In this week’s episode, we discuss RFPs and how each of our agencies approach them. We talk about investigating whether an RFP is worth your time or not; we share our own experiences with assessing RFPs and guiding potential clients toward a better plan of action; we talk about speaking to clients’ needs in a way that inspires them; and we also share our framework for not just meeting RFP requirements, but creating a genuine connection and cultivating real relationships with potential clients.
Top 3 Curtain Pulls in this episode:
- Don’t naively participate - “The end result with any potential client, especially one with an RFP, is you want to build a relationship with them where you get outside the level of a commodity. You need to short circuit that somehow, and show that you’re different and make a unique connection.”
- Stand out - We often say that in business, you can be the Cheapest, the Best, or the Only. This applies to RFPs as well! You don’t want to be the cheapest, as that’s a hard way to consistently win. So how do you become the Only? By truly showing why you are the BEST!
- Consider the true upside - When deciding whether an RFP is right for your agency, consider the potential for long-term loyalty. Will this client be a long-term business partner, or are they just looking for a quick turnaround? The time needed upfront to investigate this is worth your while, every time.
For more tips, discussion, and behind the scenes:
About The Guys:
Bob Hutchins: Founder of BuzzPlant, a digital agency that he ran from from 2000-2017. He is also the author of 3 books. More on Bob:
Brad Ayres: Founder of Anthem Republic, an award-winning ad agency. Brad’s knowledge has led some of the biggest brands in the world. Originally from Detroit, Brad is an OG in the ad agency world and has the wisdom and scars to prove it. Currently that knowledge is being applied to his boutique agency. More on Brad:
Ken Ott: Co-Founder and Chief Growth Rebel of Metacake, an Ecommerce Growth Team for some of the world’s most influential brands with a mission to Grow Brands That Matter. Ken is also an author, speaker, and was nominated for an Emmy for his acting on the Metacake Youtube Channel (not really). More on Ken:
[0:32] Bob welcomes us to the show and introduces today’s topic: RFPs or requests for proposal.
[3:37] Ken says that Metacake gets around 10 a year, and that it’s not something they rely on to get business.
[3:56] Brad’s agency gets roughly 70% of new business without RFPs, and the clients that do bring them are typically larger companies.
[4:52] Bob defines RFP for us and gives a brief history. “In the late 1880s, industrialism standardized the productions of goods and accelerated communication between businesses… made it possible for businesses to solicit from vendors… included questions to help the buyer evaluate and compare each supplier’s offering.”
[7:10] Bob continues. RFPs can be 50 or 100 pages long, and contain a breakdown of every step of every part of your process. There can be questions about examples of work done in the past, referrals, and typically they want it written in a specific format. Long story short: they’re term papers!
[8:00] Brad says that RFPs usually boil down to figuring out how an agency thinks.
[8:57] Brad talks about how the need for RFPs has changed over time, and often companies want a more straightforward financial estimate than anything else—a more generalized document than the 100-page assignments of the past. The time wasted for marketing managers to write these massive documents is a waste of time and manpower in itself.
[10:09] Ken talks about the “apples to apples” comparison of RFPs, saying that there really is no way to compare one company or agency against the next. This makes the review of RFPs more about discernment—and most of them are just written wrong, in his opinion.
[12:18] Brad talks about the RFPs that attempt to plan out a two-year contract with an agency. In reality, you want to be able to pivot when you enter into an agreement with someone. And so for many agencies, RFPs are a risk to take on.
[13:49] Bob says that some companies and agencies have divisions that do nothing but respond to RFPs.
[14:37] Brad says that if an agency’s clients are mostly Fortune 500 companies, they are more likely doing a lot more RFPs.
[15:02] Bob asks Brad and Ken about tactics they use that can either minimize the process or ensure that they have a greater chance over some competitors that are out there.
[15:20] Ken says that Metacake doesn’t consider RFPs an efficient use of their time. Often due to the quality of the document, it is clear that more communication is going to be needed other than the RFP.
[18:14] Brad talks about two types of RFPs—the ones that he values and the ones that he doesn’t. Often the ones that aren’t super valuable have a lot of get-to-know-you questions, whereas the valuable ones have data and information about the project, technical requirements that give real insight into the cost of the project.
