September 21, 2022

RFPs: 8 questions we ask ourselves before our agency responds to a digital marketing RFP

For many agencies like ours that work with clients that are in industries that receive governmental money to do marketing, finding and responding to RFPs are a big part of our sales and marketing efforts. Yes, we can almost hear the collective groan! RFPs are notorious for being cumbersome in many ways; they are long documents with often convoluted language, they require a lot of time and resources to craft a response only to never hear back, and the evaluation criteria and decision makers can be unclear. When we look at whether it is worth our agency resources to submit for an RFP opportunity we look at a list of 10 questions to determine the viability of the potential work. 


1. Is there an outlined budget or idea of dollars committed to this project?

As a digital services agency, a large amount of our work is in the paid advertising space. If an RFP is requesting digital marketing it is critical for us to have an idea of what dollars would be part of the advertising budget. First, this information helps inform what strategies or tactics we suggest in our submission. Budget is a key factor in how we look to reach audiences and what platforms make sense. Second, the size of the ad dollars we might have available for digital marketing campaigns is a factor in our overall pricing approach. Knowing paid ad dollars is key for most pricing models we would present, including percentage of ad spend, flat retainers, and performance-related pricing. 


2. Is there an ask for a specific service or a bunch of services?

Digital marketing agencies tend to be structured around either specificity (offering a certain service or working with a limited amount of industries) or general services (offering a wide range of services or servicing several industries). At Statwax we are an agency built on specificity – we only work in digital marketing and only for select industries. It is important in any RFP we evaluate that the services the organization is looking for are specific so we can determine if we are a good fit for the opportunity. We look for a detailed list of services in RFPs so we know how closely the requested items match what we offer.


3. How much writing space do you give us to really show what we do?

We get it, reading a dozen RFP responses at 90 pages each is daunting. For those of us who are responding we want to make sure we can really convey what we can do and how it can help you. While we should be concise in our response, we also look to make sure that there isn’t anything so constricting in the RFP submission criteria that we can’t properly convey what we do. Many times RFPs with incredibly limited character or page counts don’t leave us enough space to be able to explain our approach as well as share appropriate strategies and tactics. 


4. Does this enable us to get into a project that is different for us and expands our portfolio?

Though we are an agency that has established very specific lanes in what we do and who we work with, RFPs that enable us to tackle a new challenge or market are exciting to us. Sharing in your RFP how you are looking to have digital marketing help you expand to a new audience, tackle a new challenge, or establish yourself in a new way will pique our interest and can take some of the sting out of long submission processes.


5. Is there an incumbent digital marketing agency?

Those of us who have RFPs as a major part of our business understand – sometimes you are only putting out an RFP because you have to and you really enjoy the current partner you are working with. If we can tell that the current vendor you are working with is a good match for you and that the RFP is a formality it might mean we are less likely to put our time into a response (which gives you less to read!). It is also important to understand if you have an incumbent and you aren’t continuing the relationship – this enables us to ask additional questions about why that relationship didn’t work and how we might be able to address some of those challenges. 


6. What is the evaluation criteria? Will we get a chance to present in front of decision makers?

The layout of the evaluation criteria of an RFP is a key piece of information that we look at to determine if an opportunity is right for us to submit for. We know that usually the technical information we provide, the pricing, how closely we match the ask, and even references can all influence the choice of a vendor. If one of those criteria is something that we weren’t given enough information to really flesh out or feels out of balance that can often make us reevaluate whether we want to respond. Additionally, we take a look at if a presentation is part of the RFP process. We think it is important to get in front of decision makers and not only be able to talk about what we do in our own words but be able to answer any questions. 


7. Who will the day-to-day contacts be for this project?

Understanding who our day-to-day contacts would be for the work in the RFP is a helpful piece of information and evaluation criteria for us. Will those folks who evaluate our work and who we talk to on a regular basis be in marketing or in a department that is a bit further from our function? The answer to this question can impact the staffing and resourcing we would need to fulfill the RFP ask.


8. Does the RFP speak our “language”?

The last critical question we ask ourselves when evaluating whether to submit for an RFP is whether the document speaks our “language”. What we mean by that is does the RFP content seem to reflect that those asking for the service understand the terminology most common in our industry of digital marketing? Is the way the asks of the submission are laid out in line with what we, as digital experts, feel can be executed and understood by the clients or does it seem to be vague or confusing? While we are always very happy to work with and educate our clients on digital, it can be difficult to have a productive relationship if someone who doesn’t understand digital marketing looks to enter into a relationship with a specialty agency like ours. 


Having this set list of criteria to evaluate RFP opportunities not only helps ensure that our agency is efficient with the time and resources that go into a submission, but also that we are only submitting for opportunities that very closely align with what we do so we aren’t wasting the RFP reader’s time. This approach has enabled us to win several RFPs in the higher education space that have led to long-term, very successful partnerships. 


Have an RFP opportunity that might match our criteria? Let us know here

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