Canada

Should Agencies Ever Respond to RFPs?

Respond to RFPs? Rarely… and only with an “unfair advantage.”
An agency owner recently asked: “Should we respond to RFPs?”
My advice? No, don’t respond to RFPs… especially without a true “unfair advantage.”
Still tempted by that RFP, or enjoy repeatedly smashing your thumb with a hammer? Keep reading…
Why responding to RFPs is a bad idea
RFPs are inherently stacked against you, skewing in favor of the client—and RFPs are a poor ROI on time and effort for the agencies involved.
More fundamentally, RFP-oriented clients expect a binding proposal without the benefit of sufficient discovery (paid or otherwise). You’re committing to something you don’t fully understand—and, frankly, can’t fully understand, given the limited information available.
Sometimes larger companies do an RFP when they already have a winner in mind… but procurement has required them to get at least three bids. Are you a viable competitor, or just their obligatory third bid?
Is this even work you want to do? Are you likely to be the most qualified bidder, or this just a long-shot shiny object?
Can’t resist an RFP? Find an edge
Still want to do a sales proposal in response to an RFP? I think it’s a bad idea—especially if it’s a government client, as I note below—but it’s your agency.
If you’re going to proceed, at least consider where the opportunity falls on my continuum of “RFP unfair advantages.” Without one, you’re even less likely to win the RFP.
Finding your agency’s RFP “unfair advantage”
What might that RFP “unfair advantage” look like? Here’s my list, in descending order (from “best” advantage to “worst” advantage):
1. You’ve worked with the client before, you know the people involved, and you know the internal politics. (Although this raises a fundamental question: Why are they doing an RFP, instead of just asking you directly?) [Best of the worst]
2. You know the decision-maker from a previous job, and you have a good relationship with them.
3. You can get a warm intro—from a mutual connection—to speak with the RFP’s creator.
4. You cold-contact the prospect with questions and they share answers that they aren’t posting publicly.
5. They won’t share answers, but they’ll at least share how many they’ve invited to apply. [Worst of the worst]
IMPORTANT: Check the RFP guidelines to see if these are permitted in the RFP you’re pitching. Often, some or all are prohibited, especially with government RFPs. Talk to your agency’s attorney to confirm.
None of these “unfair advantages” apply to you in the RFP you’re considering? You might try to rationalize an exception, to justify applying anyway. Let’s burst your bubble.
Exceptions to RFP unfair advantage?
What if the RFP doesn’t match any of these? If the prospect won’t even share how many agencies they’ve invited to apply, you have zero advantage. Quit while you’re ahead.
What if you have a salesperson, and you have them do the RFP? That’s certainly an option, but is that really the best use of their time and energy? Maybe, but probably not. And giving your team the worst assignments isn’t exactly “leadership by example.”
RFPs + government clients = Risky situation
Government clients love RFPs. As taxpayers, that’s potentially good—but as agencies, that’s not helpful.
My clients who work with local government clients often have to do RFPs, because that’s just how their clients work. But you’ll want to weigh whether to submit yourself to such a skewed, anti-agency process.
Be careful—an unfair advantage might violate the terms of a government RFP, especially if it’s a conflict of interest, and may even be illegal.
For example, the New York Federal Reserve notes:
“The Bank seeks to avoid giving any potential offeror an unfair advantage by releasing information about the RFP to all potential offerors at the same time. Competition is encouraged by distributing the RFP to as many potential offerors as is compatible with efficiency and economy.”
The State of Connecticut notes, in avoiding giving an proposing firm an unfair competitive advantage, that:
“(2) firms and individuals may not solicit, review, or receive [Best Value Design-Build Procurement Process (BVDB)] criteria weighting or evaluation materials prepared by the Department or its consultants during the procurement phase, either directly or through an intermediary;
(3) Proposers (including subcontractors, employees , or representatives) shall not communicate with or attempt to influence the [selection committees] or other Department representatives involved in the BVDB selection process, except as allowed by this RFQ, and subsequently by the RFP;
(4) Proposers may not engage or employ current or former employees of the Department or its consultants involved in preparing this RFQ or RFP.”
And a 2013 Canadian procurement case shows that even being the incumbent may put you at risk, if the RFP issuer handles the process poorly:
“…the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found the government of Canada liable for having unfairly favoured the incumbent service provider over competing bidders by making inaccurate disclosures of anticipated work volumes in its solicitation document. … After RLRS won the [approximately $1 billion contracts], the government discovered irregularities relating to the conflict of interest of one of its employees who had attended a boat cruise with an RLRS official. The government also discovered that the 2002 evaluation process was flawed due to an unreasonably compressed posting period that unduly favoured the incumbent…”
Solution? Think hard about whether working with government clients is worth your agency’s time. (Similar restrictions may apply if you’re pitching a publicly-traded corporation, too.)
Although government clients often have big budgets, that’s not always the case. And the oversight burden may be more than an independent agency can afford to manage. For an extreme case, look at what happened to UC Davis and its agencies a few years ago.
Handling RFPs at your independent agency
Ultimately, RFPs are a bad idea for most agencies. You would be better off putting your efforts towards self-marketing to attract clients who want you, instead of clients who expect your agency—and perhaps dozens of other agencies—to jump through endless hoops in a zero sum game.
But if you’re going to invest the time to respond to an RFP, you’d be wise to focus on opportunities with unfair advantage(s)… as long they’re legal.
Question: How do you approach RFPs at your agency?

