We recently received an RFP from an organization. I won’t bother naming names because their RFP is not unique in what needs to be discussed. And to be quite honest, I am just happy to have received the RFP. You never know, every once in awhile the RFP is actually worth responding to. But…

Most of them are not and here is why. Most RFPs are legal documents that show that the organization does not know how to hire for creative work. Marketing and websites are not widgets. They are not cogs that can be purchased anywhere for the cheapest price and basically be the same thing. In fact, given two different agencies, both could offer the same priced solution and be vastly different in what they are proposing. Or, the opposite could be true, they could offer the same solution and be vastly different in their pricing. It all depends (purposely vague).

The Problem

Most RFPs we receive have about 1 page of content that explains what the organization thinks are their requirements. They typically say something like:

  • We need a website
  • It needs to have a calendar
  • We need you to migrate the content from our existing website
  • We need you to train us on how to use the website
  • It needs to be easy to use, intuitive, and informative
  • It also needs to look amazing
  • It needs to be the most secure website ever

You think I am kidding? Nope.

And to those of you that are reading this and thinking “Why is there a problem?” let me explain.

There are many agencies out there that will just look at this as an opportunity to get the business and install WordPress with a Theme, hire a local college student to copy and paste content from the old site to the new one, and provide a day’s worth of training to get the organization started. But I would like to submit that this is the wrong way of doing things for an organization that cares about results.

An agency that is interested in your success would ask some of the following questions:

  • What is the primary focus of the website?
  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What is conversion?
  • Who are we trying to reach?
  • How will we measure success?

And that is just keying off of the first requirement from above. If I start to look at the rest of the requirements I come up with questions like:

  • How many parties within the organization need to post to the calendar?
  • Do you need filtering for the calendar?
  • Do the visitors need to be able to import a calendar feed directly into their calendar?
  • How old is the content on the old site?
  • When was the last time it was looked at?
  • Based on Google Analytics how is it performing (Avg. Time on Site)?
  • How many people will need to be trained?
  • Will they all be updating the website?
  • Will there need to be different levels of user permissions? If so how many? And what will they have access to?
  • Do you want in-person training? Video Tutorials? Written training? Or some combination?
  • You say “it” needs to be “easy to use, intuitive and informative”. Are we talking about the control panel that will be used to manage the website? Are we talking about the front-end of the website? How do you define easy to use? What about the current website is confusing? You mention “it” needs to be informative? Does that mean you expect us to rewrite the content? Should that be included as part of the scope?
  • Is there a brand guideline document?
  • How strictly does it need to be adhered to?
  • Who will we be reporting to?
  • What will the decision making process be?

Ok, I could go on but I need to stop. But I hope you get the point.

No Laughing Matter

I say all this not because I get some kick out of laughing at RFPs. Quite the opposite. I would LOVE to work with some of the organizations we get RFPs from.

I am writing all of this because I don’t think many RFP writers understand that your RFP is limiting the responses that you get back. This, in turn, is limiting the effectiveness of your digital marketing. And, since websites are not cheap, you are not seeing the Return on Investment that you thought you would see. And this is what pains me…

I hate to see organizations make decisions that I know will hurt them. To put forth a lot of time and energy and money only to not see any return on that investment. These types of decisions can cause organizations to have long period of economic hardship. They can even sink an organization. And ultimately, they blame our industry for not providing the results they expected (even though those results were never part of the RFP process).

So what is an organization to do?

Well, if you can, abolish the RFP process. Interview several agencies that you think might be able to provide you with the results you need. Think that is too time consuming? Writing a good RFP, answering the questions that you did not answer as part of the RFP, reading through the Proposals, and evaluating which ones are the best, all while not interacting with the company and understanding that personalities have to jive… is just like drawing a name out of a hat.

If you can’t dispose of the RFP process, then you owe it to yourself to at least write a better RFP. It can make a huge difference in the results you get. Here are some things to consider answering:

  • Do you have a website?
  • How is it performing?
  • Is there an issue with the current site?
  • What problem are we trying to solve?
  • Who are we trying to reach?
  • What is the primary focus of the website?
  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What is conversion?
  • How will we measure success?
  • When was the last time content was touched?
  • What is the time spent on site according to Google Analytics?
  • How many pages is each visitor visiting?
  • What is the split between mobile vs desktop?
  • Where are you getting most of your traffic?
  • What keywords are you targeting?
  • What demographic information can you tell us about your targeted user?
  • What specific types of content will you need to have on the website?
  • Is there any specific bit of content that you think needs to take precedence?
  • Is there a branding guideline document? If not what are the unwritten rules regarding color, typography, imagery, etc.
  • Are there any outside systems that will need to be integrated?
  • Where is the site hosted? Will we be providing hosting? If so, how many visitors are you getting per month?
  • Do we have a choice of CMS or platform? How tied are you to that decision?
  • Who will we be reporting to?
  • What will the approval process be (please don’t say an evaluation committee)?
  • What are your payment terms?
  • Do we need to provide a maintenance agreement to you? If so, for how long? And what are your expectations for maintenance? Do you just need CYA coverage? Or do you want us making every update for you?

This is just a started. We understand that you might still have to have definitions for what “Mandatory” or “Contract” are (seriously?), but that stuff is not going to help an agency provide you with an accurate proposal. Nor is it going to get you the results you seek from taking on this project.

Try not to just choose the cheapest. This is an investment that you should be seeing a return on. As such, you need to evaluate them based on which one is most likely to provide the solution that provides the best return. That may mean spending more than you originally thought. It may not.

Keep in mind that other parts of the agreement can influence the Total Cost of Ownership of a website. For instance, perhaps the upfront costs are higher but because the solution is more tailored to your organization you will need less training and maintenance. Perhaps the company will also need more time to complete the more tailored solution. Perhaps the solution a company provides means less money will need to be spent on Adwords, SEO, and SEM. Etc.

We know that you are making an investment by taking on a new website project. If we choose to respond then there will be an investment on our part too. You may not know this but RFPs can take quite a long time to respond to. But, ultimately your success hinges on some of the decisions you will be making during the writing of the RFP. Help us help you by providing us with the information needed to provide you with a detailed proposal.

All Agencies Everywhere