FIFA and RIP to RFPs

If there was ANY alternative, a Supplier would not choose to work for FIFA. FIFA used an RFP process and highlighted key flaws with it. Is it the end of RFPs? Or of FIFA?

Any Client, using a Request For Proposal (RFP) process to find and procure services, will benefit from understanding the problems with RFPs and how to mitigate them. Getting good service is all about finding the right match, and Suppliers too need to heed the warning signs in RFPs when things aren’t right – and when it’s best to avoid clients. Whether you are Client- or Supplier-side of a RFP, learn from the mistakes of FIFA’s (The Fédération Internationale de Football Association) Football World Cup bidding process for 2018 and 2022. Read on, there’s no need to scratch your head.

As the Director of Services for a professional (online marketing) services firm, I regularly receive and respond to RFPs: a structured procurement process run by a customer, to compare the relative benefits and risks of suppliers’ proposals as to how they can meet the customer’s requirements. The RFP allows for a Supplier to address a Client’s set of requirements, at a stated cost, and highlight features of their offering (beyond that in an Invitation To Tender, ITT).

RFP Lessons for Clients

(Having worked ‘Client-side’ for many years too) I can stress first the importance of simple scoring of individual criteria (in terms of ‘met/not met/exceeded’). Evaluation can get very complex very quickly otherwise. As the Client you can solicit the best responses by being very clear also on the weighting of criteria (e.g. ‘offering 50%’, ‘provider 20%’, ‘price 30%’). The more accountable you are as an organisation, to management and shareholders, the important this is to justify your evaluation of rival bids and ultimate selection – obvious, right?

Not so to FIFA in concluding their RFP for the 2018 and 2022 Football World Cups. FIFA can, and should, be criticised for a lack of transparency and ensuing mystery over its requirements. England’s World Cup bid was declared as best technical, economic, and social bid, backed by a knock-out presentation, delivered by senior level commitment. But they didn’t win. So what other factors were there? What requirements were asked for, but not met? As the Client if you are not clear on this, you won’t be clear on who is the best provider.

If there are other politically motivated, and other unstated, ‘desires’ then don’t use a RFP process. FIFA will be an all time classic example of this. It is their prerogative (with insufficient accountability unfortunately), but let’s all hope FIFA get what they really want – whatever that is.

So ‘RFP for RFP sake’ is costly and inefficient for Clients, and if it is merely for public show you then you might end up showing the public you’re best avoided. The selections of Russia and Qatar, for 2018 and 2022 respectively, the two bids with the largest budgets and the lowest marks in FIFA’s technical assessment raises serious questions over FIFA’s processes. The unnatural dependency of the 2 events led to even more bargaining politics, and more decisions of non-substance.

Your RFP will not be a one-off (a “game of two-halves”?), so be careful not to taint any future bid process, or scar any potential future bidders – why would England bother to bid again if the “best bid” fails? For the generally recognised best bid to go out in the first round of FIFA voting was a waste of everyone’s time and money: wildly inefficient, and even insulting. England’s narrow avoidance of “nil-point” puts FIFA in same class as the annual joke that is the Eurovision song contest.

The longer the RFP the longer the time it takes – how fast do you want results? But more importantly serve yourself better by sending the right signals. Even if you are accountable to only yourselves, you are making choices about your own subsequent performance. Be objective.

A Client won’t always know what they need, and it might be different from what they think they want. In my experience, the better matches have come through informal approaches, where it has been made clear we are compared informally, and where the online marketing manager has sufficient expertise and experience to take this into account. Ask your peers: the same professional services have been sought and found before, so why let your RFP reinvent the wheel.

Oh, and if a Supplier’s senior management show up and/or the project team, take this as a good sign of a Supplier’s commitment to the project.

Lastly, structured comparisons of vendors allows you to learn an awful lot about the subject and form an eclectic approach. You may not get the best proposal out of vendors by taking this approach.

