Selecting the right agency partner for your firm’s website redesign project is one of the most crucial steps in the entire process. It’s not an overstatement to say that success depends on it. And developing the right kind of RFP upfront plays a big role in a successful selection.
Developing and distributing an RFP (request for proposal) to potential digital agency partners is a very common component of the website redesign planning process. But many firms find developing RFPs challenging—unsure of what to include, how to format it, what to ask for and how to approach it. Having received and responded to numerous RFPs, I thought I’d share some tips that, based on our experience, could greatly improve the website redesign RFP and the selection process.
Planning a successful website redesign is a long and involved process, and writing an RFP shouldn’t be the beginning of that process. Instead, time should be devoted upfront to identifying the overarching goals and priorities of the redesign (see #2), understanding what your vision is for the new website and researching the key needs that will have the largest impact on scope and cost. These details will help to provide a clearer picture to the submitting agencies of the site they are being asked to build. The more detail you can provide, the more likely they will be able to provide you with a fair and accurate estimate.
It’s incredibly helpful for a potential redesign partner to have a clear understanding of the overarching goals of the redesign, as well as more specific priorities. Be sure to identify the reason for the redesign, the problems you are trying to solve, the challenges you want to overcome and the ways in which you want your new website to be different from the one you have now.
You’ll also likely have a budget, so the sky might not be the limit for what you’re able to build. Therefore it’s important for a potential agency partner to understand what the top priorities are for the redesign in order to focus on what matters most.
A fairly common practice for many firms is to pull together a list of potential website redesign partners, develop an RFP and then blind-CC the RFP to the entire list (usually a rather large list, see #4). In many cases, the agencies that receive your RFP have no idea how or why they were included in the solicitation. In addition to that, many RFPs are missing some key details and background information that are needed to pull together a formal response (and cost estimate).
When we receive an RFP, we often ask how many other agencies received it as well. Naturally, we cringe when we regularly hear that 10 or more agencies were also invited to submit proposals. And that’s not because we don’t like competition! But rather because it’s highly unlikely that all 10 or more agencies meet all points of the selection criteria and are legitimate contenders for winning the project.
Instead of sending the RFP to a large group of agencies, we suggest doing some due diligence upfront to narrow down your options. Consider what your selection criteria will be and rule out the agencies that don’t sufficiently meet your must-haves. Here are a few examples:
Spending time upfront to narrow down your options will save you the time of reading proposals from agencies that do not meet your needs.
Once you have determined your initial shortlist of qualified agencies, we recommend reaching out to these agencies to set up preliminary meetings or conference calls with each one. This is an opportunity to continue the due diligence process and whittle down your shortlist even further. These meetings provide a forum to discuss your redesign project, seek input and recommendations and ask important questions that will influence your RFP.
Similar to the previous step, there may be some deal breakers that get uncovered during these meetings. Things like the agency’s process, personalities or bandwidth and availability may prove to be problematic. Coming out of these meetings, you should have a much better understanding of what you’ll want to include in your RFP and which agencies you truly want to invite to the table.
This is where the majority of website redesign RFPs fall short—failing to clearly define the scope of the project and the technical requirements. Nearly every RFP asks the agency to provide a specific price estimate, and many times asks for a detailed breakdown of the fees and associated costs. The immense difficulty for the agency lies in trying to put a specific and detailed price on an undefined scope. Ideally, for the sake of an RFP process, cost estimate ranges should be sufficient, rather than demanding fixed fees. Even with the most detailed RFP, there are a lot of factors and specifics yet to be fully fleshed out that can have a big impact on pricing.
I liken it to building a house. If you ask a builder for a price to build your new home, they will first want a deep understanding of your wants and needs. In addition to basic specs like square footage and number of stories, they’ll want to know about things like materials, appliances and other finishes before providing an accurate estimate. Every little feature and “upgrade” you want naturally adds to the cost. The same is true of websites. The amount of planning, design, development and customization required all have a significant impact on the final cost. To ensure a fair estimate that leads to no surprises down the road, you need to clearly define the scope and technical requirements in your RFP and be content to finalize exact pricing after more of the details can be discussed.
You need to be as detailed as possible and give specific examples in your RFP. If there are particular features and functionality that you desire, provide URLs to websites that showcase examples. Terms like “cutting-edge” or “interactive” can mean different things to different people. Define what terms like this mean to you and, where possible, provide examples.
There are also other components such as brand refreshes, copywriting, video production, content development, marketing automation, CRM integration, etc. that are often lumped into redesign projects and will need to be clearly explained. For example, if you need copywriting, provide information on the type and amount of copy required (i.e. sections, pages, headlines, etc.). The more specific you are in your RFP, the more specific responses you’ll get in proposals.
Along similar lines, the first thing a builder or realtor is going to ask a homebuyer is what their budget is. And this makes complete sense! You have to know where the limits are and it’s the builder or realtor’s job to make sure you can afford your dream house and, if necessary, can dial back the specs to fit the budget.
The same is true with websites. Sometimes the wish list for a client is just not possible based on their budget limitations. If that is the case, it’s important for each agency to have the opportunity to address the situation and offer suggestions of what is and isn’t possible within the constraints of the budget. The agency’s job is to balance the website goals, priorities, wish list and the budget to deliver a great website. Each may come at the solution differently, but knowing the budget helps to define the playing field for everyone responding to your RFP.
Last but not least, it’s helpful to explain your evaluation and selection process and lay out a timeline for your project. In addition to the due date of the proposal, provide your timeframe for shortlisting agencies, your plan for interviewing, the date you plan to make a final selection, when you want the project to kickoff and your desired date to launch the website. Keep in mind that you’ll need to make sure your schedule is realistic and can be accommodated by your chosen website redesign partner.
One best practice we have found from the A/E/C industry is to follow up with any candidates who were not shortlisted or selected for a debrief. If an agency took time to respond to your RFP, it’s not asking too much to inform them you decided to go in a different direction. Ideally, you should try to provide them with specific factors that contributed to them not being selected. For agencies who are continuously seeking to raise the bar, it’s always helpful and appreciated to hear the final decision and the factors that lead to the ultimate selection.
For many firms, a website redesign is an important strategic initiative and will likely require several months of work and a sizable investment to make it happen. With that in mind, it’s important to choose the right partner—an agency that has the expertise and capabilities to do the work, and an agency that your team will enjoy working with. The RFP process can be complex and time consuming. But by following these tips, you can improve your process and develop an RFP that positions your project for success.