Finding the right agency to help you achieve your digital marketing objectives is challenging. Get it right, and the outcome of the partnership will far-exceed expectations but getting it wrong can be an expensive, painful experience.
Drafting a clear request for proposal (RFP) has become the traditional, recognised method used to clearly define and communicate what’s required from a digital marketing project. An RFP document is used during the procurement process to define the project, providing enough detail for prospective partner agencies to respond with their respective proposals and costings.
Identifying and finding the right service provider takes time but by distributing an RFP to a short-list of recommended agencies, you can be confident that they each have all of the information they need to respond with their proposals, plans and prices.
RFP General Guidelines
When embarking on the RFP process to find digital marketing expertise and support its important to keep in mind that you are aiming to build a high-value partnership. Your collaborative efforts with your chosen digital marketing partner will be what determines whether or not you achieve success.
Your RFP should be as open as possible for respondents to get to know your organisation and precisely what you want to achieve. It should provide a full background to your organisation, what services you are seeking along with a measure of current performance levels. Your business aims and objectives should be clearly shared, along with any constraints that may exist for respondents to draft realistic proposals.
It’s important to ask relevant, probing questions that will provide the feedback and insight you need to make the right selection. But avoid asking irrelevant or inappropriate questions which don’t directly relate to the project or the potential partnership.
Use a friendly, engaging tone and ensure that the RFP is not using obscure, complex or technical language. How you communicate via your RFP will influence the style of responses you receive. It’s also advisable to keep the RFP as short as possible.
An optimal RFP structure includes the following information:
- Company and brand background
- Project overview
- Project targets and KPIs
- Current performance benchmarks
- Agency expectations
- Critical requirements and roadblocks
- Project timetable
- Future developments
- Resource availability
- Relevant Questions
- RFP distribution and selection criteria
- How to get further information
Here’s a breakdown of each of these key template sections providing some guidance in what to include. This outline can be scaled up or down, depending on the project scope and complexity.
1. Company and Brand Background
Provide a clear summary of your business and brand. A brief history, along with details of key personnel and stakeholders, can be useful, along with links to where further information can be found online. Aim to concisely provide the information needed by agencies who may have never heard of your organisation.
Including some details regarding the supplied products and services which are encompassed by the project sets the stage for the RFP. For example, what is the business/brand known for? What are your USPs? What are your business values?
2. Project Overview
Your project overview should describe what you are aiming to carry out and achieve. It should reflect your vision for your brand, products and services.
It’s essential to ensure that all areas of required agency involvement are acknowledged. It’s also necessary to provide details of your target audience, where they are, what their attributes are, and what their expectations are. Similarly, if there are specific market competitors who you want to beat, make sure these are detailed in your RFP.
If your aims include brand development, audience expansion, or becoming a stronger competitor, make certain that these are documented in your RFP.
3. Project Targets and KPIs
Defining the specific project goals along with the key performance indicators, used to measure and assess performance, is one of the most important sections of the RFP. Digital marketing goals should be directly related to business goals, so it’s a good idea to demonstrate these relationships when defining the targets.
Avoid defining unrealistic or unattainable goals. While it’s great to be ambitious, it’s vital to convey pragmatism to engage and motivate enthusiastic agencies.
Take time to ensure that all expected goals and project outcomes are adequately scoped and defined.
4. Current Performance Benchmarks
The process of defining project goals and KPIs will have revealed your current performance status. It’s a good idea to share these metrics as benchmarks from which progress can be measured. Prospective agencies will use these details when determining their respective proposals and plans to move your business from where it is today to achieve the previously stated goals.
While you may be disinclined to share details of your budget via an RFP, it makes sense to let prospective agencies know of existing budgetary constraints. In many cases, budget allocations for digital projects will have already been agreed. By sharing budget availability details, you will be better able to assess and compare submitted proposals from various agencies and what they think they can achieve with what’s available.
6. Agency Expectations
Providing details of the expectations your organisation has of prospective agencies will help eliminate those who don’t meet them. It’s worthwhile considering all your existing and previous agency relationships to identify both what worked for your business and what didn’t work. This can be achieved by collating staff feedback regarding their interactions and experiences with various third-party suppliers.
