Part 2: The Problem With the Way Agencies RFP

In Part 1 of this post, AG wrote extensively about the problem with the way businesses tackle the RFP. Riddled with inefficiencies, there’s no question that businesses take 50 percent of the blame for today’s awful RFP process.

One of the major problems with responding to an RFP is the RFP itself; half of the time, the issuer has provided you with a proposal request that’s riddled with errors and lacks critical information. How can you possibly churn out a strategic proposal if the RFP doesn’t even provide basic information such as budget, goals, objectives, payment preference, brand description, timing, etc.?

But agencies, hear this: You’re no innocent bystander. The other half of the blame falls squarely on you. And a lot of the time it’s just because you’re lazy.

We know. The truth hurts. But let he who has not hastily pulled together a boilerplate proposal and fired it off hoping for the best cast the first stone. *Hint* – Nobody should be casting stones right now.

Businesses don’t want to receive your templated, cut-and-paste proposals any more than you want to see their inadequate RFPs. Rest assured that the people putting out these RFPs are not stupid. They are sizing you up immediately based on the quality of your proposal, and a lazy proposal is a direct indication of a lazy agency.

Phew! Now that we’ve come to terms with the cold, hard truth, it’s time to resolve to change. Here are the top 10 things your agency is doing wrong in its proposals (and how to fix them):

You’re repurposing old proposals

This is laziness at its finest. Your potential client is about to drop $25K a month for digital marketing and you can’t put a few original words on paper about your plan of attack? Get off your a*s and work for it. Show your ability to think. Anything less is handing that business off to a competitor.

You’re not asking questions

If you find yourself lacking critical information in an RFP, don’t just whine – do something about it. You know that email address included within the RFP? Use it. Need to know more about the company’s business objectives? Ask. Wondering what the business is hoping to achieve with a PR campaign? Find out. Simply taking the time to ask these questions will show the RFP issuer you care about addressing their needs and are thinking critically about the proposal.

You’re not doing your research

Trying to pull together a proposal using only the information provided in the RFP is a fool’s game. If you want to be the advertising agency of record for that hot new restaurant chain, learn and understand the menu. Study its flagship location. And for goodness sake, GO EAT THERE. Yes, it’s a little more work, but it’ll work wonders in showing your potential client you understand who they are. 

You’re not proofreading

If your proposal has spelling or grammatical errors, you’re done for. Who the hell is going to hire you to manage their brand and reputation if you write that your agency excels in pubic relations? Uh, nobody. And by the way, what exactly does pubic relations entail? On second thought, never mind.

You’re not using case studies (or the ones you have suck)

There comes a time when even the best schmoozer has to talk turkey. There’s no easier way to show a potential client you know what you’re doing than to include a case study in your proposal that shows your agency’s capabilities. Not sure where to start? Speak to some of your current or former clients and ask them if they’re ok with being included in a case study. From there, make sure to include the background or challenge, the strategy and tactics your agency used to solve the problem and then highlight the results. For winning new business, the proof is in the pudding.

You’re not telling your story

Not telling the client about who you are and your needs is a critical mistake. This is a chance to sell your agency and its services. If you’ve been in business 25 years, say so. If you like pushing the envelope and taking risks, let the prospect know that upfront. Is your team more of an assembly line than a think tank? Mention that. Never miss an opportunity to be transparent with a potential client. It’ll make for a better agency-client relationship.

You’re not introducing the team

We’ve seen it time and time again: a proposal “written by” the CEO. It’s great. It has all the goods. It’s well thought out. But unless the CEO is going to be doing the work, introduce your prospect to the team that would be handling the account. Oh, and make sure you include photos/headshots of them! It adds a nice personal touch.

You’re ignoring the budget

Look, if you can’t do the work for the budget the RFP issuer has requested – or at the very least stay within the ballpark – save all parties some time and just let them know. No, they aren’t going to accept your proposal for a $20K/month retainer on an $8K/month budget. There might be some wiggle room, but don’t be ridiculous.

You’re forcing it

Sometimes your agency’s brand simply won’t mesh with that of the RFP issuer. That’s life. If you have a team of Red Bull drinking, jean short wearing, tattoo sporting millennials and you’re trying to win AARP over…dude, it’s just not going to happen for you. Seriously, even if you won that business, in what scenario does that turn into a successful, long-lasting business relationship? Now go find a craft beer company to represent.

You’re boring the hell out of your readers

Be passionate. Be excited. Be hopeful. Be enthusiastic. But please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t be boring. Do we really even have to say this? Think of your proposal as a cover letter; write a captivating one and the recruiter will take a look at your résumé. Turn in a snoozer and it’s getting tossed in the proverbial filing cabinet.

The good news is that your reading this on Agency Geek, which means we’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Our algorithms go to work to match agencies and businesses that are right for each other. But it’s still up to you to close the deal. Make sure you’re not the victim of one of these major proposal mistakes.

Geeks, out.


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