How to Fix the Broken RFP Process

By Neil Sniffen
3 minute read | Last Updated: April 29, 2016

Writing an RFP for a digital project is like training for a marathon. Both should start with the end goals in mind and plan backwards.

The RFP process is painful for brands and agencies. Too often there is little substance gained through the process and an agency is chosen via their massive client list or the promise of delivering the sun and the moon.

Let’s be real.

The RFP process is broken. It stifles brand innovation and often forces creative agencies into bureaucratically defined corners rather than allowing the agency to do what it does best—innovate for their client.

Start with goals, not a feature list

By adhering to a rigid RFP process, brands limit their ability to see beyond their board room and instead relegate their website to the same mediocre morass that created the need for a RFP in the first place.

This self-fulfilling prophecy is one of the root causes for why many brands struggle so mightily in creating e-commerce sites that really move the needle.

Evaluate agencies on their ability to deliver the goals

When brands step out and allow for agencies to bring their specialized expertise in, innovation flourishes, projects evolve, and revenues increase.

Let’s redefine the RFP into a goals statement, not a feature list. A clear target, not a whimsical flight of fancy. A finish line.

Let’s boil down the list of wants into one sentence: Our Brand Will Increase E-commerce Revenue by 100% in 24 months.

By narrowly defining a project based upon its end goals, you will better evaluate agencies on their ability to deliver the goals, not a laundry list of features.

By focusing on the end goals, the objectives necessary to achieve the goals become clear and the steps necessary to achieve the objectives become real.

Because, after all, it doesn’t matter what your e-commerce site does if it doesn’t sell.

“We recently re-read our initial RFP and started laughing. There’s no way we would have gotten these results if we’d gone down that road.” —Stephen, Easton Digital Brand & E-Commerce Manager

The way it is and the way it should be

This is the advised process from the Internets:

Compose a document that includes the following:

  • Company background
  • Description of the project
  • Design requirements
  • Technical requirements
  • Feature requirements
  • Timeline for project
  • Assumptions
  • Submission information
  • Contact information
  • Selection and award criteria
  • Selection Schedule

Be as detailed as possible, avoiding vagueness and generalities.

Ensure that all stakeholders understand the purpose and scope of the project.

This is what you get:

A site that is heavy on features that consumers find difficult to navigate or irrelevant to the reason they are on the site (which, by the way, is to research and purchase products).

A site that looks like it was done via committee.

A site that doesn’t accomplish your goals.

This is what you should do instead:

Define your goals. Make sure it is clearly defined and agreed upon by all decision-makers at your brand.

Send out an initial RFP that:

  • States the goals
  • Provides a rationale (this can take the form of a project description) for sending the RFP
  • Establishes an open line of communication between the brand and potential agencies

From the proposals that are returned, choose 3 (4 max) that are on the shortlist.

Communicate openly with all shortlist agencies the specifics you’d like them to address. The specifics must be related to the goals.

Provide context for the project. By stating why something is important for the project, your shortlist will be able to more specifically answer how they are adept at addressing that need.

For example, if the project must launch in 3 months, explain what needs to be done absolutely before launch. Do you need to stay with your current e-commerce platform or are you looking for alternatives?

Provide technical details.

Be open to hearing ideas that are different from what you have in mind.

Let the experts help you craft a solution that works to meet your goals.

This is what you get:

A site that achieves the goals you set.

A site that reflects your brand.

A site that gives your customers a great experience and helps them research and purchase products.