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It is difficult for people to imagine an approach to sourcing that is different than the status quo in which an individual supplier often “shapes” or “wires” an RFP before its release, influencing the drafting of the document to favor their offerings exclusively. People seem to think that’s the way it has always been done and that it will never change.


Of course, “shaping” an RFP before its release completely defeats the purpose of inspiring suppliers to proffer a diverse variety of potential solutions at the best possible price in fair and open competition.


It says, in a sense, that the RFP process is some artificial construct that one must execute for the sake of appearances. The buying organization is less likely to get value-for-the-money and it does not comply with the spirit of governing regulation.

This is summarized perfectly in this piece:

“It seems that marketplace suppliers are RFP-weary, and factoring in the costs for responding and submitting an RFP, RFI or RFQ to win new business or renew existing business has taken its toll. The bottom line is this: If suppliers feel they have a fair shot at winning your business, they will invest the time and resource costs to participate in your RFP process. Conversely, if they review the RFP and the group history (if any) and ultimately determine that the request is just a pro forma action, as the customer likely will renew with their existing supplier, they will not bother to respond or participate.”

Why bother having a competitive process if you have already decided the supplier you are going to select?

Why would anyone waste the time, money, and psychic energy in responding to an RFP if it is obvious that someone else is going to win?

Shaping the RFP favors suppliers who are large enough to influence the process. It really serves the interests of suppliers whose core competency is in selling into process-intensive buying. It discriminates against smaller vendors, less sophisticated vendors, vendors from under-represented communities, and companies naïve enough to think that their core competence lies in serving customer interests more closely. Consider the cynicism of this description advocating for shaping.

“The recipe for wiring an opportunity to your company is simple:

“1. Build the relationship early on and become a trusted advisor.

“2. Find a solution that will benefit you and make it difficult for the competition to win.

“3. Make recommendations to the government with the interests of the project in mind first. In other words, you have to show how the solution you came up with is in the best interests of the government, and follows their rules (it cannot be obvious that they are giving you preferential treatment and are limiting competition, or someone will protest).” [emphasis added]

This piece, entitled “Influence the RFP by Shaping Requirements,” is bluntly honest about what shaping is designed to accomplish, in the context of government procurement.

Remember, as you are looking to shape and skew the requirements in your favor, the government is always moving in the opposite direction, looking to level the playing field.

Who has the necessary access to shape the RFP? Large, entrenched suppliers do. Which means that buyers can miss out on the innovation that smaller suppliers bring to the table and that buyers have a more difficult time meeting their corporate social responsibility goals.

Ideally, the RFP should be about presenting the buyer’s problem that needs to be solved, presented at a high-level without dictation of the specifics necessary to get from point A to point B. Without including a description of the features required in any submission, buyers can make it more difficult for suppliers to manipulate the buying process in their favor.

EdgeworthBox’s Network-Based Sourcing approach helps buyers avoid shaping by giving them access to databases and other buyers, in addition to being able access supplier marketing materials without alerting the suppliers to buyer interest. Buyers can develop statements of work in a neutral fashion. And the EdgeworthBox approach also encourages an outcome-oriented approach in which buyers state explicitly what the desired end state should look like without any description of how to obtain it. For more information, check out our eBook. We would love to talk to you more.

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Chand Sooran

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