How do you find the best agency to make your marketing project come to life? With a lot of options out there, it can become overwhelming to decide on what organization to choose.
By creating an RFP for marketing services, you’ll be able to streamline the process and feel confident in your decision. The following blog outlines our top RFP best practices so you know you’re putting your best work forward.
What is an RFP?
Let’s start from the beginning. If you’re looking for marketing services from an agency or a freelancer, you will find great benefits in sending out an RFP.
Before we dive into our RFP best practices, it’s crucial to know what an RFP is and how you can use it to your company’s advantage.
First, we’ll note that there are significant differences between an RFP, an RFI, and an RFQ. For this blog, we’ll only be focusing on and referring to RFPs.
An RFI (request for information) contains fewer questions than an RFP and is designed to help companies decide whether a particular vendor should be included in the list of vendors they send their RFP to. An RFQ (request for quotation) seeks specific, relevant cost details related to the product/service that is the subject of the RFP.
An RFP stands for Request for Proposal, and it’s a document that your organization will put together when you’re looking for a service that you can’t provide internally, or need additional assistance with.
Specifically, if we’re looking at an RFP for marketing services, it would be a document that highlights specific solutions your company is looking for. Then you’ll have the ability to send this document to any vendor you’re interested in getting more information from.
Benefits of Writing an Effective RFP
It can take some initial time and effort to write an effective RFP. But by putting in the work now, you’ll notice the time and cost savings down the road.
#1. Find the Most Qualified Companies
If you’re intentional about who you send your RFP to, you’ll create a sense of competitiveness and urgency within that vendor list. The vendors want to come out to be the best option for you, so they’re going to put their best foot forward.
In general, if your RFP is well-organized and clearly outlined with your goals and objectives, you’re going to get high-quality responses in return. So you can feel confident that you’re going to find a vendor that provides the finest service and is best suited for your project.
Also, as a bonus, the research you’re doing to find the most qualified companies for your project can stay on your vendor list for any future projects.
#2. Make Quick Comparisons Across Vendors
A key benefit of sending out an RFP is you’ll have the same attributes from all of your vendors. This allows you to have an apples-to-apples comparison. You can see the same services and how the price, expertise of the team, and timelines vary from vendor to vendor.
All your vendors answer the same questions. So, rather than going back and forth with emails or searching for answers on their websites, you’ll have everything right in front of you.
#3 Save Time in the Long Run
As we said previously, taking the time to write an effective RFP will take time and effort initially. However, you’ll also be saving a lot of time in the long run. Once the RFP is sent out, the selection process and meetings are streamlined.
What to Include in Your RFP For Marketing Services
Just like any other piece of writing, it’s crucial to find a balance between providing enough information to your vendors about the service you need and not over-fluffing your document with information that a vendor can easily find on your website.
In general, here are a few standardized items you should include according to our RFP best practices.
- Company Overview
- Point of Contact Information
- Project Description & Goals
- Agency Selection Timeline
- Evaluation Metrics
- Submission Requirements
- Final Thanks
Look through a variety of marketing RFP examples to gain insights about what to include in your RFP document.
Sending Your RFP for Marketing Services
After you’ve completed your RFP, it’s time to send it out to vendors. It can be overwhelming to think about who to send it to, to ensure you’re getting the most qualified vendors to send you their information.
Our best recommendation is to do your research beforehand. Find a short list of vendors that align with your company’s goals, mission, and values. We recommend sending your RFP to 3 to 5 vendors.
Here are some questions to ask as you’re selecting your vendors.
- How far away is the agency? Am I okay with working virtually with them?
- Do the services they offer align with my project needs?
- Do they have good reviews on Google and social media?
- Have they completed similar projects to what I’m asking for?
- Do their professional values align with ours?
As a maximum, you shouldn’t send your RFP to more than 7 vendors. If you send your RFP to too many vendors, it starts to get overwhelming and complicated to make a decision. It’s crucial to make sure you’re only sending the RFP to companies you believe would be a great fit to work with.
The Marketing RFP Selection Process
So you’ve written an effective RFP and you’ve received a list of vendors. It’s now time for the selection process. There are specific criteria you should be looking for as you’re reviewing the vendors.
Some criteria vary based on the purpose of your RFP and the goals of the RFP. However, a general rule of thumb is to look at the vendor’s reputation, pricing, timeline, and communication style.
