Unethical Behavior or Sour Grapes – You decide

December 17, 2010

We were recently involved with a RFP bid from a large Law Firm. It was NECS, RBS, Toshiba, and CBS. I had worked with this firm when I was over at RBS, so we knew each other. They had indicated on more than one occasion that they valued the technical expertise that we brought to the table.

They were an eCopy house, using ScanStations to connect their MFDs (currently Ricohs) to their Billback system, Interwoven, eMail, etc. They seemed happy with eCopy, but not particularly happy with the Ricoh equipment or RBS service & support. So we brought them in for a demo and proposed embedding the eCopy SSOP into the new Canon ImageRUNNER Advance MFDs. With large touch screens and real, physical keyboards, and separate processors that Canon uses to run the eCopy MEAP App, it gave them the look and feel of eCopy ScanStations (without the headaches of the separate PCs). We did however recommend one eCopy ScanStation for a remote office because we didn’t want them to be scanning across their WAN links.

Initially CBS bid eCopy ScanStations. I know the sales guy, I have worked with him in the past. He is a decent salesman, but he pushes boxes, like for like, and then comes in very low to win the deal on price. I was told that the firm gave CBS our configuration and asked them to change the technical specs of their bid to match our proposal. They naturally came in lower.

I have no problem if RBS, CBS, or Toshiba came in with a better solution, or provided a better value, or won because they were just plain the cheapest. But to have my technical solution given to my competitor to price out smacks of unethical behavior to me, maybe I am just old fashion (I think a hand shake still means something).

So our technical proposal was selected, but CBS won the deal. I don’t blame the sales guy, of course he is going to do everything he can to win the business. But is it ethical for a potential customer to take our technical proposal (my work product) and hand it to my competitor, and ask them to price out my solution?

We asked the firm how they would feel if they developed a legal strategy for one of their clients and that client took that strategy to a law firm down the street and asked them to represent them using that strategy but for a lower price. No reply.

So my technical solution won, but we did not. I all fairness the firm denies doing this. And I understand that there is no way that the guy who managed the RFP would admit to it. At least not publicly.

So you decide, is this unethical behavior on the part of the firm? Or just sour grapes on our part.
I will tell you this, I have spoken to our sales force and any proposal, at least any proposal that I am providing the technical solution for will include a non-disclosure clause, that by accepting this proposal the customer agrees to keep the contents of said proposal confidential, and agrees to not share any of the enclosed information with any other vendor, or manufacturer. It won’t necessarily stop those who are intent on behaving unethically, but it may give those with some sense of conscience pause before doing so.

That’s my $0.02
Vince McHugh



  1. Did you not put a disclaimer on this document to say they couldn’t do that? Everything Canon has ever given us has as much legal crap as it does content.

  2. Ethics??? A law firm deals with the law, not what is ethical. I question the ethics of billing a buck a page for copies that cost them 2 cents. The fact that you got no reply tells the whole story. Saying it is confidential is not enforceable (try to prove they disclosed your information). I think the solution is to quote exactly what they ask for unless they are already a client of yours. Once you have a business relationship then at least they have paid for that expertise.

  3. Next time, lead with Konica Minolta machines, combined with your technical solution.

    • I have dealt with Konica before… and won’t again until they can get their act together on drivers, unified/secure release printing, secure scanning. The Paycon100/PCOUNTER/Low end BizHub combo really does leave a lot to be desired.

      • Matt & Mr Anonymous,

        Thanks for the replies. This particular customer had Canon before Ricoh and indicated that they had a favorable experience. So we led with Canon on this deal. It seems that we read the client right in that they did choose Canon, and even our solution, unfortunately they took what we proposed and allowed CBS to bid our solution.

  4. Vince,
    If the roles were reversed and a potential client asked you to requote based on a technical configuration provided by the competition…would you? Unfortunately, sometimes our industry forces us to provide the “me too” quote.

    • Jeff,

      As I mentioned in the original post, I don’t blame the salesman. I have been around for a little while and I do understand the pressure to get the sale.


  5. I agree with you… it’s kinda “dirty” for them to do that. At the very least they should have come back to you for a “Best and Final”… and at least given you a chance to bid-down knowing that you would be up against CBS.

    It might be an RFP… but it’s not a Public Sector Bid. Legally they can make and/or change the “rules” as they see fit to meet their best interests.

    I would try to put as little technical data in my proposal as possible. Depending on how techincal the customer is and how many questions they ask… do you really need to spell things out to the level you did.

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