Transcript From Webinar

Welcome to Gravitate, and thank you for attending our webinar on using an RFP to hire a website agency. Today we will be touching on:

  • why you should identify what you really need with your new website in order to craft the right RFP
  • how to create a more efficient, effective process for selecting an agency
  • a sample of an effective RFP

As a follow-up, you will receive an email with links to resources for writing a website redesign RFP.

This is the second in a series of webinars that Gravitate will be hosting over the next few months. It’s an activity we were doing regularly back in 2012 but lapsed for a bit, and now we’re resurrecting the tradition.




My name is Lynn Elyse, and I’m here with my colleague Flynt Johnson. We’ve both been New Business Consultants at Gravitate for nearly four years now, which means we spend most of our time talking with people in varying stages of readiness for hiring an agency to redesign their website or perform SEO and digital marketing. The funny part is that since Gravitate only brings on one or two new clients each month, we spend the vast majority of our time talking with people who will probably never be our clients.

Our conversations with people go beyond simply talking about our services. In fact, we probably spend far less time talking about our services than we do listening to people express their hopes and frustrations not only with their website, but also about their overall marketing effort.

Over the years, we both came to realize that between the two of us, during these conversations, we’ve accumulated knowledge that’s valuable to a lot of marketing managers, and we figured, why not share it with everyone? So that’s the reason we’re participating in the Gravitate webinar series, and we hope you will gain insight today that you’ll be able to apply immediately toward your work as a marketer.

The True Value of Using an RFP

When it comes to using an RFP to hire a website designer, most agencies don’t like them, and some outright refuse to consider responding at all. And we get why: when the RFP process is conducted poorly, then frankly, it’s an annoying waste of time for everyone. (We can both tell you stories about 45-page RFPs asking 75+ mostly redundant questions—no exaggeration!) But when the process is done right, they can be a great way for a company and an agency to determine whether they’re the right fit. Some of our favorite clients and most advanced websites came to us through an RFP.

The second most important thing to know about an RFP is this: the value in using an RFP process to select a website agency isn’t what you think it is. Many people think that an RFP will give them the most value for their dollar—they’ll be able to make an apples-to-apples comparison and choose the option providing the most features at the lowest cost. You know, that might work when you’re buying a product, but it’s useless when you’re buying a service.

The #1 thing to know about an RFP? The highest value of an RFP process is confidence that you’ve selected the right agency to do the right work.

For a salesperson, do you know what’s even worse than hearing “no” after proposing to do business? It’s hearing nothing at all. That tells me that the person I’ve been talking to has a confidence problem:

  • unconfident that the right problem has been identified
  • unconfident that the right solution has been presented
  • unconfident that there’s a vendor who can implement the solution on time and on budget

A thoughtful RFP process can erase doubts, because it will help you to:

  • gain insight into your own organization and the problems you’re facing
  • confirm your true needs
  • become clear-eyed about your own level of readiness for the project and the effort you must put into the process
  • identify the website partner who offers the right solution for the right problem

Begin with the End in Mind

Okay, so this all sounds great, but how to get started?

Well, you need to start with the end in mind. And when I say “end,” I don’t mean the day the new website launches. I mean that you should envision how the website will help to achieve your organization’s goals six months after launch, or one year, or two years, or even more.

So, first visualize how you want that tool to be working for you a year from now, and then identify the barriers in the way of that vision. The main purpose of just about any website is to accelerate a sales process—and if you’re a non-profit, government agency, or other entity that doesn’t “sell” anything, don’t let the terminology distract you. Everyone wants something:

B2Bmore, better leads

B2Cmore, better customers

E-commercemore, better orders

Financial Servicesmore, better accounts

Governmentmore, better engagement

Healthcaremore, better patients

Non-profitmore, better donations

What are all the problems that are preventing you from getting more of whatever it is you want? Which fall under the marketing umbrella? Which of those might be addressed with digital marketing? Once you can articulate those bigger-picture problems, you’re ready to get started on your RFP process.

We really can’t overstate the importance of identifying problems. The number one mistake we see with RFPs is when they dictate a solution instead of stating a problem. You’re hiring an agency for their expertise with interactive design and online behavior—let them do their job! Identifying problems leads to articulating needs; your ultimate goal will be to explain your needs in the most helpful way possible.

