The Request For Proposal (RFP) process requires a significant investment in time and internal resources. With so much on the line, you don't want to waste time hiring a marketing agency who's not fit to help you succeed. Here's how to craft an RFP that'll do just that you can avoid it.

Time for a new digital agency? A new strategic marketing partner who can provide a fresh perspective? Great.

If you go the traditional Request for Proposal route, you’re looking at an average of 90 days until you’ll select your new agency. The most defeating thing ever is investing all of that time, attending dozens of meetings and sending countless emails to end up with an agency that can’t help you accomplish your goals.

Let’s review how NOT to do it.

Prepare the RFP in a vacuum.

If you want to waste time, be intentionally vague in the proposal. Or, throw out a carrot or two just to see what an agency might come up with when they respond. Maybe they will have a new idea that will be a game-changer, right? 

Write an RFP that is heavy on rules and process, then bury the services request somewhere on page four. If the agency finds this nugget, they must really want the business, right?

Use words like strategy, performance and creative support, but don’t explain what your goals are. Don’t provide too much on your current state, never provide analytics access and, for goodness sake, don’t answer too many questions. Keep the agency guessing.

Do this instead: Be specific about what your company needs and don’t leave that up to the imagination of the agency. 

Never talk about money.

After all, most believe that if you tell an agency what you have to spend, they will freely spend every last penny.

Do this instead: Be open about budget. Everyone has one. Provide at least general guidelines so that the agency can help right-size the project, phase the project appropriately, and prioritize needs.

Send your RFP to a bunch of agencies you’ve never talked to before.

If you send your RFP to a long list of agencies, like everyone on the local top agency list, you are bound to get a lot of great proposals, right? Wrong.

The best agencies are busy. A comprehensive agency RFP, even if only for one service line, like web development or PPC, takes tens of hours to respond to with a custom approach and proposal. Or maybe you’ll just receive a generic proposal. Yikes.   

Do this instead: Invest time into the process. Check out agencies first, narrowing your list from 25 to 10 based upon online research. Then develop a list of high-level questions to get a feel for the agency—questions that will help you identify their core strengths and give you an idea if they’ll be a good cultural fit. This should help you narrow the invitees to five or less.

Include a highly regimented structure for response.

Ask for the proposal in documents and multiple formats. Prepare a rigid timeline for the overall RFP process from its release date to final award date. Don’t take phone calls from the agencies to answer questions or get to know them. Instead, set up ONE BIG ANONYMOUS call where callers can chime in and ask random questions. 

Or, provide a hard and fast deadline for questions sent in via email. Then send all the questions and answers to all of the participants. That way, everyone has the same information and it’s fair.

Yeah, don’t do any of that.

Do this instead: Talk to people. Your business isn’t just like any other business and not all digital agencies are created equal. Plain and simple, a one-size fits all approach never works.        

Final thoughts

Finding, vetting, and hiring a new marketing agency is a big commitment in time and internal resources. It’s a high-stakes process that generally last about three months from search to hire.

Take the time to do it right—because doing it right is the difference between making a mistake and hiring a high-performing agency. Check out this free RFP template for pointers.