Today, many brands are wrestling with how and when to bring on a digital agency, including which programs and tasks should be outsourced to an agency and which should be managed in house. That decision is highly dependent on your business needs, your goals, and your internal capabilities.
The right agency partner can help you strategize, execute programs, set goals, and monitor and fine-tune performance. In-house teams are deeply embedded in their company culture and close to the needs of the business. However, it can be challenging to build an in-house team with the specialized knowledge and resources required to navigate today’s rapidly changing digital landscape. An agency also offers scale and budget flexibility. With an agency, you have the ability to quickly add additional support and resources to handle spikes in activity, and conversely, dial down support as needed. You also have flexibility in how and when you apply your budget.
Brands looking to work with a digital agency partner to extend their capabilities and enhance the performance of their digital programs are confronted with a wide variety of often-confusing options—different agency models and approaches, all of which claim to be the best. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” answer. The model and approach that’s right for your business is evaluated based on your goals and what you’re trying to achieve.
If you’ve decided to outsource some, or all, of your digital marketing programs and are ready to search for the right digital agency partner, then you’re likely to issue a request for proposal (RFP). Our guide will provide you with best practices for a successful evaluation and RFP process designed to match you up with the best partner for your business.
“About one-third of companies outsource some part of sales and marketing.” – Neal Patel, 23 Things to Look Out For When Outsourcing Online Marketing Work
The good, the bad, and the ugly RFPs
Whether or not you issue an RFP, the agency selection process is one we all love to hate. And we feel that way because it’s so easy for the process to fail. So how do you ensure success? Much of it comes down to putting as much humanity into the process as possible.
A “good” selection process involves open communication; transparency about goals, scope, budget, and measurement; clarity on evaluation criteria; and honest, fair feedback during and after a decision has been made.
A “bad” selection process, on the other hand, treats its responding agencies and their services as commodities, uses an RFP to identify the lowest-cost bid, and essentially uses agency selection as a vendor procurement process.
And the “ugly,” of course, is the worst of the worst. That could include a voluminous RFP document with hundreds of questions requiring responses in minute detail, an impersonal process with little or no communication, or an overly aggressive timeline that doesn’t allow agencies to develop responses that show their best thinking.
The keys to RFP success
If you do decide to issue an RFP as part of your digital agency selection process, here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind:
- Treat the RFP as a vetting or interview process with your agency candidates. It’s a two-way street. The RFP document itself is a means to an end.
- Invest in in-person meetings with your shortlist of agencies in order to get a feel for chemistry and start to build a relationship.
- Include thoughtful, open-ended questions in the RFP document. The responses will give you insight into how your candidates think and how they would approach your project.
- Have a list of absolutes, or “must-have” capabilities, but also allow room for agencies to showcase their creativity.
- Set a realistic timeline for the RFP and pitch process that will allow agencies to respond thoughtfully and customize a proposal for your needs.
- Provide open lines of communication throughout the process.
- Develop an RFP document that is too rigid or narrow in scope.
- Categorize agency candidates in silos. Today’s digital challenges are integrated, and you need an agency that can find solutions from multiple angles.
- Include too many yes-or-no questions in your RFP, or checklist items that will return generic, cut-and-paste responses from your agency candidates.
- Make the RFP process impersonal or transactional. You’re choosing a strategic partner and need to allow room for relationship building.
- Make a decision based only on written responses to the RFP itself. Personal engagement is critical for evaluating chemistry and cultural fit.
Your guide to a successful RFP process
For more tips on what it takes to successfully evaluate if a digital agency partner is a good fit for your business and how to conduct a comprehensive RFP process, download a copy of our free RFP ebook. Along with insights on how to write your RFP, it includes an example template to start your search for a partner.