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  • Writer's pictureBob Wiesner, Managing Partner, The Americas

"The Cone of Silence" Is Bad Policy

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

There’s one thing we encounter in almost every new business pursuit we work on at Artemis that has both frustrated and amazed us.

It is, of course, “The Cone of Silence.”

We’ve all seen it. Most of us shrug our shoulders and just follow the rules. The result – pursuits that are more challenging than they should be. And, in our opinion, decision-making by prospects that fails to recognize what’s really important. Which then leads to bad decisions.

Here’s what we mean.

The Loud Sounds of Silence

In case you haven’t encountered “The Cone of Silence,” here is a quick tutorial:

When RFPs are issued in a highly regimented environment, pursuing teams are immediately restricted from contacting anyone on the prospect side who might be involved in decision-making. This is what The Cone of Silence refers to.

There are some legitimate reasons for this. The issuing firm wants to give all competitors an equal chance. The content of the RFP is meant to communicate all pertinent information about the opportunity.

Also, they want to manage their own time. The 20 or so firms that receive the RFP, if given the chance to ask questions of the decision-makers or otherwise interact with them, would chew up most of the hours of the day.

Both sound reasonable. So, what’s the problem?

Silence is Golden…Or Is It?

If I’m operating in a highly competitive market, I want to win. The firms I hire, whether architects, agencies, auditors, or just about anyone else, are supposed to help me win. And I want to do all I can – consistent with my purpose and within the boundaries of integrity, ethics and law – to win.

In selecting those providers, I need to be looking at each with great depth. Which of them will truly be the best to work with? Who will give me the best possible advantage in my market?

When I issue an RFP and then impose The Cone of Silence, I’m asking the competing firms to vie for my business in a way that doesn’t at all replicate what I’ll be asking of them once I hire them. I won’t be able to get to know them with sufficient depth. They won’t be able to get to know me. The likely objective criteria I’ll use to choose a winner won’t reflect what I really want from them when they start working on my behalf. The Cone of Silence creates artificial conditions that don’t reflect what will be real.

Time Management vs. Silence Management

I understand the argument that, with 20 or more firms receiving RFPs, there’s no time for interactions with all of them. So, answer me this:

Unless your stakeholders or governing body require an open competition, why are you sending an RFP to 20 or more firms? If you have the option, send it to fewer, so each competing firm can spend time with you. You won’t have to bar interactions. You can see what the competitors can really do.

You’ll probably learn as much or more from these interactions than you will from the RFP response. Because you’ll see how they authentically work. What they’re really capable of and how they’ll fit with your culture.

When You’re Outside ‘The Cone of Silence’

If you’re a firm competing for business via RFP, and you know The Cone of Silence is inevitable, we think you have just one real option – get ahead of the RFP. You must maximize your competitive position before the RFP by having as many meaningful interactions with decision-makers and influencers during the weeks, months, even years prior to the RFP.

You’ll need an intensive campaign, strategically planned and executed by a team with urgency.

If you haven’t done this before The Cone descends, you need to recognize that your odds of winning are likely to be unfavorable.

The Artemis Partnership is an international team of experienced business development professionals. We have one mission - to help you win more new business at higher margins. We help our clients maintain focus and intensity on their best new business opportunities. They develop closer relationships with their highest-value prospects. And they win more of those critical opportunities.

- Bob Wiesner, Managing Partner, The Americas


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