Keep Your Contact Center in North America Without Breaking the Bank

A quick trip down memory lane reminds us that the 1990s saw a massive rise in the practice of offshoring call centers. With the convergence of economic factors and technological advancement, it was seen as the cheap alternative for companies who required basic customer support solutions.
But times change – and so do customers. Today’s consumers expect personalized experiences – especially in complex care scenarios that transcend basic, transactional interactions. And that can only really happen with close cultural alignment as well as an environment that empowers agents to make better decisions.
Simply put, offshore doesn’t cut it. You know it – and your customers know it too.
More and more companies are choosing contact center locations closer to home with rich talent pools where agents are not only fluent in their customers’ language but can also pick up on cultural nuances that are difficult to teach non-native speakers. Business leaders are realizing that linguistic and cultural barriers are detrimental to complex support scenarios.
That said, keeping your contact center onshore is, well, costly – mostly thanks to stronger economies and higher costs of living. Of course, if a differentiated customer experience and brand is important, it’s worth it.
Still, North American contact centers vary wildly in their costs and in their quality – how do you find what works best for you?
TL;DR – A differentiated customer experience is critical, but keeping it onshore can be expensive. Outsourcing your contact center to Canada can help you stretch your dollar while still gaining access to highly-educated, culturally-aligned talent.
Look North of the Border
We believe we have the answer to keeping your contact center in North America without breaking the bank – and without sacrificing quality: Look North of the border.
Most people think onshore means their search for an outsourcer is confined to the 50 US states (or even just 48 continental states). But despite being separated by politics, economies, and lines on a map, Canada – particularly metropolitan Canada – is an excellent alternative.
We explore a number of reasons for this below, but the short version is that Canada offers competitive cost factors, close cultural alignment, readily-available top talent, and attractive proximity. Read on!
Stretching Your Dollar in Canada
The US Dollar is strong right now, giving American businesses a lot of buying power outside their borders (one US Dollar currently equates to 1.33 Canadian Dollars). That’s not to mention the fact that the US and Canadian economies are closely linked, and the exchange rate hasn’t varied much for most of the last couple of decades. Economic outlooks project that this will be sustained for the foreseeable future.
Ultimately, you’re getting more bang for your buck by outsourcing to a Canadian contact center partner. Although your decision is more complex than price alone, there’s no denying that it is an important component. When all other factors are comparable, the projected ROI is what may ultimately lead you to choose one outsourcer over another. In Canada, that ROI may look significantly more attractive.
Of course, we know you’re not just looking for a “cheaper” way to outsource your contact center. You want a more affordable option that doesn’t come at the sacrifice of amazing quality. Let’s explore some other ways Canada may be the answer for you.
Tapping into a Deeper Talent Pool
The US unemployment rate is at a record low, generally touted as a good thing. That said, it does make hiring significantly more difficult. With fewer people actively looking for jobs, companies are forced to get more creative in their recruitment strategies, poaching talent from competitors and overhauling their benefits programs to attract more people.
Though Canada’s unemployment rate is at near-historic lows also, it’s about two percent higher than the US – a difference that’s just significant enough to create a deeper talent pool. And those people are well-educated – more than 70% of adults in Halifax have completed a post-secondary program. That means we have extensive access to people who have the skills and competence to handle complex service scenarios in support of our clients and their customers.
Cultural Alignment Between the US and Canada
Canadians can chit-chat about the latest Superbowl/World Series/Stanley Cup playoffs just as easily as Americans – and you may be surprised by how often that conversation comes up on a customer call. Your friendly neighbors to the North are also equally adept at interpreting passing comments, slang, or tone of voice that indicate a customer’s attitude – information that can help these agents deliver a better customer experience.
Ensuring cultural alignment in your contact center program is likely why you’re choosing to onshore in the first place. These types of interactions are hard to measure and may seem inconsequential, but they are at the heart of next-level customer service. Being able to pick up on tiny details or chat about everyday topics are what makes a customer feel heard and valued. Those are the customers who stay loyal to your brand and often end up evangelizing their family, friends, and networks.
Canada: Closer to Home Than You Think
Before you worry that the money you save in heading North will be eaten up by hours spent flying and driving to some remote Canadian town, bear in mind that provinces like Nova Scotia – home to our very own Blue Ocean offices – are a stone’s throw from New York. Not so remote after all.
Proximity matters because we do recommend that you get face-to-face with your outsourced contact center on a regular basis – and even before you make a decision to partner up (read why here). Most metropolitan Canadian cities, including our very own Halifax, offer nonstop flights to most major US cities. That’s a big deal.
Keeping Your Contact Center in North America Without Breaking the Bank
Choosing to keep your contact center onshore doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be paying through the nose. If you want a more affordable option while maintaining high quality “wow” customer experiences, consider looking North of the border to Canada (we love it here!).