Aspects to consider include routines for communication such as written reports, exactly what do your people want to see? Availability for regular face-to-face meetings would be another expectation which should be confirmed if required. Working hours and availability is another aspect that’s very important to many organisations. Familiarity with various shared tools and project management systems may also be valuable. Ability to work with other third party service providers such as web hosts, site developers, app developers, marketing specialists and many others should also be confirmed.
7. Critical Requirements and Roadblocks
Most digital marketing projects have elements which are ‘mission critical’. These are the outcomes that underpin the entire project, which is essential. It’s important to have identified and communicated these via the RFP.
Also, the constraints that apply to the project, along with any known roadblocks, should be defined. Restrictions may, for example, include technical limitations of the existing website implementation or the lack of in-house technical know-how. A budget limitation is an example of a project roadblock which needs to be shared.
8. Project Timetable
An important aspect of your project timeline is to communicate key dates regarding the RFP process. Dates to define should include:
- Date from which RFP documents are being distributed.
- The period during which questions would be accepted.
- The final date by which all proposals are required to have been submitted.
- The date by which a short-list of prospective agencies will be defined.
- The date for short-list presentations (if these are to be carried out).
- The date on which the selected agency will be announced.
- The start date for the digital marketing project.
- Proposed milestone dates for the digital marketing project.
It’s always a good idea to include a clear digital marketing project timeline in an RFP that indicates precisely what’s expected and when. If there is room for negotiation around project delivery dates, then the timeline is where this flexibility can be highlighted. If, however, there are fixed deadlines which must be achieved, it’s essential that these are clearly defined shared with prospective suppliers.
9. Future Developments
Although the RFP is intended to identify the best partner agency in regards to the defined digital marketing project, it must be remembered that great client-agency relationships extend into the long-term. While you are currently focused on your most immediate digital marketing aims, it’s worthwhile looking beyond the success of this project to what’s likely to be required in the future.
Providing an outline and overview of your brand and company vision, beyond this project, and then asking prospective agencies to suggest how they can support this vision will provide valuable feedback which can highlight potentially valuable long-term relationships.
10. Resource Availability
It’s always a good idea to include some details of resource availability. Resource details should consist of a summary of in-house capabilities along with details of external, third-party providers such as web hosting, website design, content creation, social media account management.
In addition, it’s beneficial to advise prospective agencies of software tools and services that are currently used such as Google Analytics, various SEO tools, project management tools and instant messaging applications.
11. Ask Relevant Questions
Ensure that your RFP explicitly asks relevant questions that you want to be answered. These will be based upon your specific requirements and should be devised to reveal everything that your organisation needs to know about a prospective digital marketing partner. Here are a few examples:
- How do you keep up with Google ranking algorithm changes?
- What digital marketing tools do you currently use?
- Describe at least one relevant problem you have previously experienced and how this was overcome.
12. RFP Distribution and Selection Criteria
It can be beneficial to share some details of the RFP distribution. For example, how many agencies have been asked for proposals, and what types of agencies are they? Openly sharing this information helps agencies understand who they are competing with, which will help them formulate their responses.
It’s also prudent to let prospective agencies know about your selection process and importantly, your selection criteria. Some organisations use a points-based system to allocate scores alongside various pre-defined criteria such as cost, relevant experience, track record, skills and competency, cultural fit, values and much more.
13. How to Get Further Information
A distributed RFP will always elicit queries, so it’s vital that you are prepared for these. Ensure that your RFP includes full details regarding how an agency can get answers to their questions and how long they may need to wait for responses. As noted under ‘project timetable’ it’s a good idea to have clearly defined the period during which questions will be accepted and addressed.
But not all questions need to be answered with personal responses. By including links to existing online resources, many agencies will be able to research and answer their questions without resorting to submitting a query. It’s perhaps worth noting when an agency asks a question which is answered clearly from a linked online resource.
Your RFP should invite genuine, realistic proposals from enthusiastic agencies who are keen to work with your organisation. Being open and honest about your business, your goals and your aspirations will help ensure that the responses received to enable you to select the best possible digital marketing partner.