Companies in need of a vendor to fulfill work outside their area of expertise sometimes find themselves needing to create an RFP (request for proposals). Creating the RFP can be a project of its own. And the ultimate success or failure of that project begins at conception.
Chances are you’re reading this article because…
- You’ve written RFPs before and poured hours into its development only to receive proposals from vendors that were unqualified and mis-matched for your company, or
- You threw together a vague RFP template that was a waste of your company and vendor time because it didn’t achieve the company’s desired success.
RFPs can be a real headache for companies. Who’s in charge of compiling the information and writing it? Which agencies should the company send the RFP to? What information should be in the RFP? If companies aren’t strategic in this stage, it’s easy to appoint an employee to write the RFP that isn’t familiar with the pain points of the company, the year’s annual marketing budget, or goals of the organization. Not knowing these things and including them in the RFP can result in wasted marketing dollars.
As an agency having responded to many RFPs, we’ve seen the gamut of good, bad and ugly. What many companies need at this point is direction from agencies. But who do they hire to tell them who to ultimately hire? It’s a catch 22. So the company often appoints an unqualified employee to write the request for services, the RFP goes out to a multitude of agencies, and they hope for the best.
Tired of going in blind? Want to write better RFPs for your company and attract the best, qualified vendor? We want to help organizations create an RFP that is focused on effective engagement and a great finished product.
From an Agency’s point of view, RFPs have a bad rap. We’re not a fan. We’re spending billable time on lengthy RFPs that require an overview of the marriage before the first kiss and all with no promise of being selected as the winning bidder. The ROI on RFPs is zilch for 99% of agencies. What’s more is agencies are skeptical of the company’s intent with the RFP. Is the organization fishing for free strategy advice so they can implement in-house? Is there already a selected vendor but the company must go through the RFP red tape process?
Here are some things companies can do to receive serious responses from qualified vendors:
Define Company Goals, Not Solutions
Restrictive RFPs are ones that tell the vendor how to do their job by prescribing solutions to the company’s problem. Organizations that already know what they want to implement should not be fishing for RFPs. If a company has already decided the solution to their problem, a few simple phone calls to local developers to implement those solutions will do it. Remember, with an RFP, you’re scouting expert strategy and the agency’s ability to demonstrate competence to brainstorm an applicable solution to the company’s pain points. A restrictive RFP does not yield creative responses.
So start by defining the company’s goals. The more specific, the better. For example, “We want to increase profit margins by 20% over the next 2 years from our website.” Then let the vendor impress you with their creative problem solving. Strategic competence should weigh heavily in your decision making process. Nothing kills a company like a well marketed bad idea.
Begin Seeing Your Vendor as a Partner
This is what separates implementers from consultants. A well qualified agency that is great at scaling company growth wants to partner with your company and become part of your inside team. We want to build trust and a long lasting relationship. We want to be thought of as your strategic growth consultant. Agencies like this have a longer intimate process of analysis and discovery. We want to see it all from last year’s annual reports to the ugly customer feedback you’re getting. Our job is to steer your organization in the way of success and we have high investment in that because if you don’t see success, neither do we. Our reputation is built upon the results we deliver for our clients. So if you’re willing to be completely open with your agency and see them as a trusted partner, they can truly get to the root and help you scale.
The Selection Process Should Not Differ Much from Working Together
Want to work with a vendor that you can see as a trusted partner? Then there has to be the “Know-Like-Trust” factor. This is where many companies miss it. The RFP gets shot out to the multitude and the company can’t be bothered with questionnaires, phone calls or in-person meetings. They makes themselves unavailable and thus miss a huge opportunity to weed out the agencies they ultimately won’t like working with. Agencies want to work with clients that not only need us, but want to work with us.
Take the time to invest in this early by going through each agency’s assessment process (the ones that reach out to you anyway). There are things a quality agency wants to know that aren’t in an RFP in order to assess the right fit. Such as if your company has worked with a marketing agency before and the pros and cons you experienced. Look for these factors when going through an agency’s screening process:
- Do you like dealing with the team?
- Was the initial process enjoyable?
- Was the agency easy to communicate with and did they follow up?
- Did they ask questions that made you think?
If your intention is to work closely with your chosen agency to build an awesome project, then you should devote the time up front to collaborate with them at this stage in the process as well.
Tell Us as Much as Possible
Give vendors the full picture. This will help set expectations and allow the responder to give a more accurate estimate for time, scope and budget. State specific technology when needed. Do we need to integrate with Quickbooks or a specific merchant processor? Also keep in mind why you want to do something is just as important as what you want to do.
