Is Your Agency Single & Looking? How Proposal Request Response is Akin to a Blind Date


In the agency world, responding to requests for proposals (RFPs) is a bit like repeatedly going on blind dates. It’s always tenuous that you’ll get a call back and often the morning after is spent dissecting what went well and any faux pas that may have been committed. The process can be exciting, nerve-wracking and resulting in the question, “was that piece of spinach in my teeth the entire night?”

Like two strangers meeting to share a meal or a cup of coffee, the RFP process entails that both parties hold their cards close to their chest. Clients don’t want to give up budget information. Agencies don’t want to “give away” their best ideas.

Does it have to be this way? No. By getting key information from clients and an honest assessment of the agency’s offerings and capabilities, the RFP process can go from the blind date from hell to falling in love with a friend. It feels right. Natural. Both parties feel fairly confident about what they’re getting into. They likely aren’t going to feel like they’ve been sold a bill of goods when the make-up or toupee comes off. (Yes, I can keep this metaphor going … and going.)

To guarantee that time is wisely spent in responding to an RFP, there is key information that we need to fully satisfy your objectives. Enough about me, what about you?

What’s the budget? Scope and timeline?
Without full disclosure on the part of clients, it is unrealistic to expect that an agency can develop a solution that will effectively address their business needs or provide anything of value. And at the end of the day, we want to deliver solutions that exceed your goals. Otherwise, we don’t feel like we’ve done our job to the best of our capabilities.

Working towards an undefined budget is probably one of our biggest pain points when responding to RFPs. In the absence of a specified budget, or even ballpark figure, we spend a lot of valuable time taking shots in the dark as to what the prospect is looking to spend and how we can provide an appropriate, results-driven solution. Getting the budget up front can avoid a lot of this guess-work and can also save a lot time—yours and ours.

Accurate budget information is also critical to an agency’s ability to develop a solution that will provide either party with real, measurable value. Otherwise, the proposed plan will most likely fail. Why? Because although they often won’t admit it, clients do in fact have parameters and expectations for every project. No matter how big or small, every project has a limited budget, an expectation for when it needs to be completed and specific business objectives that it must address.

Who’s the decision maker?
Of course in any company there are internal politics that impact projects and deliverables. These politics often effect how decisions are made. In order to best serve prospects, it is incumbent upon us to ask questions that will provide insight into a company’s inner workings. Similarly, clients must be willing to candidly share information about their decision-making process. Understanding who the ultimate decision maker is goes a long way to us being able to create an on-target strategy and plan. If the person submitting the RFP is not the decision-maker, that’s fine, we just need to know who has the final say and any other factors that may impact the process.

What are your goals & key performance indicators?
Knowing key metrics up front enables us to plan our analysis at the beginning of the project, which is essential to measuring the “right” things. This early planning is an important value for our clients because it shows them the true impact interactive initiatives have on their goals. In order to do this, we need to have an open dialogue about what the primary business objectives are—both at the departmental and enterprise level. Unless these success metrics and expectations are shared and validated by the client, it is virtually impossible for us to accurately craft a proposed solution of value.

This was fun. We should do this again.
We feel like there’s a tremendous opportunity for the RFP process, as a whole, to be improved upon so both agencies and clients are rewarded with a satisfying, fruitful experience. Since no one likes a date who drones on and on about herself, we would love to hear your thoughts about improving the process. Feel free to send any ideas our way


  1. Rebecca, I’d like to add one thing to your list. Dave Kurlan calls it “Speed on Base” in his book “Baseline Selling”. You started to talk about feeling comfortable with each other, trust, etc. But it’s more than that. The real question is, “Are they listening to you more than anybody else?” If they are, and they have a compelling need and a sense of urgency, you’re solidly on second base and your prospect will probably CARRY you home.

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