The Art of the Painless RFP

In this blog:

  1. Start with an RFI (Request for Information)
  2. Pay for Ideas
  3. Make Yourself Available to answer questions

For most marketers, the Request for Proposal (RFP) process is often met with dread. It’s infamous for its complexities, time-consuming nature, and sometimes ambiguous outcomes. By implementing a few strategic measures, the RFP process can be transformed into a painless and productive endeavor for both the issuing company and the responding parties. Here are three key strategies to achieve this goal:

Start with an RFI (Request for Information)

Before diving headfirst into the RFP process, consider initiating with a Request for Information (RFI). Unlike an RFP, which often requires detailed proposals, an RFI allows you to cast a wide net and gather essential information about prospective partners without requiring detailed proposals. This initial step helps filter out unsuitable candidates early in the process, saving both parties time and resources. Potential agencies can provide high-level details about their capabilities, experience, solutions or technology offerings, pricing and approach, before committing to a full RFP.  It provides an opportunity for clarity and alignment before investing significant time and resources into crafting formal proposals. By obtaining this initial insight, the RFP process becomes more targeted, reducing the likelihood of misalignment and reworks down the line.  Send the RFI to a variety of potential partners – incumbents, small businesses, innovative start-ups and larger, established firms – you may be surprised at who rises to the top!  From the RFI, then select the top 2 – 4 partners to invite to a formal RFP presentation.

Pay for Ideas

Traditionally, companies expect vendors to invest time and resources to craft proposals without any guarantee of being awarded the project, which can be a deterrent, especially in an industry where marketers are literally paid for ideas.  One innovative approach is to offer compensation for the concepts presented in the official RFP proposals. Build this cost into the overall project budget.  Offering payment for this initial work establishes a foundation of respect for the firm’s time and expertise.  When an agency feels appreciated for their efforts, they are more likely to invest time in creating tailored proposals leading to a higher quality of submissions.  Be warned, this may actually make the selection process more difficult as you are faced with great ideas and interesting approaches.

Make Yourself Available to Answer Questions

In a more traditional RFP process, the issuing companies place a barrier between themselves and respondents, but challenging this model can foster collaboration and a stronger long-term partnership.  If you are putting something out for bid, then chances are the project has a significant impact, timeline and/or budget.  You wouldn’t get married after one blind date, so why would you entrust a project to a partner after just one presentation?  Break down the communications wall and allow for connection via email, phone or virtual meetings in a controlled way.  For example, set a 30-minute virtual meeting for prospective firms to seek clarity or ask questions ahead of the formal presentation.  Provide access to a repository of information and/or files (such as style guides) that are relevant to the project, and send a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) to all participants, so that everyone is working with the same information.  Demonstrate your desired communication style and/or expectations by being responsive to inquiries. Designate a single point of contact for all communications to streamline the process.  Over-communicate technology needs, timelines and deliverable expectations. Like the RFI, open communication can bring clarity and diffuse any misinterpretation of the deliverable.

A lot has changed in the business world over the past several years, isn’t it time to transform the RFP process? Creating opportunities for more agencies to respond, valuing ideas and opening lines of communication can only make the RFP more collaborative and ultimately result in better outcomes.


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