional would respond to an RFP when the specs are totally out of whack, for instance if the RFP seeks on-the-ground lawyers in California and the law firm’s footprint is totally on the East Coast. Only in scenarios where the buy and sell are so mismatched will I recommend walking away. And maybe not even then.
Each week for the three weeks leading up to the recent Association of Corporate Counsel Annual Meeting in San Antonio, I personally led and wrote responses to three large RFPs. Exhausting, no doubt. At the ACC Annual Meeting itself, I chatted with Jeff Carr, the illustrious General Counsel of FMC Technologies. The conversation turned to RFPs. “Why,” Jeff asked, “do law firms have such agita about RFPs? That’s how FMC Technologies and a lot of other businesses get their work,” he said. “It’s part of what we do every day.”
I did not attempt to explain or justify the RFP declinations of many law firms. “I go after every RFP I can find,” I told him. “To me, it’s an honor to be invited to the party and a way for us to put as many lines as possible into the water.”