Wednesday, September 23, 2009

RFP dilemma: What should my colleague do?

You may have the answer to my colleague's investment management RFP dilemma.

Here's his question: “When preparing an RFP response (one in which you repeat the question, then provide the answer) should you correct the original author’s spelling or grammatical error?” 

Also, should you worry about offending the client if you correct an error?

What do YOU think? I'll give my opinion after I hear from some of you.
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
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Copyright 2009 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved


  1. Originally I decided that I would not correct the original grammatical error. It's my job within the RFP to communicate my solutions and proposals to the requestor.

    But on the other hand, correcting the error may demonstrate attention to detail, a trait that may be critical to the work requested.

    Now I'm thinking the errors may be placed in the RFP on purpose. What a mind bender that thought creates!

    So, yes, I suppose I would change it, but that assumes that the original RFP allows me to modify the text (e.g. permissions do not prohibit editing).

  2. Definitely correct it, but don't call attention to the fact that you corrected it :)

  3. I would certainly correct the error, although Bill Winterberg's comment about permissions takes precedence. Chances are, as more people review the proposal, someone will catch the mistake and assume your firm made it, not them. It's best to make corrections up front, as soon as possible. But again, it's not an issue of offending anyone, it is an issue of permissions. The more critical the permission issue, the more likely I would be to actually draw their attention to the correction.

  4. I would make the correction, but I would stop short of bringing it to the original author's attention.

    I would hate for the original author to attribute the mistake to myself when I realized it was a mistake in the first place.

    Plus if the original author missed the mistake, who is to say they would notice the correction?

  5. It depends what kind of errors. Spelling and grammer I might let go (ie, the passive teense was used) whereas things that would be flat out harmful I'd point out (ie, we seek an investment advisor who has had his conduct investigated by the CFA Institute.

    There's never just one cockroach in the kitchen, and where there's one or two errors in an RFP you can bet there's lack of attention to detail elsewhere in the organization.

    If it helps point it out, otherwise forget it. Treat others how you'd like to be treated.

  6. Thank you for your thoughtful replies! I'm going to take some time to digest them before I give my perspective on the issue.

  7. I wouldn't change the question, under any circumstances, even for an obvious typo. However, I might add to an answer a reworked version of the question in a less obvious way. I feel it's highly important to leave the existing questions "as is" especially as more and more RFPs seem to then reference the RFP as "respresentations" in the subsequent contract.

  8. I asked Paul Escobar ( elaborate on the legal nature of an RFP. His answer follows below.
    Thank you, Paul!

    Some of the investment contracts, especially in the public funds world, make reference to the RFP saying that the RFP contains material representations and are included as part of the contract.

    For example, let's say the RFP has a bunch of questions on your research or risk management process. Then, later your portfolio tanks, the plan wants to be able to ask you to prove that you followed the process outlined in the RFP, or it's a breach of contract and possibly a breach of fiduciary duty. This takes the RFP process up a notch.

    And, what's to say that what you (or your RFP-answer team) thinks is a grammatical or typographical error isn't just a misread of a question? I can't come up with a good example, but I'm sure that in our business with all its jargon there are times when what seems like an English-language question can be misread and then mis-answered. Especially as there's pressure at many investment management shops for RFP writers to "publish" upwards of 1 RFP per week per person.

    So, I wouldn't suggest changing a question, even for typos. One can incorporate the question that you believe that you are answering in the response, but this way, you're answering the question you believe they asked, not simply changing their question to fit your answer database.

  9. Susan,
    Thanks for posting this topic. Paul Escobar's legal caution is a good one, and it points to the dilemma faced by many firms -- the need to provide quality answers that are compliant with regulations, engaging enough to get to the finals, and differentiated from competitors' responses. Fixing grammar, punctuation and spelling errors in the original RFP question becomes a judgment call, and it's challenging when the RFP staff is junior and challenged by too much work. Depending on the nature of the firm's product, the gearing ratio for an RFP staff is about 50 responses per writer per year, plus a support person for every 5 writers. Multi-discipline firms or those that offer 401(k) administration often need larger staffs, as do firms whose products are likely to be rebid annually.

  10. Paul B,
    You make me feel so glad that I don't work on RFPs any more. What a challenge!

    Thank you for your comment!


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