Why RFPs? A Focused and Level Playing Field

Over nearly two decades of receiving and analyzing RFPs, we have come to the conclusion that we receive them for one of three reasons:

  • We were on a hastily pulled together list of agencies — some digital, some not.
  • We were a late addition to fill a slot in order to meet procurement’s minimum number of responses.
  • We were recommended for inclusion by a third party (client, colleague, friend) because they thought we might an appropriate partner given what they knew about the project, when in reality we weren’t an exact fit based on actual scope.

In all these cases, it is also very likely that we are simply one of too many potential respondents to begin with.

And often times the company issuing the RFP has only a cursory understanding – if any at all – of who we are and what we actually do, even though they may be issuing an RFP for a digital marketing partner.

To fully illustrate the point, think about a company considering the relocation of its corporate headquarters to a new city.

What is the first step in the process? Does management gather in a conference room, throw darts at a map, pick the first 5, 10 or 15 direct hits and then ask those cities for relocation proposals? Of course not! That wouldn’t make any business sense, whatsoever.

What the company does first is research; very extensive and deep research. They look at important factors like commercial real estate costs, labor laws, tax implications, talent pool, business climate, housing costs and quality of life for employees just to name to name a few.

From there, the company narrows the field to 3 or 4 contenders that meet all the preliminary criteria and then – and only then – does it engage in a formal proposal process with the selected finalists.

Is this same investigative methodology found in the RFP process? We all know the answer to that one, don’t we?

When it comes to understanding the digital marketing landscape and the key players, it is clear that most companies don’t really do their due diligence upfront. While it is true that the RFP process is supposed to act as a prospective partner funnel, many companies overload it from the beginning. By taking the dartboard approach, the pipeline is immediately filled beyond capacity and a bottleneck occurs. This means someone has to needlessly spend time unclogging the funnel and potentially throwing out great potential partners or forcing unqualified responses through the funnel. As a result, the entire process is at risk of losing the ability to run in an effective and efficient manner.

On the other hand, if prior to sending out a well-written RFP, companies would invest time and resources into agency research, they would easily be able to narrow the playing field to a handful of relevant agency partners.

Further, that relevancy factor would reach across any number of meaningful agency metrics including agency size, longevity, core competencies and relevant work.

This would also send positive signals to potential respondents that the RFP issuer is invested in the process and focused on finding the right partner.

Additionally, the primary research exercise would not only make the entire process more germane, it would also make it more efficient and allow for the time to get to know the agency partners as we discussed in our earlier post, Face to Face Matters.

As an agency we certainly want to compete for new business across channels and sometimes that means responding to a clear, concise and relevant RFP. But when companies that issue RFPs don’t believe in creating a level playing field or not truly focused on finding the right partner, it is more than likely that we won’t participate in the process.

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