Do this: Don’t do this:
  • Amplify the brand image
  • Ensure that buyers and other audiences find your company when considering solutions
  • Convert browsers to qualified leads who fill out forms to engage with sales
  • Deliver high-value information that will convert anonymous browsers to identified leads
  • Provide information that will help educate anonymous buyers as they begin their research process
  • Keep current customers updated
  • Rotating images on the home page
  • Main menu
  • Home
  • About
  • Products
  • Services
  • Contact
  • Live chat link
  • Contact form on every page


Create Momentum with a Smart Process

The time it takes an organization to select an agency is a gauge of the time it will take to complete the website project. We’ve had companies take six months to select an agency, and then want a custom website completed in two months. Guess what? It’s not going to happen! They’ve got internal dynamics that I guarantee are going to drag it out.

Before you ever start writing the RFP, map out the full process so that you don’t lose momentum. At the absolute maximum, your RFP process should take three months; two months is a better target. Use this chart as a guide:

Task People Involved Duration
(Optional) Find 8‒10 candidates and talk with them Influencer 2 weeks
Select 2‒4 finalists and talk with them Influencer (Decision maker) 2 weeks
Write RFP Influencer (Decision maker) 1 week
Distribute RFP, field questions, and give between 2 and 3 weeks to prepare the response Influencer 2‒3 weeks
Read responses Influencer (Decision maker) 1 week
Conduct interviews Influencer (Decision maker) / Others 2 weeks
(Optional) Contact references Influencer (Decision maker) 1 week
Select and negotiate (Decision maker 1 week


Items to note:

  • Notice the suggestion to talk with prospective vendors before you write the RFP. This is both a time-saver (Are you really going to read 20+ RFP responses? Do you really need to specify “responsive design” when every legitimate website designer does it as a default?) and it will help you identify your real problems and needs.
  • Think twice about whether you really need to contact references; it’s time-consuming and is of limited value. Consider the last time you looked for a job: did you provide any bad references? Agencies are the same way: “We’re going to give you our raving fans (and we don’t mind doing that, but we want to respect our clients’ time and would prefer not to turn providing a reference into a part-time job.)”
  • Involve the decision maker as often as you can. We get why most decision makers want to stay scarce, but it prolongs the process and forces the influencer into the role of translator.

Writing the RFP

Once you’ve defined your needs, mapped out your RFP schedule, and assembled the participating parties, it’s time to write the RFP. We’ll provide you with some resources, but the truth is, writing the website RFP shouldn’t be hard. If you’re finding it difficult, it’s a sign something is wrong: you either don’t really know what you need or you’re trying to dictate the solution. Or, you’re involving the wrong people in the process.

Here’s an outline to get you started:


One paragraph stating who you are and what you do.

List the URL (or URLs) that you want redesigned.

List any other services you may need, such as:

  • Brand identity (visual and/or messaging)
  • Digital marketing (content marketing, SEO, SEM, PPC, etc.)
  • Copywriting and/or designed content
  • Media buying
  • Photography and/or Videography
  • Public Relations
  • Website hosting
  • Website maintenance (routine housekeeping, like backups, updates, etc.)

Marketing Goals

List your company’s sales and marketing goals: generate leads, facilitate sales, reinforce relationships, increase orders, etc.

Explain how your website fits into your overall marketing program. What are your primary marketing pursuits and how will they integrate with the website?

Explain your frustration with your overall marketing program and your current website.

Marketing Toolbox

Explain the state of your current brand identity. Advise if you have a style guide, and list your key messages.

List your key audiences.

List your key competitors.

Indicate the quality of your current website content and explain your content capabilities. Do you have in-house copywriters, photographers, editors, etc.?

Explain any other in-house capabilities for design, development, or other relevant skills.

Website Goals

List your quantifiable goals, such as traffic, conversions, etc.

List your qualitative goals, such as brand awareness, lead quality, etc.

List any known functionality needs, such as an open-source CMS, integration with a CRM, etc.

Timeline & Budget

What event, business condition, or sales window will inform the optimal launch date?

What return on investment do you require? What is your budget range?

Proposal Requirements for an Agency Response

  • Capabilities
  • Team
  • Portfolio and/or Case Studies
  • Recommended Solution
  • Description of Process and Deliverables
  • Timeline
  • Pricing

Hire Gravitate. Get Results.