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Nate Rooke | 03.24.19

RFPs ≠ Request For Partner

In our experience, the most successful projects stem from a true partnership, rather than a client-vendor relationship.

The goal should be to find seasoned professionals who can counsel and guide you through your project and become a trusted partner. As our name suggests, we take this concept very much to heart and aim to essentially become an extension of a client’s team for the duration of the project and beyond.

Conference room all four

We understand that sometimes the RFP process is a requirement of your organization or company. If your executive board—or the law, in the case of government work—is mandating you utilize this process, we feel ya and we’ll work with you.

We also understand that our potential clients want to make informed decisions and the RFP process seems like a good way to systematize that. However, we find them not to be an effective evaluation of us (or any agency).

The Trouble With Most RFPs

1. They dilute differentiation

RFPs work great for commodity-based work where evaluating the cost of identical solutions is the goal but they don’t work well when looking to hire for a service that is more creative in nature. Design style, approach, and process can’t be completely conveyed and compared in an RFP. An RFP will show how good a vendor is at writing RFP responses, but won’t necessarily yield the best partner. Looking for a creative solution and using a process that removes creativity seems counterintuitive.

We’re often hired because of what we’re like to work with and the work we do—not because of how we come across in an RFP or because we have Don Draper on our new business team. 😉

RFPs are rigid, leaving little-to-no opportunity to showcase our studio in a creative and impactful way. What’s more, RFPs rarely provide an apples to apples comparison because there are too many differences between agencies and their approaches. Design can’t be commoditized.

2. We expect a fair opportunity

If we’re going to invest the amount of time it takes to explain who we are, how we work, learn about your company and your project, we expect a fair opportunity at getting hired. In our experience, the time investment involved in responding to RFPs tends not to be proportional to the chance of ultimately winning the business.

3. We believe in relationships

True professional relationships are built on a foundation of respect and responsibility from both parties. Professionals are hired to apply their expertise and experience for a client’s benefit. An RFP takes that away and creates more of a one-sided situation where “the vendor” takes on most, if not all, of the responsibility. Design works differently; it should always be a collaboration between client and design studio.

“So, what are you suggesting we do then?”

Tell us about your problem so we can hear you talk about it and collaboratively come up with a solution together.

4. We value time and efficiency (ours and yours)

RFPs rarely include budget. If a client is unwilling to indicate budget (ranges are fine) it’s a red flag for us. A website’s cost can vary from a couple thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Indicating budget allows us to create a plan tailor-made for that budget (as well as your business goals). If budget isn’t disclosed, it becomes an extremely inefficient guessing game.

“But I want to compare prices…so why would I give them my budget?”

Rather than comparing costs, consider comparing value. Chances are, your budget is fixed anyway. Besides, in most cases a final price can’t be determined until a formal discovery process has taken place.

5. Preferred vendor bias

We’re not suggesting that every RFP is guilty of this because most are not. However, there are times when organizations use the process to provide documented cover for a contracting decision that is already made.

Ok, so if not RFPs, then what?

  1. Document the problems you are trying to solve and the short-term and long-term business goals you are hoping to achieve with as much detail as possible. Do not prescribe solutions at this point. Establish a rough budget and preferred timing.
  2. Research your potential vendors and get an idea of their design style, approach, process and who they are. Narrow your list of potential vendors to as few as possible.
  3. Set up phone calls with your top 1-3 vendors and learn more about them and discuss your problem/project.
  4. Select one partner to do a deeper, paid discovery with to help you establish solutions and additional goals for the project. If you like what results, the cost estimate and relationship then work with this partner. If not, repeat.

You’re going to work closely with these people for the next few months to bring your project to life and hopefully the next few years to maintain and improve it. So, make sure they are people you like, trust and actually want to work with.

Adjacent has and will be a tremendous asset for our brand and future growth. Fantastic results and deliver what they promise. Those eight principles they list are truly what they bring to the table and yes, they are awesome to work with.

Michael Leist Head of Marketing & Business Development, Strategic Financial Services

The RFP process may yield companies who are OK with being just vendors, which isn’t always in the best interest of a client and their project.

We’re always happy to invest the time to meet with potential clients and have meaningful dialogue about how we might be a good fit. Sometimes lowering the RFP and raising the phone (or coming to meet us!) is a step towards a more worthwhile vendor partner relationship.

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