What’s wrong with the RFP process — and how to fix it

Published in Denver Business Journal

If you’ve ever written and managed an RFP (request for proposal) to choose a marketing and public relations firm as agency of record, you may not be aware of some constraints and considerations on the vendor side of the fence. Still, the RFP has some value that must be noted, such as:

• The proposal provides a structured framework to judge qualifications.

• The RFP signals that the agency or business wants to do business with you.

But the cons far outweigh the pros:

• Judges don’t really read proposals cover to cover, even though an agency often invests more than 30 hours to make its proposal great.

• Proposals often are seen as a way to get free ideas from a variety of sources.

• The person developing the RFP and managing the proposal process isn’t the decision-maker.

And the No. 1 con is that the proposal process fails on one of the fundamentals, not building a relationship with your agency. If you don’t begin by building a relationship with your potential agency of record, how do you expect it to do it for you on behalf of your company with your customers?

So, if your company or agency wants to announce a proposal opportunity, here are a few tips for how to do it well. Keep in mind this is coming from someone who has been on both sides of this fence, so this advice speaks from experience:

1) First, invite agencies to submit a proposal. You’ll quickly learn which agencies feel that they’re a fit for your business by the fact they’re responding to your invitation.

2) Develop a framework or list of questions to help you understand the agency’s philosophy.

3) Ask the agency to present its proposal to you. Its staffers have spent hours putting together the proposal. Honor their effort and thinking by giving them the opportunity to meet you and present their proposal to you in person. You’ll get a vibe for who will be working on your account, what the agency stands for and whether they can do a great job for you.

4) Ask the agency why it wants your business. Also ask why the agency thinks it’s better than its competitors.

5) Answer any question that the agency is smart enough to ask, such as what are the names of the other firms competing for this business, what is the budget, etc. If the agency is proactive enough to ask for this information, the agency is smart enough to work all angles for your company.

6) Finally, stick to the dates. If the company gives an agency three weeks to respond, please make a decision within the same time frame that you expected to receive the proposal. OK, this is more of a wish than a tip, but it’s still worth mentioning.

This advice isn’t saying don’t issue an RFP, but rather evolve the RFP. If your boss wants an RFP, make sure to ask if she will be the ultimate decision maker. And if she is the ultimate decision maker, make sure she has the time to read the responses.

If not, change it up a bit: You can get the information you need, meet with the agencies and start the dialogue to present to the boss later. You’ll find the agency that’s right for your company always rises to the top.

To view this article published in the Denver Business Journal, click here.

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