How to assess a digital marketing proposal

So you’ve created and distributed a great RFP for your digital marketing project, you’ve responded to the questions asked by some of the targeted agencies, and you are now starting to see some proposals in response to your requests. How do you effectively and efficiently appraise these responses and objectively decide upon the best possible digital marketing agency partner for your organisation?

If your RFP was clear and concise, then the proposal responses should be equally clear. If, however, your RFP lacked specificity, was overly long-winded and didn’t include vital information, then the responses you receive are likely to be unsatisfactory.

The overall quality of the responses and proposals you receive to your RFP is influenced by the quality and content of your request along with the answers you have provided to subsequent queries that the agency may have submitted. Taking time to create an optimal RFP which includes clearly defined routes from which additional information can be gained is the most effective way to elicit high-quality response proposals.

Eliminate the Non-Starters

There is no point in subjecting responses and proposals from respondents who have failed to meet critical criteria to any lengthy selection process. Critical project requirements should have been communicated via the RFP. Immediately identifying proposals which don’t meet these requirements allows them to be quickly discounted.

An early appraisal can also be applied based upon the style and manner of the agency responses and communications. Discount any proposals which aren’t clear, are poorly formatted and which don’t include all of the required information.

Another aspect of agency communication which might be considered early in the appraisal process are the questions raised by the agency. Did they ask a lot of questions? Were they polite and clear in their communications? Could they have gained answers to their questions through research (without asking)?

Collating feedback from all staff members who have interacted with the agency during the RFP question and answer period will also provide valuable insight, which may suggest that certain agencies should be discounted.

Remaining Objective

When appraising responses to RFPs, it is essential to remain objective and remove subjectivity from the process, as far as possible. To remain objective, it’s good practice to define what the overall objective of the process is.

A technique used to evaluate RFP responses objectively is to define a collection of criteria against which a group of assessors compares the RFP responses. Each assessor independently allocates scores from pre-agreed scales to each criterion. Scores are then combined and compared.

The number of RFP assessors necessary to achieve a genuinely objective assessment isn’t a clearly defined figure. But a group of at least three appropriately qualified people who have a deep understanding of the project and its objectives should be able to collectively determine which agencies are most likely to deliver the desired results. The more informed and qualified assessors involved in evaluating RFPs are then the more accurate and objective will be the results.

RFP Evaluation Scoring

Assuming that all responses which didn’t meet clearly defined critical requirements have been discounted the remaining submissions can be scored and compared based upon agreed, relevant evaluation criteria. A typical scoring scale would be:

  • 5 points for: Fully meets the criteria
  • 4 points for: Meets the criteria with some failings.
  • 3 points for: Almost meets the criteria but with notable failings.
  • 2 points for: Partially meets the criteria with significant failings.
  • 1 point for: Does not meet the criteria.

Note that there is no ‘0’ response.

All RFP assessors should be provided with the same scoring document, listing all of the assessment criteria, along with guidelines regarding the assessment process.

It should be noted that although the same score ranges are allocated to each defined criteria, they do not necessarily have the same levels of importance in the assessment. This can be addressed in the side-by-side comparison of scores and by allocating appropriate prioritisation.

RFP Evaluation Criteria

The exact criteria used to assess any specific digital marketing RFP will be influenced by the project requirements, expectations, goals and future needs of the organisation. Here are some typical RFP evaluation criteria which can be applied to most digital marketing projects.

  • Pricing structure (time, deliverables, performance) is clear and agreeable.
  • Project pricing falls within defined budgets.
  • Payment terms and conditions are clearly defined.
  • Written communication and proposal is clear, non-technical and unambiguous.
  • Proposed project communications (reports, meetings, ongoing updates, timing and format, etc.) is agreeable.
  • Evaluation of the agencies client list has been carried out.
  • The agencies client list reflects relevant experience.
  • Client testimonials have been evaluated and verified.
  • Client testimonials reflect a predominantly positive experience.
  • Client case studies exist and have been evaluated.
  • Client case studies reflect a track record of success.
  • The agency fully understood the defined digital marketing project and its objectives.
  • The submitted proposal clearly indicates how each of the defined goals and outcomes will be achieved.
  • The agencies proposal reflects the results and returns that are likely to be achieved based upon the provided RFP data.
  • The submitted proposal is specific to our defined needs and is not a generic response.
  • The agency has all of the skills required to achieve project success.
  • The agency has indicated the resources (team members, time, tools) that will be allocated to this project.
  • The approaches and processes to be used by the agency have been clearly defined.
  • These defined approaches and processes are agreeable.
  • The submitted proposal indicates where dependencies exist regarding in-house and third-party actions.
  • The agency has highlighted aspects of process efficiency optimisation in their proposal.
  • The agency has identified areas from which added value can potentially be derived in this project.
  • The agency has indicated their availability and lead times.
  • Agency availability and lead times are agreeable.
  • Agency values have been reviewed.
  • Agency values reflect a good fit with our business values.
  • The agencies response suggests that they would be a valuable long-term partner.

The assessor scoring process should aim to allocate scores of either 5 (fully meets the criteria) or 1 (fails to meet the criteria) wherever these can be clearly applied. Scores of 2, 3 or 4 should be accompanied with notes to indicate where failings were identified.

RFP Evaluation Process

Each of the proposal assessors should examine and score proposals without interaction with one another. Any criteria for which the proposal has determined failings should have those failings noted by the assessor.

By collating all scores into one matrix, the evaluations of each submitted proposal can be compared side-by-side along with the ratings allocated by each assessor. At this stage, all proposal assessors should discuss their findings, aiming to identify:

  1. Any agencies which significantly failed to meet RFP requirements and
  2. Any agencies which ‘stand out from the crowd’ in their responses.

Those who have failed to meet requirements should be discounted whereas any which have been noted as outstanding might be allocated to a short-list of finalists.

Short List Assessment

The outcome of the RFP assessment process should be a manageable shortlist of agencies that will undergo further assessment to determine who you will work with. They may typically each be invited to carry out presentations of their respective proposals and undergo a question and answer session with those responsible for making the final decision.

This face-to-face meeting is ideal for confirming the agencies values align with your organisation’s values and that they make a good fit. It’s also a perfect opportunity to evaluate communications styles and whether your people will be able to work with the assigned agency team productively.


The RFP process is an effective way to gain valuable responses from digital agencies that can be used to determine whether agencies meet your specific needs objectively. The remaining objective in this process can be challenging, so a defined collection of relevant evaluation criteria is immensely useful. But it should always be remembered that human elements, including personalities, behaviours, attitudes and values, are also very important to consider when aiming to establish a productive working relationship.

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