[19:39] Ken counters that even when they are specific, because you have already decided on the method before you’ve decided on the strategy, there is a built-in challenge in communication.
- “The end result with any potential client, especially one with an RFP, is you want to build a relationship with them where you get outside the level of a commodity, you need to short circuit that somehow and show that you’re different and make a unique connection.”
[20:18] Ken continues, saying that if you don’t have a unique backdoor channel or even an inkling that the RFP is merely a formality, you are likely on a fool’s errand. Because otherwise you’ve caught yourself in a comparison game against 10 others that they are rationalizing to choose the one that they want.
[21:38] Brad says that there is a good way gauge whether the RFP is worth your time or not to review: are their questions written in a way that you can actually respect those questions and understand that you as a client are going to let us do what we do?
[23:05] Ken says that going about these conversations can be challenging to do while also building rapport and not coming off as sleazy. But by maintaining you professionalism and being really confident at what you do, you can usually figure out whether something is a good fit relatively quickly.
[24:12] Bob suggests a personal Zoom call or in-person meeting, where you can discuss additional concerns that the RFP didn’t address. If you really do want to work with the company, genuinely reaching out to make that connection can go far.
[27:01] Ken says that Metacake stopped doing RFPs. “We'll work with anyone that wants to work with this, as long as they're the right fit, and we're the right fit, and we can add value… we’ll build a proposal, but we won’t build it through an RFP method.”
[27:54] Ken explains further that they bill for a meeting where the basics of an RFP are laid out, they work on strategy in-person and build that RFP out for them that they can then take to other agencies. This gives Metacake the opportunity to build relationships, learn more about the company, build that trust and understanding and then make it obvious that working to put the RFP to use with Metacake is the best option.
[31:05] Brad asks Ken about his experience with RFPs and what specific details he’s looking for that would make him feel comfortable about the RFPs requirements.
[32:14] Ken responds. “So that's why we say we don't work through the RFP method, we'll get the RFP, we'll validate it, we'll build you a project plan. But typically, we get paid to do that.”
[36:04] Bob says that in the past he’s gotten emails from people who’ve sent RFPs but in reality they have already decided to use his services.
[39:06] Bob talks about an RFP from a non-profit that was received by his agency recently. They spoke to the company and found out that they were genuinely interested in an agency but had no idea where to start. Their search was genuine and unbiased, so after chatting, Bob decided it was worth his time to create a short-form RFP for them and do some great digging for them to fill that need.
[40:20] Brad says that he has come across great RFPs with genuine responses and questions.
[42:39] Brad continues, saying that it’s okay to bail out of the RFPs response after a bit of back and forth. You want to be able to best serve their clients in the best way possible, and if you can’t gauge that after meeting in person and discussing details, it’s okay to back off and say that it won’t be a great fit.
[43:47] Ken ties in the theme of “you can be the cheapest, the best, or the only” to RFPs as well. You don’t want to be the cheapest, as it’s hard to win that way. How do you become the only one, truly because you are the best?
- The challenge is eliminating everyone else, short circuiting the search and making them realize you have what they need.
[45:19] Bob says that it can be difficult to convince someone that you are really the only option they have to get what they’re looking for. You can say, “Well we don’t do that, but we can give you something better and here’s the price you’d pay.” He clarifies Ken’s tactic: to prove that you’re better than the RFP in what you can provide without criticizing their method.
[47:33] Ken says that what is lacking in most RFPs is the goal—a clear, uniform goal for what is actually going to be done in a project.
[48:14] Brad says that he sees 15-20% of clients who use an RFP to work with an agency who will realize a couple months into the project that they didn’t choose the right agency.
[49:20] Ken says that from a client perspective, if you can pay an agency to help you come up with a plan, go for it. Because THEY are the ones who are experts, and if you pay good people, you’ll get good work!
[53:30] Ken continues, saying that for many service providers, RFPs can be a fool’s errand. Meaning that choosing a partner based purely on RFPs will rob you of a lot of authenticity and real connection with a service provider or client that is RIGHT.
[54:29] Bob talks about the cost effectiveness of having a long-term client versus constantly having an influx of new clients.