So, you want to hire an agency to help you launch your next big marketing thing. A flagship advertising campaign, maybe. Or a spiffy new website. Now, you already know how important your request for proposal (RFP) is, or else you probably wouldn’t be here. But take it from us: a rushed or boilerplate RFP can be like putting honey out to attract bees—you’ll just end up getting brown bears and carpenter ants.
In other words, a weak RFP can be a big waste of time for all parties involved.
Before we begin, ask yourself: Do I even need an RFP?
In the search for your ideal marketing partner, you must first determine if an RFP is even warranted. Your project scope, technical complexity, and target budget may not call for the time and effort required to create a good RFP. In which case, it might be better to tap your network for contractor referrals or track down an agency or freelancer yourself.
Assuming you need to put together an RFP, you might find helpful our golden rule for RFPs: it’s not just an investment for the agency; it’s an investment for the business. To see the outcomes you have in mind, you’ll need to invest time and energy into the process. You’ll need to collaborate with internal parties to prepare the RFP, find and review agencies, and ultimately award the contract. Here’s our six-part guide to doing just that:
Step 1: Send Your RFP to the Right People
As convenient as it might be, the spray and pray approach rarely works. Instead, conduct thorough research on potential suitors. Peruse their website and look at their services, about pages, and case studies to get a feel for which agencies might align with your company profile, objectives, and overall philosophy. (Don’t forget to check on their online reviews too!) You’re not looking for 100 contenders here (trust us); you’re looking for a shortlist of really great marketing agencies.
For example, you might be expanding to multiple locations and want an agency to do it all for you—new website design, paid media, SEO and content strategy, etc. If that’s the case, limit your send list to full-service agencies! Otherwise, you’ll get back a bunch of piecemeal RFPs from various specialty shops that you’ll have to waste time reviewing. On the other hand, if you just need help managing your Facebook advertising campaigns, for example, you might be better off looking for an agency specializing in paid media. They’ll have deep experience developing innovative strategies to meet your performance targets.
Top Tip: Determine what type of partnership you want, and then put your RFP in front of the right agencies. When you do, you’ll find the right partner faster.
Step 2: Ask for the Right Information
As to the nuts and bolts of your RFP, here’s what we recommend including:
- Company Overview: This includes your brand positioning, organizational profile, and unique selling propositions (USPs). What makes you different in your particular sector or space? What key messages or ideas are the foundation of your marketing, sales, and advertising messaging?
- Current Resources: What resources do you have in-house? What resources do you already have via other third-party providers? What comprises your existing tech stack? What particular circumstances and integrations might be pertinent to this project? Be detailed and thorough here.
- Clear Definition of KPIs: What does your complete funnel look like? What are the conversion rates between each stage? How are you going to measure the success of this project? What does success look like to you? Be specific about the nature and priority of your KPIs. For example, you might want 50% of phone leads to turn into clients, and 20% of form fills to turn into clients. Or you might want to generate a specific volume of new patients each month. Clearly define your desired outcomes according to details like these.
- Competitive Landscape: Who are your competitors from a product and service offering perspective? Who are your competitors digitally (assuming you know)? Do you have a target audience profile that you can share?
- Partnership Requirements: What are your non-negotiables? For example, “we need someone to take over our existing Google Ads and Bing Ads accounts immediately.” Or “we need someone to perform routine maintenance on our WordPress website.” What other areas are you open to exploring but likely aren’t core to the initial partnership agreement?
- Budget: If you have a specific budget that you must work within, provide it clearly and in no uncertain terms. If you are open to spend levels, it’s helpful to provide a way for your agencies to ballpark (maybe it’s last year’s spend or a specific campaign you ran that yielded X result for Y spend).
- Selection Criteria: What are the factors against which you’ll be evaluating partners? Location, agency size, specific industry knowledge, agency name recognition? List them all out and rank them in order of importance, if possible. Agencies can use this as a kind of checklist to see if it’s even worth throwing their hat into the mix. This saves everybody time.
- Format: Do you have a preferred format for responses? What format complements the project scope and will be easy to review? Do you want all responses to follow a Q&A structure? If yes, present your exact questions in an outline format so you can easily read the answers. Do you prefer open-ended, more creative responses? Think about what will work best for your organization, and communicate what you want!
- Timeline: Provide hard dates for every milestone across the entire process, from the delivery of the RFP to the selection and partnership kick-off. Even better if you have a targeted campaign go-live date so partners can confirm if their onboarding timelines fit your needs.
Again, the idea here is to make it as easy as possible for your ideal agency to self-disqualify. Or, if it’s a good fit, submit a successful RFP.
We mention this above, but it’s a common blind spot that warrants more guidance. If you want the agency to “recommend spend” as so many prospective clients do, you need to be prepared to share metrics. We can make up numbers all day long, but if you want to know what an ideal budget is to reach your goals, be extremely clear on what those goals are. Namely:
- How many patients/customers/clients do you need the digital campaigns to generate every month? Another way to look at it: What is your revenue goal, and what is the average revenue per “customer” you need to hit?
- How many leads (phone calls, form fills, live chats, etc.) does it take to generate the number of patients listed above? Put differently: what’s your lead to patient conversion rate? How many calls turn into patients? What is your no-show rate?
- What is your current website conversion rate? What is your desired session to lead rate?
Step 4: Schedule a Quick Phone Call First
Do yourself (and your team) a big favor: don’t send out your RFP to dozens of agencies without first speaking to them on the phone. This is by far one of the best things you can do to avoid wasting time and facilitate the process—it’s also one of the most overlooked.
Schedule a 30-minute call with the top agencies you have targeted. Spend that time to see if it’s a good fit before they prepare an exhaustive proposal that just won’t work for you. Most importantly: understand that this is the objective of each agency call and prepare accordingly. You’ll be surprised how many agencies you’ll disqualify using this initial phone call alone.
Step 5: Prepare for an Audit
We always ask whether a prospective client is open to an audit, which we believe any good agency should do. Typically, an audit is the formal top-to-bottom information gathering and documentation of an organization’s structure, technology stack, competitors, and so on. This is the best way for both parties to know what they are getting into, what the real opportunities are for improvement, and how to onboard each other in a way that meets those needs. Everything beyond this is “theory,” using our best judgments, research, and experience.
Step 6: Be Willing to Compromise to Find the Right Fit
This might be counterintuitive, given how specific we’ve recommended you be with your RFPs. But let’s say you’ve found the perfect agency. They speak your language, know your industry, and have demonstrated success. Except, they can only do six of the eight things you require for your project.
Be open to compromise! Good agencies can be hard to come by. The good ones book out fast. Are there a couple of project requirements that you can handle internally by diverting some resources? Are there some aspects of your RFP that aren’t essential? Understand your needs, but also be realistic and flexible. After all, this will likely turn into a months-long partnership, if not years.
We like to remind ourselves that an RFP is a means to an end, not the end itself. This is our way of avoiding a common pitfall of RFPs: over-engineering. As important as the details are that we laid out above, a strong RFP will still be clear, concise, and simple to understand. Think of it as a job description: often, you get in your applicant pool what you put into the description. The same goes for RFPs. Only you’re looking for a partner to form a value-based relationship that helps get your marketing project done.