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How to Succeed at the RFP Process

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Sorry, fellow agency friends, this entry isn’t for you. It’s for those of you who want to issue an RFP – public and private sectors alike.

You can get the most out of your potential agency partners if you’re willing to create a little healthy competition amongst the crowd. A little secret about agency folks – we are EXTREMELY competitive. Use that to your advantage!

Follow a few simple guidelines to find the best partner:

1. First, issue a Request for Information. Make it fairly short and basic – you want to find out the size of the agency, some of its other clients and whether they are equipped to handle your business. For example, if your budget is $10,000 and one of the agencies has annual revenues of $100 million, it’s likely you won’t get the attention you need and deserve because your budget makes you low man on the totem pole.

You can also ask some non-traditional questions that will paint a good picture of what kind of people you’ll encounter. I like this approach on the RFI.

2. Second, the actual RFP. The ultimate goal is, again, to determine which finalist is the best fit for your organization’s needs. You can easily separate the wheat from the chaff with a few simple questions you can ask of your candidates:

– How important am I to your business? [In other words, am I the smallest client, the largest client, or somewhere in between? Will they need to hire to handle your business or are they ready as is?]

– What is different about you? [Most agencies will say the same things – amazing creative, we treat you like family, we’re new/hip or we’re established/reliable – none of that matters if those things do not meet your needs.]

– I have an RFP budget of $2,000 for you to develop a spec campaign for our new product. I will pay you for your time, whether we select you or not. If you’re selected, the budget for this project will be $500,000. [Let me be clear here – I AM suggesting that you should invest $6,000 – $2,000 each for 3 finalists – in the RFP process. The agencies will be invigorated by this. You’ll get tremendously better work out of them. And you’ll own the ideas too.

3. Third, give the finalists 4 weeks to develop their plans. Time produces deep thought and effective strategic thinking. And then have them in for live presentations and Q&A. You won’t believe the part chemistry plays in agency selection. Do you like them? Do you think they listen well? Do they read between the lines well? Are they open to your ideas?

4. Finally, make your decision and notify the winner first. Then, call each non-winner with a prepared set of talking points about why they did not win your account. Be honest. That’s the fair thing to do. We are all dying to know if we’re going to have the honor of helping you, especially after putting so much work into the pitch.

There was one RFP a few years ago that I thought was deployed and handled perfectly. While we weren’t selected, I understand why and have no negative feelings about it – well, other than being bummed about not getting to do great work for good people!

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