In some cases, you’re going to be working with this vendor for a significant chunk of time, so although price is important, you should also be looking at the quality of work, testimonials, and their values. Ask yourself, what were others’ experiences working with the company?
By getting a full picture of what it would be like to work with the vendor, you can better understand their credibility and authority within the industry. You’ll have a real-world perspective and prediction of the working relationship moving forward.
The exact timeline of your selection process depends on when you’re sending out the RFPs, and your capacity at the time. For example, if you’re sending an RFP out right before the end of the year, your timeline will likely be a little longer due to the holidays.
As a general rule of thumb, we recommend keeping the process, from start to finish, within a five-week timeline. That way, it’s not drawn out, additional questions don’t arise, and you can get your project up and running efficiently.
- Week 1: Send out your RFP to 3 to 5 vendors.
- Week 2: Review questions from vendors and conduct initial meetings.
- Week 3: Vendors send their final proposals to you.
- Week 4: Pick your final vendors and call their references.
- Week 5: Meet internally and decide on what vendor to choose.
Questions to Ask in the Marketing RFP Process
In week 2, you’ll see that you should be answering your vendor’s questions and then scheduling initial meetings with them.
Below are a few questions we suggest using to get to know the vendor and their capabilities better.
- Who will my contact person be?
- Where are you located?
- How long have you been in business?
- How many clients do you currently have?
- How many projects have you completed of a similar nature to mine?
- How many employees do you have?
- Do you outsource your work, or use consultants for any of your projects?
Some Final RFP Best Practices
Now that we’ve reviewed how to write an effective RFP for marketing services, questions to ask during the selection process, and a recommended timeline, we’ll provide you with some final RFP best practices.
1. Make sure you’re ready for the project.
Before you take the time to send out the RFP and get information from vendors, make sure your organization is ready to take on the project. Ask your leadership and project managers questions to ensure they can handle the workload and that a budget is approved.
2. Be specific about your project’s wants and needs.
In order to avoid road bumps during the selection process, be clear and specific in your RFP, and anticipate questions your vendors will have so you can include them in your RFP.
3. Make your RFP easy to read and understand.
Whenever possible, make bulleted lists and include headings so a vendor can easily read through your RFP to pick out the most essential information.
Opinions on this question vary, but we recommend using tables and lists wherever possible. Each of your questions should correspond with a specific section to keep things organized. Make sure you leave space for the vendor to reply!
4. Your RFP should not replace a one-on-one meeting.
An RFP is beneficial to streamline the selection process, but it shouldn’t replace an initial meeting with a potential vendor. The one-on-one meeting is crucial to get the full picture understanding of that vendor.
5. Evaluate your RFP responses with a scaling system.
Your selection criteria will vary, but no matter what you should create a scaling system so you can equally evaluate all responses. Define what your most important characteristics are as you start to select your vendors and then rank each vendor for that characteristic.
We recommend using a scoring system to evaluate RFPs. Score the responses you receive on a scale from 1-5 or 1-10. This helps you make more apples-to-apples comparisons so you get the best value for your money.
6. Don’t make cost the main focus of your RFP.
Although cost is a valuable factor as you make the decision, it shouldn’t be the main focus. Think of it as a three-legged stool, without equal factors, your project may become unbalanced. Ideally, you should consider the three following characteristics.
- Speed. How long will the project take?
- Cost. How much will the project cost?
- Quality. Will you be happy with the result?
We follow the good, fast, and cheap method. You’re likely only going to get 2 out of these 3 characteristics. So if you want something fast and cheap, it’s likely not going to be very good.
7. Only ask for references from your top vendors.
Your vendors are going to be asking clients to be a reference for your RFP. This is a big ask and it takes time out of a client’s day to have the meeting or phone call. So, as an RFP best practice, we recommend only asking your top vendors for references so your interactions are more valuable.
8. Notify the vendors that didn’t get the job.
The vendors work hard to put together a proposal and that also takes time and effort. As a courtesy, let vendors know when they weren’t chosen so they aren’t left waiting around.
Ensure you’re finding the right vendor for your services by providing a clear understanding of your project and following our RFP best practices.
Put our RFP best practices to work by creating your own RFP with our downloadable template.
This blog was originally published on October 22, 2019, and was updated on September 8, 2023.