If I had a fiver for every failed web design project that started with an RFP, I’d be pretty rich.
I get it: RFPs are an easy first step. You can send off a stack of them on a Friday afternoon and go home satisfied, with the sweet taste of progress in your mouth. You don’t even have to do much research, beyond Googling your way to a few names and addresses. Then, shoot an email off to the boss so he knows how hard at work you are on this web design thing, and you’re sitting pretty for the weekend.
But don’t be surprised if, come Monday morning, you don’t see the responses you expected–if you see any at all. With so many agencies out there and such varying degrees of skill, the only ones who are still answering to RFPs are:
The commodity agencies, who pump out as many websites as possible with nothing more than their next paycheck in mind. (When your website tanks, don’t call them–they’ve already forgotten about you.)
The old-school agencies, who still follow old-school rules. You assume they’re good at what they do, because they’ve been around for a long time and they cost more, but here’s the reality: it’s tedious, outdated processes like filling out RFPs that are driving up their fees. (And I’m not just talking about your RFP–you’re paying for all the other ones they’re answering, too.)
Even if you do get responses, you risk alienating some of the best candidates–the ones who have seen RFPs kill projects and refuse to help hold the knife to yours.
Why RFPs Don’t Work
The problem is that RFPs are fundamentally flawed. For one thing, they’re mostly weighted on price and an agency’s ability to tell you what you want to hear, rather than anything that actually plays a role in successful web design–namely: mutual suitability, professionalism, and trust.
RFPs also demand up-front solutions to self-diagnosed problems, which is concerning for two reasons: 1) Unbiased problem diagnosis is the most valuable tool a worthwhile agency can offer its clients, which means that 2) RFPs are asking agencies to do their most important work up front, for free. What self-respecting agency would agree to that?
Sure, you’d rather not lay money down during the bidding process if you don’t have to. You only have so many dollars in your marketing budget, and you’d hate to have to sacrifice something else down the road.
But what’s better for your bottom line: committing your entire marketing budget to the skewed results of an outdated Q&A form, or investing a small amount of the budget in the interview process, to make sure the rest of it will be used wisely and optimally?
What Really Matters
When we work with clients, we try to fully understand the core of their businesses. We outline the exact workflows we want specific users to perform on their websites, and we analyze how each step in those workflows will affect the company’s bottom line. This way, we can identify and prioritize the work that will make the client the most money (hint: it’s rarely ever just a new website alone).
I’m amazed by how many businesses are happy to pay for new websites, complex programming, and marketing ideas, but see preplanning as a complete waste of time and money. Or, they’d rather do the planning themselves and just find an agency to “make it work.”
Planning is the most important part of any project, and it pains me to see so many companies leaving their agencies out of it entirely. Yet they won’t bat an eye at the countless hours and dollars spent on keeping internals in the loop and ensuring that everyone has their say–despite the fact that the bigger the project committee is, the more hang-ups the project will inevitably hit and the worse the eventual outcome will be.
The Right Start
When you hire an agency to participate in–better yet, to guide–the planning stage, you come out with a clear, unbiased plan that wasn’t just built by the loudest voices in your internal committee. This plan should include not just a new website design, but also direction for ongoing maintenance, social media, SEO, and digital marketing efforts.
When businesses try to do it all themselves, their projects always end up costing significantly more because they never turn out like they should. Sure, they might please stakeholders, but they don’t work for those who truly matter–the end customers–and they almost never meet business objectives.
So if you’re looking to build a new website, my advice to you is this: rather than releasing stacks of RFPs into the world and expecting them to miraculously guide you to the right fit, sit down and have conversations with a few agencies. Then, hire one to go through the planning process with you–one that understands the serious strategy it takes to achieve high-quality outcomes.
Whatever you do, remember that RFPs aren’t the magic bullets many businesses think they are–especially when it comes to modern, results-based web design.
…Which, by the way, is the only kind of web design worth a cent of your money or a minute of your time. Don’t you think?