Stop the RFP Silly Season for Web Projects
They’re at it again. I’m talking about the RFP (request for proposal) crazies, whose idea of a good time involves searching for a digital agency by casting the biggest net they can find: the dreaded “blind RFP” – wherein a request for proposal is sent to many contenders, often without rhyme or reason.
And, often, with no opportunity to have a direct conversation with the clients who own the project.
We’ve written about this subject before, but it seems lately that more organizations than ever have gotten the urge to wallpaper the world with their wants and requirements and addendums as they seek an agency to plan a digital strategy, run a CMS project or redesign their site. So consider this a rant for the sake of sanity – ours and yours.
We’ve made our preferences clear. Regarding our agency, Connective DX, if you’re a potential client looking for a partner and you come bearing blind RFPs (“Dear Vendor…”) you need not apply. Simple.
The Great Wall of Procurement
Just today, my colleague Jeff Cram delivered this message to the U.S. Postal Service, an organization in need of some help if ever there was one. The Great Wall of Procurement stood between us and any human type project initiators inside the organization. We had a few pedestrian questions about their RFP. They made it clear there would be no answers via person-to-person communication. Everything needs to be asked in writing (a not-uncommon demand). So we let them down gently by email. Saved a stamp.
Our position is: If you take a little time to get to know us – and want an open dialog and you value professional advice and thought leadership – we’ll take you and your RFP very seriously.
We’ve urged reform before. But the habit proliferates. So we’re not beyond calling BS on the whole game once again to get our point across.
If you’re going to spend the time creating a nifty RFP, hang on for a sec: Stop trying to back agencies into a corner by requesting specifics that few agencies could rightfully specify. What’s our not-to-exceed budget for your vague, undefined, yet-to-be discussed web project? Who’s our complete project team, with bios, and criminal background status? Stop.
Ideas you can use
If you don’t know where or how to start, here are some practical ideas:
- Get to know potential agencies without the artificial RFP barrier. Ask peers inside or outside your industry who they’ve worked with, or who they’ve heard good things about, to get an idea of who you might want working for you on the merits of their reputation.
- Find a discussion group /birds of a feather networking group you trust and ask them for guidance.
- Or try this: invite a few agencies in for coffee. Put your challenges on the table and see what kind of ideas come back at you. Learn how they think. At worst you’ll get some free consulting and save yourself the agony of sifting through mountains of proposals with your committee.
- If you do get agencies to craft a proposal, stop, stop, stop asking for 10 copies of our 50 page document, spiral bound, in 9-point arial font. Do you need 15 pounds of paper delivered to your door? Share an electronic file.
Admit this too: The RFP is a crutch for many organizations that don’t have a clue about what questions they should be asking, what type of project they need to be considering, or what type of agency might offer the best fit. To them, the RFP is one step toward figuring it all out. We don’t blame you: unless you do this every day, who would know the answers? Or even what questions to ask? The digital world is evolving quickly, and many of you are in jobs that didn’t even exist a couple of years ago. (Social media strategist? Content strategist? Mobile PPC expert?) We’re working hard to keep up, too.
If you can take a few proactive steps to narrow down your list of contenders, and you’ve established at least a passing relationship with them, then by all means invite them to create a proposal.
Spare the 20 other agencies the headache.