RFP Lessons for Suppliers

As Suppliers, be wary of this: show enough to get the business, but don’t give too much away; it will benefit your ‘lost client’ directly and their alternate provider indirectly. To this end, as a supplier you may have more success from responses that address the specifics, but ALSO change the rules and answer different questions – the art of the dialogue is having the confidence to do this, and still explaining who you are, what you offer, and the way you work – and that you are charging a cost-effective price.

Once part of the RFP process you will get a sense of how objective it is. Be sure to take into account facts about the Client’s judgment, and any precedent of irrational decisions in face of simple evidence. FIFA’s denial of the need for goal line technology being a good example. Judge where you are in the process: difficult if the profound lack of influence over the selectors isn’t helped because they lied to you, as by FIFA to the England bid team – use this to your advantage, to better understand the customer. Do you want to work with them?

With FIFA, the writing was on the wall: repeated news articles regarding proven, and alleged, corruption by FIFA officials. If the bad press about members wasn’t true, then logic says they would have nothing to hide, and ignore it, as professionals. Instead FIFA have given more credence to the questioning light of the media, by turning their backs on it – and may well find it looking over their shoulder with more scrutiny in the future.

So as a Supplier expect there to be other factors not specified in the RFP. Usually it is the people side of it – good old fashioned ‘who knows who’.

Lessons for FIFA?

As an Englishman yes I am very disappointed the English bid was not chosen, but don’t believe I am being a sore loser. An objective assessment of the facts, if one was available, might show that the process wasn’t a nonsense from a Suppliers perspective – and the selection of Qatar for 2022 shouldn’t be a surprise from everyone elses.

Even Barack Obama has been left wondering how Qatar would be chosen over the US.

FIFA adopted an inefficient process, but it has to follow a RFP. Though, to then choose options of lower quality, because they think they are helping spread and grow the sport, is either visionary or inept. At best their decisions are charitable and not worried about commercial maximisation – well, of the sport at least. Both FIFA and RFPs will be here for a long time yet, but arm yourself with these lessons and know how to be the best of out them – well, at least RFPs.

The lessons here for those on both sides of an RFP are know (1) how the RFP can alter and determine what you get offered, (2) expect what the RFP can’t or doesn’t state, and (3) what you are getting yourself into, and whether you want to.

Be careful not to score any own goals.

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  1. I like this, and agree with the general proposition – that RFPs need to be carefully considered – but wonder what FIFA has to do with this? It seems to me you’re trying to make sense of the non-sensical: like, When is a Duck? FIFA’s approach to the Bid Process, tho’ it paid lipservice to an RFP process, never had any intention of choosing the ‘best’ bid, and hence was no kind of process at all. It knew who it wanted to win, but wanted (or felt it needed) to look ‘fair’. It was, of course, nothing of the sort, and there is nothing that England (or the USA for ’22) could have done even if the scoring method had been spelled out, and regardless of any weighting. “Points will be awarded for being Russia. The weighting for being Russia is 95%”. It was always going to be a mountain too high. Our only chance was the 5%: “There will be a 5% weighting in favour of Backhanders; in the event of a suitable backhander, all other points will be disregarded.” And God knows, we tried: the Government bent over backwards to influence FIFA: the “no tax” guarantees etc. And Boris, bless him, was willing to make swanky accomodation available to keep the members happy in 2012. It’s a dirty world, and we played dirty. Just not dirty enough.

  2. The BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year may be forced to take a leaf from FIFA’s book. The Beeb has presented 10 ‘criteria’, but without a suitable weighting, will they get the answer they want? Do they really want to posit a brunette on a biscuit tray with the likes of Moore, Coe, Botham and Thompson? Surely there should be a greater weighting for our real sports: for football, cricket, rugby? Wot? Not included? Then, surely, we should want the representative of our most popular sport (horse racing) to win, or the toughest man in the world – the heavyweight champion of the world. But it won’t happen. Political correctness will win the day: if not the biscuiteer, then it will be Jess the Smile, or Wonder Boy (Bless him.) Darts? Not this year, or any year. Now is a Duck.

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