What To Expect When You’re Expecting an RFP Response

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A site redesign project often starts with an RFP. By outlining your project requirements and inviting agencies to put their best foot forward, you expect a stack of responses that meet all of your needs. Instead, you’ve kicked off a long and exhausting process that is a lot like childbirth. While all of the struggle and strain pays off when your website is finally live, the process often includes a lot of challenges that aren’t quite what you were expecting. Why?

YOU EXPECT AGENCIES TO JUMP AT THE CHANCE TO PARTICIPATE

You’ve got a great vision for your website. It’s the most exciting project your marketing team has done in years! Every agency in town is going to be beating down your door to bid for it. But on the due date, you’re surprised to see just a few responses in your inbox. What went wrong?

It’s possible that your team has spent too much time on the intricacies of the project and your requirements are so clearly defined that there’s no room for expert input. You’ve named the CMS you want to use, detailed specific integration points and have a full list of features that you must have. By writing so many requirements into your project, you’ve disqualified most agencies from even participating.

Instead of outlining specific requirements, consider taking a broad approach. You’re hiring an agency to take advantage of their expertise, so give them the room to develop a solution for you. You might uncover a new approach to your digital marketing strategy that can save your company time and money.

YOU EXPECT AN ACCURATE, LOW QUOTE

With all of the “free” content management tools on the market, many companies aren’t expecting website development to be so expensive. (Don’t we all know someone who knows someone who develops websites on the side?) In order for an agency to put together an accurate quote, they need all the details – and without those details, you’re going to get a broad range of pricing.

Regardless of how thorough your Q&A responses and project description is, a responding agency will always have to make assumptions to provide a proposal from an RFP. There’s just no way to get all the information we need without speaking to you directly about your business challenges. This leads to budget padding or adding in hypothetical features that might turn out to be unnecessary in the end. It can also lead to oversights that result in change orders and scope creep down the road, after the initial proposal is signed. (If you think you can eliminate this risk through the RFP process, think again: a recent Society of Digital Agencies (SoDA) report indicates that 38% of agencies report always or often going over budget due to scope changes, while 46% report sometimes going over.)

It seems like I’m providing conflicting advice – be too detailed in your RFP and you’ll rule out great agencies, but don’t provide enough detail and you risk overly-inflated budgets. How can an agency possibly create an accurate quote without knowing exactly what’s involved in the project? They can’t. But they also can’t accurately quote a project without dedicating some serious time to learning about your business, your challenges and your customers. Regardless of the level of detail you provide in your request, you need to expect that the estimate you receive is just that – an estimate – and you’ll have to work with the agency to refine it during strategic planning.

YOU EXPECT DEEP INSIGHTS INTO YOUR BUSINESS ISSUES

It’s the day after your RFP deadline and you’ve got a stack of proposals on your desk. After weeding out those who didn’t follow your specific printing and binding instructions (much like Van Halen with their brown M&Ms, you want to ensure your new partner is paying attention), you start wading through the responses. You fully anticipate to be blown away by the thoughtful responses that demonstrate a deep understanding of your unique business challenges, but instead you’ve got a stack of generic responses that could have been sent to anyone! What gives?

As we’ve discussed, your RFP likely included a set of detailed technical guidelines and requests for features and functionality. If this is what you asked for, a bland response is what you might receive. To get what you expect from the RFP process, consider requesting a proposal to solve your problem rather than a proposal to execute a specific list of tasks. Define the basic criteria for the type of agency and team you want to engage with – for many companies, this comes down to technical ability, experience in the market, execution and price. Bring your short list in for an informal discussion about your needs. After you brainstorm together, ask the agencies to put together a cost estimate and project proposal. You’re essentially reversing the order of the written RFP response and the pitch meeting, which allows you to assess chemistry, energy, problem-solving ability and rapport sooner in the process.

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