4 Common RFP Writing Mistakes (+ Free E-guide)

4 Common RFP Writing Mistakes (+ Free E-guide)

I’ve written a guide listing 27 steps to implement to avoid choosing the wrong digital agency, but here are four tasters for you.

Written by

Gary Nissim


13 July 2021




If you’re on the hunt for a new digital marketing agency, there’s a fair chance you’ll produce a Request for Proposal (RFP) and invite several agencies to participate. There’s also a fair chance that you’ll fall into some common traps that will prevent it from running smoothly and resulting in making your perfect agency match.

What are these common traps? Well, I’ve written a guide listing 27 steps to implement to avoid choosing the wrong digital agency, but here are four tasters for you.

Look past the shiny things

When you’re looking for agencies to invite to pitch for your business, avoid the pitfall of getting bedazzled by snazzy offices, a wall of awards or claims of industry leadership.

Do your research to understand the stuff that’s important to your ongoing success as a partnership. Look at LinkedIn – what is the average tenure of employees?

Consider the specialisations you’ll require most from the agency partner and understand how many people in the agency have expertise in that space.

Visit Glassdoor to establish the company's culture and how they conduct themselves as an employer, and seek out Google My Business reviews.

Do a search on them for their thought leadership credentials – do they add value to the industry? Are their insights valued and shared?

Beware of trying to swim with the big fish, too. When you’re looking for an agency, it can be tempting to go for the agency with the biggest clients as the thinking might be that being able to reel in big clients means they know their stuff. That might be so, but you also don’t want to become the smallest client in the tank and fly under the radar.

Similarly, some clients believe that partnering with a small agency and becoming the biggest account means you’ll get excellent account service.

Again, sure, that may be the case, but do they have the bandwidth and expertise to deal with a larger piece of business? In my 20+ years of experience running agencies, I’ve discovered that the best fit for a client is to commission an agency that works on accounts of a similar size.

Define the process

You’ll only find your perfect agency partner through an RFP if your process is defined – if it’s not, you’re not going to get the result you want (and if you do, it’ll be down to luck).

For your procurement process to hit the mark and for your business goals to align with an agency, you need to ask the right questions and give clear instructions to yield standardised responses you can base comparisons on.

The structure is also important: too structured and you’ll inhibit creativity and innovation; too loose and you won’t get the answers you need or the comparison points required to distinguish the differences between your options.

If an agency has to use its initiative to determine how to respond, then the RFP lacks the structure necessary to generate a successful outcome.

A scorecard is also important, as is stakeholder consistency. Give yourself the ability to compare apples with apples with people who’ve been privy to all the same background information, presentations and documentation.

Walk before you run

Don’t appoint your agency and throw them under the bus by requiring them to kick off with no time to onboard them properly.

You’ve gone to the trouble of nominating potential agencies, creating a process through which you could assess and compare them, and going through their pitches and presentations.

I know all that takes time. Understandably, you want to get a move on, but building in time for a get-to-know-you period will ultimately yield better results.

Schedule meetings among team members as well as a kickoff session with both teams to build trust and develop a rapport.

Look under the hood

Make no mistake, pitching is a sales process and; therefore, you can’t buy into everything you’re told.

As with the first point, do your research when you’re considering each agency’s pitch. Don’t think companies won’t bend the truth to win your business.

The amount of times I’ve heard another agency describe a cool Excel macro as ‘Artificial Intelligence’ or ‘Machine Learning’ is unbelievable. If you’re basing your decision on tools and innovations, test-drive them. Ensure you have access to them to ensure they do what’s promised.

Meet the team working on your account during the pitching process as well. Avoid the pitfall of appointing an agency partner only to find that you don’t gel with your account manager or that the person assigned to deliver your project doesn’t have the knowledge you expected.

Create a seamless RFP

I’ve worked in digital marketing for over twenty years. I’ve been involved in more than 500 new business pitches and invested an incalculable number of hours in them.

Every one of those pitches has started with an RFP and series of associated steps yet, to date, I haven’t experienced a procurement process that’s perfectly hit the mark.

Download our FREE guide to streamline your RFP process

Pitch stages:

What’s inside? Here’s a preview.

STEPS 1 – 8: Get Prepared

Don’t underestimate it; pitches are time-consuming, and there are a range of things to consider before you get down to the business of writing your brief.

STEPS 9 – 13: The Writing Phase

Information that is critical to include in your RFQ. Including these is the only way to gather responses that put you in the position to make an informed choice.

STEPS 14 – 23: Managing the Process

Provide the invited agencies with the opportunity to shine.

STEPS 24 – 27: Making A Decision

You're stuck with a misaligned agency if you get your agency choice wrong. Worst-case, they could damage your business.

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Written by

Gary Nissim
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