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Every time I get into the middle of an RFP, I think about how unnecessarily burdensome the whole process is. It sometimes seems like the purchasing types want to make preparing and submitting the proposal a sort of right of passage by which you “earn” the business. I don’t think that’s the case, but it sometimes seems that way.

It’s very common for an RFP to be 10-20 pages long, and require a proposal of that length or more. Generally, this expensive response process weeds out agencies it would be helpful for the client to hear from. I know we have declined to present proposals in the past, for business we were qualified for and might have been a great choice for.

Here’s my idea for a really good RFP.

1. Do not call us. Do not pitch us. Do not send anything other than what we ask for, or we will disqualify you out of hand.

2. Send us work samples and a three paragraph (no more than one page) case study for your three best campaigns, branding projects, direct mail campaigns (whatever the client is RFPing for).

3. We will look at all the work samples. Based on the work samples, we will select three or five semifinalists (I had a creative director who was obsessive about always needing odd numbers), whose work looks like they might do a good job with our project.

4. Conference call each of the semifinalists. Get a sense of them. Get a feel for them. If one jumps out at you as a clear fit, get them to estimate on the actual work you need (not an RFP, in which they have to guess at what you might need). Unless the estimate is outrageously high, sign it and get to work. If it is outrageously high, consider your options. Negotiate. Or go to option B.

5. If no clear winner emerges from the phone chats, hire two or three contenders to work on a real problem (same assignment for all agencies). The winner gets the business. The other two get paid for their work, and go home (with their intellectual property in tact).

This approach will get the client the best agency for them. It will get more agencies to participate, because it’s not like doing back flips through flaming hoops. Good agencies are rewarded. Good clients are rewarded. Everybody wins.

I’d love to talk more, but I have to get back to the RFP I’m writing.

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