By Angela Harless
As an advertising agency owner, I’ve received and responded to countless Requests For Proposals (RFPs) and have also assisted clients in writing their RFPs. The goal of an RFP and subsequent meetings is to ensure that the newly formed partnership will be prosperous and successful for all involved.
The first step to obtaining this ideal relationship is the RFP itself, which ideally reflects the personality of the organization issuing it while providing all of the requirements for a comprehensive and fair response. Doing so ensures a mutual good fit for the vendor and the client.
But in my experience, this process fails when the RFP itself isn’t clear. I’ve found the following elements are crucial for creating a successful RFP:
Background – It is in your best interest to give respondents the most comprehensive overview of your company before they begin to structure their response. If you have research about your target audience or other market research, include it. The better the respondent understands your audience and industry situation, the more accurate their initial assessment and proposal will be.
After supplying background about your organization, be clear about why you are issuing the RFP. What are the problems needing to be solved? What have you tried that has failed? The more you provide about the “why,” the clearer the answer may be to respondents. If you are requesting a new website or website redesign, be honest about your current website likes and dislikes.
We recently worked with a business to help them draft their RFP. The potential client wasn’t adept in technical speak, so they came in to walk through their current website, discuss their challenges and ask us to help them draft the requirements for their new site. If they had written the RFP based on their limited technical knowledge, they most likely would have received many questions with regard to scope, and respondents would have had a difficult time pricing and developing an accurate timeline. Ask for help if you find yourself in a similar situation.
Purpose – Provide the purpose of the RFP clearly and concisely. Are you seeking a long-term partner, a vendor to redesign your website and then step away, or an agency for a single initiative? Set expectations from the beginning about what type of relationship you are seeking.
Don’t forget to articulate what you want respondents to do, too. Clearly define expectations for the proposal itself, what they need to specifically address as well as what could potentially disqualify a proposal. If there are requirements that must be included in the final deliverable, include them. The more you provide upfront, the more spot-on the response will be.
We’ve been involved in many RFPs where we provided a plan and proposal based on a recommendation that we later found out wasn’t ever going to happen because we weren’t made aware of existing biases or platform requirements. This wasted both our time and the clients’ since they didn’t get what they were looking for, and we missed the mark.
Goals – Articulate the goal of your project clearly. Is it brand awareness, website traffic, sales on your website etc.? How will success be measured and in what timeframe? Respondents can explain how they will help you reach your goals if they are provided upfront.
Based on clearly articulated goals, our agency was able to respond to an RFP with a pricing structure based on the provided goals. This allowed the client to have lower initial costs and feel that we were vested in his success, which he appreciated. And, we have a larger potential upside if the client meets or exceeds his goals.
Evaluation Criteria – Articulate within the RFP how you will evaluate the proposals you receive. This gives respondents an indication of what your organization finds most valuable and ensures that key points are not neglected.
When we respond to an RFP, we are willing to spend extra time providing a potential client with information that makes them more comfortable with their decision, even if it is only indirectly related to the scope of work. For example, community service and engagement in our community were very important to a potential client, so we were sure to include details about our involvement and passion for the community – not just the nuts and bolts of getting the work done.
Wish list – Separate wish list items from requirements. It may be that you would love certain functionality or deliverables but you aren’t sure if it is within budget. Include your ideas in a separate wish list section so each respondent can evaluate your items and provide a point of view based on the full proposal.
My agency tries to include as many of the wish list items within the original scope of work as possible – we want the business! Sometimes we may even throw in items that would typically be out of the budget in order to give us a leg up. We have also been able to use wish list items as discussion points in future meetings to educate on best practices and perhaps offer reasons for why something may seem like a good idea, but would not ideal in the long run.
There is no perfect way to construct an RFP, but we all know a bad one when we read it. Take the time to create an RFP correctly from the beginning: your responses will not only be higher quality, but you will also have a better chance of ending up with the vendor you want. Adding a little of your company’s personality to the RFP (and ensuring you’ve had a team member proofread it) will help you get the results you’re looking for.
Angela Harless works within the advertising agency environment and is currently a managing partner of AcrobatAnt.com.
By Angela Harless