- You have a proposed timeline of 6 months. Why? Is there a press release event you need the website to be part of?
- You need to show first in search rankings for a particular keyword. Why? Are you selling the business and want to add value or are you simply trying to outrank your competitors?
Giving us the entire story will change the vendor’s strategic approach. At least for a good one it should.
Avoid Trying to Make Direct Comparisons
Organizations often require vendors to format their responses inside a vacuum of scope, investment and time frame in order to make direct comparisons. But that leaves little room for agencies to showcase their strengths or weak points.
Instead of requiring rigid formatting, give the vendors creative freedom to structure their responses and take the time as a company to review the strengths and weaknesses of each. This is particularly attractive for in-demand agencies that don’t have the time to restructure their creative process to make it fit within RFP requirements.
Be Respectful of Vendors’ Time
Much of the work a marketing agency does is based upon billable hours. High demand agencies are not going to want to read through a 40 page RFP, then spend a week or more dedicated to filling it out correctly. These are precious billable hours that could be spent on already paying clients. And for 99% of responding vendors, the promise of award is not worth the investment. So try to keep the RFP simple.
Agencies that know they’re going into a 30 vendor cattle call aren’t going to invest much time into the proposal. If you want quality responses, only reach out to a handful of select vendors and let them know they’re in your top choices. How do you know which agencies to reach out to? Research agencies’ social media pages, scour portfolios and case studies and develop a short list of agencies whose past work seems to match your company’s goals.
In respecting vendors’ time, be sure to post a set budget. This is one of the largest deciding factors whether an agency will respond or not. This can be a set amount, a range, or an annual allocation for company marketing. However it’s listed, be sure it’s not an “Open Budget.” This is a definite way to attract unqualified vendors and ward off in-demand agencies. Not sure what to budget? Use the guide below as a reference.
Tiers of Agency Website Pricing:
- $10,000+ Agencies in this price range are typically working with pre-built themes to save on development costs. That, or they’re outsourcing work to freelancers to cut costs. Agencies shouldn’t charge less than $10k to build a quality site. If you’re a startup or have simple needs, this might be your best route.
- $25,000 – $50,000 At this range, companies are giving the agency budget for custom work, user testing and some content creation. This level is for companies that have a moderately aggressive approach to marketing.
- $100,000+ Organizations can expect fully custom back end functionality, smart architecture, impeccable design, market research, and content creation such as photography and copy writing. This range is for organizations that want a highly aggressive approach to marketing. (Source)
The budget listed in the RFP will directly reflect the type of respondents the company receives. And remember the iron triangle of web design: Budget / Scope / Timeline. Got a large complex project with a small budget? Expect a long timeline. Got a large budget with a short timeline? Expect minimal scope. Pick 2, you can’t have it all.
Keep in mind that pricing is relative—a specialist agency with a strong reputation can charge more than an undifferentiated agency that’s newer on the scene. –Karl Sakas It comes down to the company’s expectations and the agency’s expertise.
The size of your organization will also play a determining role in budget. Are you a $2 million dollar company striving for aggressive global marketing efforts? You’re going to be expected to have a larger budget than a local chain targeting a regional audience.
Posting a numeric budget is a great way to be respectful to vendors by allowing them to assess if they’re a great fit for your company, as many of them have project minimums. It lets us know what we can and can’t do.
Don’t make respondents choose between giving you the answer you want to hear (which we know is the best way to close the deal) and proposing the best solution for the organization and its audience. Be open to a new idea or approach and remember you reached out to an expert for a reason. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know, but an expert can come up with solutions you haven’t considered before.
Be intrigued when an agency asks difficult questions or challenges your process. Great agencies educate clients, novices get frustrated with them. We’re trained to keep up on the most modern technology and trends, so be open to leadership.
Always Write a Custom RFP
Avoid downloadable templates that asks generic questions that aren’t relevant to your company or your audience. The process of writing an RFP should focus on the company’s pain points, goals for growth and attracting the most qualified vendor to partner with.
Is an RFP inherently bad? No, but a restrictive, vague one will waste company time and money. Direct comparisons don’t work the same way with services as they do with products. The best RFPs will:
- Put everyone on the same page about the problems the company is facing
- Determine if the company is ready to bring on an agency and commit the time and effort necessary to make the project a success
- Identify the vendor partner that can offer the best solution for the pinpointed problem
- Clearly state budget and timeline
Going through the RFP process should bring confidence to the organization that they have chosen the right agency. And the only way to know that is to know you’ve developed a solid RFP.
Feel free to reach out to us regarding specifics about what the process should include and questions you should be asking, but aren’t.