Traditionally, organizations looking to hire an agency will send a Request for Proposal (aka RFP) to the firms under consideration. These RFPs help an organization select an agency based on the stipulations in the document.
Instead of an RFP, we’d prefer you come see us, talk about your challenge, and work with us to craft a solution. Interacting in person gives you a better understanding of an agency’s culture and approach, and allows an agency to understand your goals and challenges.
However, we understand this can’t always happen. The procurement process isn’t always dictated by the folks searching for a vendor. Or maybe you’re just shy.
If you’ve determined an RFP is the right move for your organization, let us offer you some advice to get the answers you need from your potential agencies and find the right match.
RFI » RFP
If you haven’t narrowed down your list of agencies (about 5 is a good ballpark for an RFP), consider sending out a more brief Request for Information (RFI) to your larger list. An RFI is a good way to collect information about the capabilities of an agency, without the overhead of a more formal and time-consuming RFP. An RFP should go out to no more than 5 agencies. We usually ask how many agencies received an RFP and base our time investment on your answer. If you sent it to more than 10 agencies, our chances of winning the work (10%) wouldn’t justify a lot of time considering it.
Most questions in an RFI should have boilerplate answers from the agency so it won’t take them long to respond. Feel free to give a short deadline (1-2 weeks) and scratch anyone who can’t answer in that time period… they’re too busy or unorganized for your project.
When you prepare your RFP, these are some questions you should ask the agency:
- What would you say your unique value proposition is? In other words, what differentiates you from your competition?
- Discuss the types of projects or client engagements that are most effective.
- How do you cost projects? Do you have a standard hourly rate schedule?
- How much work do you outsource to freelancers or contractors?
- Can you provide a current client reference? A former client reference?
Keep in mind, when responding to the RFP an agency will be considering:
- Is your organization and project a good fit for our agency?
- Are we well equipped to win this work?
- Is the time required to submit the proposal equivalent to the value of the project or relationship?
Other ideas and considerations
Commodity vs Service
Now you’ve culled the list to 5 or less agencies, with or without an RFI. Let’s make sure you’re not price shopping. The biggest problem with RFPs is that they were developed in corporate hell to get the best price on commodities. A commodity implies that you receive the exact same product at the lowest price. In the agency world, there is almost always an inverse relationship to that assumption. You get what you pay for.
You are not price-shopping, you’re looking for the best agency to partner with on your venture. You pay more for higher quality, enhanced service, and expertise. You should expect a good experience out of the process and be willing to pay for that experience.
If you have a small budget, don’t be afraid to share that information. Some of our best work is found in our small projects.
Have a grading rubric and share that information with the agencies
At the very least, it’s helpful to have a simple point-scoring system for variables like Budget / Years in Business / Recommended Approach / Etc. Encourage your responders to be succinct, with word limits on responses. Higher word count does not equal higher quality. We’ve won work against 100 page proposals because we discussed the challenge simply, in a language that our client could understand.
Don’t just go through the motions
We see this often. An organization is required by their procurement policies to go through the RFP process, but there is already a preferred agency in mind. The agency world is small and this information usually finds its way around. If you must go through the RFP process, but already know who you want to pick, please be respectful of our time.
Don’t buy the sales pitch
You should be aware, some agencies rely on the skills of a business development team to land new client work. However, when the time comes to begin the work, they hand off the project to all new faces. It’s important to pick an agency you have FULLY researched and feel comfortable with as a whole – not just the individuals you have met. It’s okay to ask questions about the project team and get to know the experience and personality they bring to the table.
May the Best Agency Win!
Now that you’ve worked to make the process fair and simple, go for it! Best of luck with your project! If you’d like to send your RFP to us, we’re here. We’d be ecstatic to work with you.