California, Canada sidestep Trump, ink deal on emissions

DETROIT (AP) — California picked up an important partner its long-running dispute with the Trump administration over vehicle emissions and fuel economy by announcing a deal with Canada to work on pollution reductions.

The agreement comes as the state is in a standoff with its own federal government on the same issues, with little hope of resolving the dispute outside of court.

Few details were offered under the deal announced Wednesday, but it's clear that Canada would be amenable to stricter regulations that now match those in California and 13 other states, setting up a conflict with the Trump administration's plans to relax the standards.Read more on NewsOK.com

Canada advances with 2-0 victory over New Zealand

GRENOBLE, France (AP) — Jessie Fleming and Nichelle Prince each had second-half goals and Canada advanced to the knockout round at the Women's World Cup with a 2-0 victory over New Zealand on Saturday night.

Fleming took a well-placed pass from Prince and scored in the 48th minute to break up a scoreless match.Read more on NewsOK.com

Can QR Codes Make a Comeback as a Payments Technology?

Technological advances lead to further, contingent advancements. Sometimes those new technologies stick around for decades, while others fade away within their first decade of mainstream use.
The Personal Digital Assistant and the beeper, for example, were both weigh stations on the path toward smartphone adoption. Speaking of which: remember back in the early days of smartphone adoption, when it seemed like the QR code—those blocky, pixelated barcode things—could be the medium of the future for data management and transfer?
It didn’t take long before QR codes transitioned from the technology of tomorrow into a joke. We all assumed the QR code was just another PDA or beeper. We tried it, it didn’t work, and now we’re moving on to more advanced technologies. With tools like mobile wallets available, which are powered by near-field communication (NFC) technology, who needs QR codes?
QR codes might have faded from the public space, but they’re still alive and well in the payments industry. You just need to know where to look.
QR Code Payments & Chinese Consumers
Credit and debit card payments are the norm in the US and Canada. Consumers here remain skeptical of alternate payment methods like mobile wallets; for example, only-third of iPhone users in the US have tried using Apple Pay, the device’s mobile payments platform. But, that’s not the case in most of the world.
Alternate payment methods like bank transfers or hybrid brick-and-mortar/eCommerce payments are popular in other markets for both online and brick-and-mortar transactions. If we’re talking about major markets outside the US, though, none exert as much pull as China. Now the world’s largest market by purchasing power, China stands to wield significant influence over global payments. If we look at that market, we see mobile options are surprisingly dominant.
As of 2017, Chinese processors registered about $15.4 trillion in mobile payments within the country, dwarfing every other market on Earth. But, rather than NFC-based tools like Apple Pay, Chinese consumers prefer to use QR code technologies. That’s right: most of that $15.4 trillion in activity occurred via QR-based tools like WeChat Pay.
So, why do Chinese buyers gravitate toward QR codes as a payment method?
It’s generally a combination of ease of access on the consumer end, but adaptability and affordability for merchants. Rather than making the up-front investment in card terminals and other technologies to accept payments, merchants can simply print their QR code on a sign. Customers then scan the code with their phones and pay in seconds. It’s fast, easy, affordable, and widely accessible in a country with 788 million mobile users.
Can QR Codes Catch on Outside China?
The question many would ask is whether the affinity for QR codes will impact markets outside China’s borders. The truth is, of course, that they already have.
