Your Super Handy, Mostly Comprehensive Guide to the RFP Process
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Your Super Handy, Mostly Comprehensive Guide to the RFP Process

Director, Business Operations
June 9, 2017

In the world of digital marketing, there are so, so many acronyms. SEO, PPC, CTR, CPA, ROAS, RLSA, the list goes on and on. I hate to break it to you but I’m going to add one more to your list: the RFP.

RFPs, or Request for Proposals, are documents that businesses create and send to relevant agencies or suppliers in order to receive specifically tailored proposals in return.  In the case of a digital marketing RFP, producing and sending one helps determine a strong client-agency fit that doesn’t always come about from a more basic vetting process.

Whether you’ve never created an RFP before or you’re looking to refine your process, this guide is here to help. Read on to learn more about the RFP creation process and some best practices that will help you create the most effective RFP possible.

 

Pros & cons to the RFP process

Pros

  • Helps you adequately and systematically vet agencies
  • Ensures specific questions are answered thoroughly  
  • Research process helps determine your specific goals

Cons

  • Can be very time consuming for agencies so many may opt out
  • Takes a lot of internal resources both to create the RFP and to sufficiently vet agencies so significant time needs to be allocated

  

What you need to do to create an RFP

Create the RFP template

Often, this can be the most time-intensive part of the RFP process—but that time will pay off. It’s important to thoroughly discuss your marketing goals and make sure everyone on your team is on the same page. Do you all have the same priorities, and are you in agreement on what services or channels you want to focus on?

For example, if you're an education institution looking to send out an RFP for digital marketing services, it's a good idea to sync up with your entire marketing team. Discussing if you want to include print advertising for college brochures or web development resources for a new student portal site can completely alter what agencies you reach out to. By taking the time upfront to determine the qualities you’re looking for, you’ll save time in the long run.

 

Research the agencies you want to send the RFP to

This can seem like a daunting task given the sheer number of agencies out there, so hone in on your top priorities for an agency. 

Are you a university that wants to work with an agency that has a strong track record with clients in the education industry? (If you are, that’s pretty convenient that you’re reading this. Check out our work with the education industry.) Do you want to work with an agency that’s in the same city as you? Do you need an agency that provides design services too? By focusing on the specific traits you’re looking for in an agency, the research process won’t be as daunting. 

 

Send out your RFP

There are a few different ways that you can go about actually sending out the RFP:

  • Communicate with a larger number of agencies beforehand and choose a select group to send the RFP to from those that you spoke with
  • Send out the RFP to the agencies that you’ve chosen, and schedule calls with individual agencies that request a ‘discovery phase.’ If the RFP is so restrictive that it doesn’t leave open the possibility for direct communication, a lot of agencies won’t participate. I cannot stress enough how important this is. It’s worth it to spend a little more time upfront chatting individually with agencies because you’ll get more tailored responses as a result.
  • Send out the RFP and allow any/all agencies to respond with questions and then send a response to all compiled questions to all participating agencies.

You should realistically expect 3-4 weeks at the very least between releasing the RFP and receiving responses.  

 

Look through responses and make a decision

'Nuff said. 

 

The dos & don’ts of the RFP process

Do be reasonable with the length of the RFP. While there’s no absolute rule, we’ve received RFPs that are 2 pages and RFPs that are 50 pages. Neither is great. Aim for the Goldilocks principle and go for somewhere in the middle.

 

Do include relevant company information, tools currently being used, and industry information. Just as it’s important for you to learn as much about the agencies as possible, it’s important that they make sure you’re just as good of a fit for them.

 

Do include goals that are as specific as possible. Giving precise targets will help agencies tailor their RFP response.  If you’re a university that knows its application goals for the next 18 months, include it! Consider other goals like increasing your brand presence, conversion efficiency, conversion volume, or organic site visitors. The more you can provide exact expectations upfront to agencies, the more likely it will be that you will have an open and realistic engagement.

 

Do ask thoughtful questions. It’s exciting for an agency to receive an RFP that has unique questions that exhibit the company’s excitement for the endeavor. Consider including examples of your previous digital marketing strategies, how they worked/didn’t work and ask what the agency would do differently.

 

Do include an expected timeline and/or length of engagement. Do you expect that these goals be met in 3 months or 1 year? Are you looking for an agency partner for 1 year or 5? Make sure that the timeline you set is realistic and worthwhile for an agency.

 

Do include your budget. This is a must, and many agencies won’t participate in an RFP if it’s not included. Without a budget, agencies can’t realistically know how to allocate resources or suggest tailored strategies. Make sure to break down the budget by agency fees, advertising spend allocations across channels (ie: Google vs. Facebook vs. Bing), and any other budgetary items like tools or design/development resources.

 

Do include any assets that you have. Do you already have an in-house design team, but they won’t be designing your remarketing ads? Make sure to mention that. Do you have a copywriting team, but you would like the agency to provide recommendations and edits? These are all important items that will affect an agency’s level of involvement.

 

Don’t expect everything to fit with an exact format.  While you do want agencies to answer specific questions, I wouldn’t recommend expecting every agency to fall into your desired engagement process. Some agencies may prefer bi-weekly in-person meetings that cover x, y, and z, while other agencies may do weekly calls that cover x and monthly calls that cover y and z. Both formats can be good, and it’s important you let an agency have creative freedom to express why they think their format is best.

 

Don’t ask too many open-ended questions. Agencies will need some guidance as to why you’re asking the question, so take some time to consider the root of each question. Is it more helpful to hear a general description of an agency’s SEO process or for an agency to describe how they would increase organic conversions by 40% within the first six months for you when prompted to do so?  

 

--

While RFPs can take time, the goal is that they will help find the best client-agency fit, and spending that time up front can help avoid any headaches in the long run.

Are you a business currently going through the RFP process? Contact us! We’d love to offer further guidance or participate in your RFP. 

Director, Business Operations
Laura Cain is a University of Chicago alum who hails from Mandeville, Louisiana. If she could have her own store, she would sell sandwiches on really fancy bread, and the one thing she can’t live without is ice cream (seriously).
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