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    How to Gather and Evaluate Website RFP Responses

    This is the second of two posts on how to find a digital marketing agency by using an RFP. You can read part I here.

    If you’re like most marketing professionals, back in school you had way more multiple-choice tests than essay tests, right? We all know that zero-labor Scantron scoring requires far less effort on a teacher’s part than poring over student essays.

    One reason companies issue a website redesign RFP is to make the choice Scantron-simple, as though creating a website could be reduced to a grid of tasks and associated costs that lead to an obvious answer: select the lowest-cost viable option. But that’s a vain endeavor, because a website redesign is combination of art and science that each agency conducts in a unique way.

    Like it or not, selecting a digital marketing agency is an essay test.

    Several agencies will be able to build you a lovely website. Fewer will build one that produces measurable results. Fewer still will have a team and culture that clicks with your company and makes the collaboration greater than the sum of its parts. So, consider the following suggestions to find the best fit.

    Step 1: Find agencies to put on your RFP distribution list

    Some companies will distribute their RFP broadly, assuming the wider the net that’s cast, the greater their options. However, remember that you’ll have to evaluate all those responses. Narrowing your candidates to a short list of four or five agencies will save you time, streamline the process, and probably deliver a better result.

    There are three basic ways to find agencies: online search, referrals, or by seeing a website you like and finding out who created it (sometimes, but not always, the agency will have a link in the website footer—if not, contact the company’s marketing or public relations department and ask).

    As you scan agency websites, the most important questions to ask yourself are:

    • Do I like their work?
    • Did I easily find their website through an online search?
    • Did their website present the information I needed to quickly determine if they offer the right services for me?

    In this early stage, your initial pool of potential agencies might be fairly large and somewhat overwhelming. To narrow the field, remember your goals for the website.

    • Need to improve search engine rankings? Consider agencies that rank well in online search.
    • Want to improve conversions? Consider agencies with websites that caused you to fall effortlessly into their sales funnel.
    • Struggling to get your messaging right? Consider agencies with websites that allowed you to almost immediately comprehend their service offering.

    Note: Before you move on to the next step, be honest about the time you can devote to sending out the RFP, evaluating responses, conducting follow-up interviews, looping in the appropriate stakeholders, and negotiating agreement terms. Don’t start the process if you won’t be able to finish it within a four-week period. In most cases, taking more than one month won’t result in a better decision; it will just drag out the process and eat up time that could be spent on the actual project.

    Step 2: Conduct an initial conversation

    Once you’ve narrowed your list to a manageable number, say eight or nine, don’t email the RFP yet. In all likelihood, any of these agencies will be able to produce a website that you’ll like well enough. However, technical ability is merely the point of entry: a website is a collaboration marathon between company and agency, and the right chemistry is vital.

    So, talk with the companies first. A 20-minute phone call that reveals a poor culture fit will save you time. Things to consider as you narrow your list to three to five agencies:

    • Was it difficult to reach them by phone? If it’s hard to connect with them now, it probably won’t be easier when you’re a client.
    • Did they communicate clearly? During the website process, most of your communication with them will probably be by phone or online, even if their office is in your city.
    • Did they seem genuinely interested in your organization? Did they ask questions that indicated a concern for the long-term effectiveness of your website?
    • Did you discuss budget and timeline? While it’s impossible to determine specifics at this stage, it’s important to at least establish ballpark ranges. Otherwise, it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

    Step 3: E-mail the RFP

    These conversations should help you narrow your list to three to five agencies; if they didn’t, then it’s a red flag that you might not be as ready to issue your RFP as you initially thought. If the conversations raised more questions than they answered, then get your team together to revisit your goals for the project.

    Ideally, you should e-mail the RFP soon after the conversations; say, within one week. While this is the only RFP you are dealing with, the agency may be juggling 10, 15 or more RFPs. Make sure to include an e-mail signature with your full name, e-mail address and phone number.

    If a topic arose during the conversation that especially piqued your interest, reference it in the body of your email. There are so many moving parts involved when creating a custom website and an RFP response simply cannot cover everything in equal detail, so it’s helpful if the agency knows which subject areas to dive into deeply.

    Finally, include the due date for the RFP response. In most cases, less than 1 week is too short and more than 3 weeks is too long (unless it is an especially complex project).

    Step 4: Evaluate RFP responses

    Before you review the RFP responses, create a list of questions to consider:

    Effectiveness

    • Does the recommendation address the overall problem with a solution that attempts to address your unique situation? Or does it present a one-size-fits-all package?
    • Does it discuss usability in terms of targeting content to different audiences to achieve a certain goal?
    • Is responsive design (which automatically adjusts for varying devices) a default or an add-on?

    Predictability

    • Look for an established and systematic process in the agency’s explanation of its approach to website design and development. Do they explain how their process works and the general steps involved?
    • What about client involvement—do they explain what will be required of you?
    • Do they give you an idea of how long the process will take and when your website will launch?

    Clarity

    • Who provides copy: client, agency, or both?
    • Who provides images: client, agency, or both?
    • What about other types of content: video, infographics, downloads, etc.?

    Capabilities

    • Do they address their ability to implement common website functionality such as forms, third-party integrations, or within-website search?
    • Do they discuss any special functionality relevant to your situation?
    • Will the website be built to SEO best practices?

    Post-launch

    • Do they recommend an easy-to-use, open-source content management system (CMS)? Will they provide training?
    • Do they advise what work will be required on an ongoing basis to meet your website goals?

    Measurement

    • How will you be able to measure the website’s success?
    • Will they install Google Analytics? What about non–Google Analytics measurements?

    Pricing

    • If you provided a budget range, did they stick within it? Did they offer a variety of options or just one? Did they only offer an option at the high end of your range?
    • Did they address how they price their services and what is not included in their pricing?
    • Did they address return on investment?

    Agency

    • History: is the company stable? How long have they been in the industry?
    • Capabilities: do they offer a range of services, or simply website design and development?
    • Differentiation: what makes them different from their competitors?
    • Team: who actually performs the work? Who will you interact with day-to-day? Is work performed in-house or outsourced?

    Step 5: Conduct interviews

    Select the top two or three candidates to interview. (We have a post about how to interview an agency coming soon!)

    Step 6: Make a decision and negotiate an agreement

    As stated earlier, don’t start the process if you can’t finish it within one month. In most cases, there’s no good reason it should take any longer. If it does, that’s a warning signal that there’s a larger issue at work. Perhaps your overall marketing program is shaky and there are marketing basics that need addressing, such as branding or strategic positioning. Or maybe there’s a personnel issue that needs resolution.

    By taking a deliberate RFP approach, you will make a better decision and enjoy a smoother process. We receive a lot of RFPs at Gravitate, and unlike many agencies, we welcome them. If you are struggling with writing a website redesign RFP, feel free to contact us. We’ll be happy to chat.