With an influx of Chinese tourists in recent years, more and more Japanese businesses are looking to court buyers by accepting Chinese consumers’ preferred payment methods. Thanks to a deal between WeChat and Japanese tech firm Line, Chinese travelers can purchase goods in Japanese shops using QR codes.
It’s not only limited to locales in which Chinese tourists make up a major consumer cohort, though. Here in the US, for example, QR codes are widely employed by brands to make payments in their proprietary apps.
Typically, there is some incentive used to entice customers over to try the app, like incorporating a loyalty program. Users tend to stick around, though, for a variety of reasons including convenience, ease of use, and special promotions. For example, Dunkin’ Mobile®—an app I happen to use every day, personally—allows users to pay in-store using a reloadable gift card balance. You can order before you arrive, then pick up your drink in seconds, while also accruing points toward free drinks in the future.
Convenience and free stuff are powerful incentives. A recent survey of Walmart Pay users conducted in December 2018 found that 52.5% of respondents used the app “every chance [they] get.” That represents a near 100% increase in dedicated usership compared to just nine months earlier.
The QR code is an easy answer for brands who want to manage their own internal payments ecosystems. And, as more brands embrace proprietary mobile apps based around QR code payments, that will be the default option…at least within store-branded apps.
I don’t believe the QR code will supplant the credit card—or even mobile wallets apps like Apple Pay—anytime soon here in the US. The conditions in the payments ecosystem are completely different, with most consumers and businesses being well-adapted to credit and debit cards. Nor do we see same portion of tourist volume from mainland China that Japan does, thus creating little incentive to adapt.
Owing to the growth of proprietary mobile apps for retailers, though, the QR code has a promising future in the North American payments sector.

Understanding the RCMP Fingerprinting Guide in Canada

In everyday situations, fingerprinting is done to authenticate the true identity of an individual. Like any other country, Canada makes use of RCMP Civil Fingerprint Division in Ottawa to unravel the history and criminal records of a person. Anytime you want to access services rendered by the government your fingerprints will be taken for verification […]
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China warns Canada of ‘consequences’ of helping US

BEIJING (AP) — China warned Canada that it needs to be aware of the consequences of aiding the U.S. in an extradition case involving Chinese tech giant Huawei that is believed to have sparked the detentions of two Canadians in China.

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang's comments came after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Both were arrested on Dec.Read more on NewsOK.com

China tells Canada of ‘consequences’ of helping US

BEIJING (AP) — China warned Canada on Friday that it needs to be aware of the consequences of aiding the U.S. in a case involving the Chinese tech giant Huawei that is believed to have sparked the detentions of two Canadians in China.

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang's comments Friday came after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Both were arrested on Dec.Read more on NewsOK.com

Border patrol arrests four illegal aliens hiding in Vermont woods, near New York, Canada

U.S. Border Patrol agents from the Swanton Station apprehended four illegal aliens attempting to hide in a wooded area on May 27. On Monday, the Tactical Communications Center (TCC) at the Swanton Sector Headquarters notified Border Patrol agents of a potential illegal border crossing near Rainville Road in Highgate. Agents responded to the area and deployed […]
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