Writing a marketing RFP (request for proposal) document fills most people with equal parts excitement and dread. On the one hand, you’re writing an RFP because your business or institution is poised to invest in some new marketing initiatives like awebsite redesign, and that’s fantastic! But on the other hand, few people enjoy the (sometimes tedious) process of writing an RFP.
Let’s be clear: for many companies, marketing RFPs are not only essential to ensure you get the best service at the best price, but RFPs are often required. Regardless of your situation, you need to develop an RFP that communicates what your business needs and what expectations you have regarding the responses you receive.
This is easier said than done. Having worked over the last 16 years with companies who send RFPs, we at Boston Interactive know the pains and pitfalls people find themselves in when writing RFPs—and the lukewarm responses they elicit.
Fortunately, we’ve rounded up five of the most common mistakes people make when writing RFPs. Before you get started, make sure you don’t accidentally fall prey to any item in this essential list of what not to do.
1. Forget to Do Your Homework on Technology
When it comes to marketing RFPs, especially for website redesigns, technology plays a crucial role. You’ll need a CMS (content management system), third-party integrations, marketing automation, etc. And while selecting the best technology is a wonderful, collaborative exercise between you and your future vendor, the RFP is not the place to start asking those questions.
Asking for technology recommendations without providing any specifications about your business—current technology platforms, staff capabilities, etc.—is difficult to answer for even the most intuitive vendors.
If you want your future vendor to help you make those decisions, you’ll need to meet them halfway by doing your homework up front before sending the RFP. Detail your requirements and specifications and even provide some tools you’ve previously used or are currently evaluating internally. This level of detail will give your vendors guidance on how best to respond with their own recommendations.
2. Use the “Come and Get It” Approach
For some businesses, an RFP must be made available for any and all potential vendors. Nevertheless, an open RFP does not necessarily require a “come and get it” approach.
By that, I mean that you should be proactive and put together a list of vendors you’d like to hear from, regardless of the public nature of the process. Speak with colleagues, search online, or look at sites you admire and see who designed them (often the agency is listed in the footer). With your list in mind, reach out personally to vendors and invite them to respond.
This may be a business process, but it’s still about people. Agencies want to know you’re interested in them and are more likely to respond if you connect with them personally.
3. Make It Way Too Complicated
Too often, marketing RFPs reach the 50- and even 100-page mark. The writer has crammed the document with every question under the sun, and the sheer file size feels heavy enough to pull a back muscle.
RFPs often gain such girth due to the writer asking too many questions that are not directly related to the main business problem or the RFP containing unnecessary background information.
Frequently, we’ll find multi-page questionnaires asking for company information, much of which can be found on our website. Why ask what you already know and have readily accessible? And if you believe external research or information about your company may be relevant to a vendor’s response, separate it from the rest of the RFP and provide it on request.
Moreover, overcomplicated and lengthy RFPs will result in equally prolix responses—don’t forget you’ll have to read those tomes!
4. Clutter-fy Your Marketing RFP
Similar to overcomplicating an RFP, we often find marketing RFPs highly disorganized. This may be the result of too many cooks in the kitchen, but, regardless, it wreaks havoc on your responses.
It’s natural to supplement questions in an RFP with a little company background information or a study/report conducted by your business or institution. The extra information helps to clarify your questions and allows vendors to respond with more accuracy.
However, be wary of the organization of such content. Just as you would find it difficult to follow speakers who keep interrupting themselves to go off on tangents, vendors will find it difficult to respond to questions that are separated by sections of superfluous information.
If you want to share extra information, provide it in the appendix, and within the questions you can simply refer to its place in the back.
5. Expect to Get the Solution for Free
As I mentioned before, the goal of your marketing RFP is to find a vendor who can solve your business problem. More specifically, you’re looking for a vendor whose previous work, culture, and process works best for your business or institution.
With that said, your RFP is not to ask for that solution in a response. For a digital marketing RFP, part of the work you’re requesting from an agency is the strategy to solve your problem. Asking for it in the RFP is putting the cart before the horse. Once awarded the project, the agency can then invest the resources to build your strategy.
Nevertheless, you should be looking for examples of how they’ve solved similar business problems in the past. Require case studies and success metrics. You have every right to require them to prove their worth, but if you’re expecting a customized solution in a proposal, you will be disappointed.
Write RFPs that Work
With these common mistakes in mind, you should have no trouble writing a marketing RFP that gets results. The fact that you’re reading a blog post for advice on writing them shows you’re above and beyond the average RFP writer.
Now comes the fun part: The writing. But even there, we’ve got you covered.Download our free marketing RFP template to ensure you’ve thought of everything.
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