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Writing a Successful RFP

Matthew KargeMatthew Karge/Business Development Manager
February 20, 20199 min read

We website design vendors love new projects and new business, but we dread dealing with requests for proposals. The typical website design and development RFPs stand in our way like icebergs in front of a ship. What lays underneath the surface is often unknown. Navigation is tricky and fraught with peril. We guess and hedge to make our way through the RFP. Then we hope for safe passage.

Vendors see RFP’s much differently than the organizations that write them. We judge prospects based on content in their RFPs and how they respond to our queries. Sometimes, vendors pass on opportunities because the prospects offer too little information and fail to adequately answer  questions.

So, dear prospects, we share a common interest in clear, complete RFPs for website redesign to get our projects off to strong starts and to avoid running aground as the process unfolds. That’s why we’re sharing our thoughts about how to create an effective RFP for website design.

To get the best response to your RFP:

  1. Provide the why. Why do you need a new website? More detail helps the vendor understand your needs. For example, are increased sales leads from your website the top priority? Say so in the RFP, so the vendor knows that a content strategy with strong calls to action is crucial.
  2. Open up. For the length of the project and probably beyond, we will be your business’s Significant Other. Open up. Let’s have a healthy relationship. Tell the vendor what you know and what you don’t know and what you like and what you don’t. Tell us about your own abilities and preferences. When we know what you want, we can respond with strategies and tactics that fit.
  3. Be mindful. The RFP should be the start of a search for the vendor who will give you the best help. Do not burden us with pages and pages demanding answers to granular questions. Give us enough time to submit a thoughtful response. Think big picture; ask the big questions about our practices. Get from us the type of information that will give you peace of mind when you select your vendor.

Structuring Your Website Design and Development RFP

Website RFP Introduction

The introductory paragraphs should include company background beyond the elevator pitch.

  • Explain, simply and clearly, what you produce and sell. This will help you hone the message you want your website to send.
  • Who is your customer? Who is your target audience? How many audiences do you serve, and how do they differ? Are they technical and narrow in a B2B sector, or do you sell to the public at large?
  • What is your best-selling product or service? What products aren’t moving well – and how do you think your website might drive sales both for products that move and those that sit?
  • Where do you sell? Domestic or worldwide? Outline your sales process. Do you sell directly online, through dealers/distributors, etc.
  • Who are your competitors? Include specific companies and the areas and products where you meet them head-on.

Defining Your Needs in the Website RFP

Explain why you want to redesign your website. Help the vendor understand your needs and wants.

  • What is the current environment? What tools do you use to manage your website?
  • What is the driving force behind the desire to redesign? What are your business goals for your site? For example, do you want a fresh look before a new product launch? Not all redesign projects are the same. Maybe you have no digital strategy at all. Or maybe you’re missing just a piece or two – say, a new tool that works with your ERP system to automatically display products.
  • What things do you hate the most about your current website? We want to feel your pain points, so we can figure out how to make them go away.
  • What do you love about your current site? What’s worth keeping? Do you want to copy existing content to the new site?
  • List the specific features you absolutely need on your new website. What are your functionality requirements? What are your technical requirements?
  • Be sure to also fully explain each feature. For example, “We need a feature that enables a user to click on multiple products to create a list and send it to our sales department for quoting.”
    • Stick to absolute musts in this section, so we can give them high budget priority. (The wish list comes later. Some features sound cool but aren’t practical. We can help you distinguish the wheat from the chaff.)
  • Share your objectives, which determine how you will judge us and our work. We need to know. The objectives needn’t be too specific. For example:
    • Increase traffic to or time spent on the new website.
    • Increase online sales conversions or leads.

If you need help considering what to consider, check out this blog Six Things to Consider Before Redesigning Your Website.

Website Redesign RFP Process

Most website redesign RFPs are okay until the point where prospects ask vendors to describe their process with questions related to approach, past experiences, team qualifications, and more. These questions are warranted, but consider them in the context of a bigger question that is vital to the vendor’s overall understanding:

How much of the website project do you want to do on your own and how much should the vendor be prepared to do?

The answer profoundly influences our response to your RFP. Some companies want us to do everything. Others want us to fill a few gaps in their in-house team. Decide on that and let us know and do it early in the game.

Some things to consider as you decide:

  • Are you able to conduct your own digital strategy audit?
  • How involved do you want to be in the design? Do you have specific ideas for the new website’s look?
  • Can you write the new content for your website or do you need us to do it?
  • Do you have the time to migrate existing content or do you need our help?
  • Do you have photography available or do you need to find stock photography or create new?

When the vendor knows the above, we can provide better answers. The questions to include in your RFP should be thoughtful and more in depth. If you are unsure of what to ask, we have another blog title 12 Questions to Ask Your Next Website Vendor.

Provide a Timeline for the RFP and Project

Your RFP must include a project timeline; without it, we can’t grasp the constraints on the project. Of course, you’ll hold the vendor to your timeline. Well, guess what? The vendor will hold you to your timeline, too. The timeline in the RFP, at the very least, should specify:

  • When the response is due;
  • The period for questions and clarifications;
  • Dates for interviews (if any);
  • Date for notification of final selection (by the way, please make a practice of notifying all vendors);
  • Kickoff date;
  • Completion date, and the rationale behind that date.

If you are unsure of the timeline for the project, consult the vendor about it. Be open; let the vendor explain why the timeline you have presented may be adjusted to better fit the project.

Allow Question and Answers

Give the vendor the chance to ask questions to clarify your website redesign needs. Share the questions and your answers with all prospective vendors. You want responses based on the same information and queries, right? This admittedly tedious step will help you directly compare responses and make a more informed decision.

Show me the money.

Money ultimately determines what you can and cannot do with your new website. Don’t be coy about your project budget range. Sharing it will go a long way toward getting the best responses. This will allow vendors to save time and tailor an RFP response to your situation. And you won’t waste time reviewing responses that are way out of line with your budget.

Keep the Response Requests Simple

Think of the website redesign RFP process as the start of your relationship with us. The document you prepare is just as important as the response we give.

Limit the number of questions. The questions you do ask should focus on the process and how the vendor will complete the project and meet your specific objectives. Avoid huge lists of questions that dig into every nuance. Think about it; would you really pass on a vendor because their host has a database environment with 1.5GB instead of 2GB? Make the submission process painless to elicit well thought out responses.

Save the request for project references for the two finalists. Why create this superfluous early work for vendors who aren’t really in the running? And remember that not all of our clients want to share their experiences with a complete stranger; let us ask their permission before you make that reference call.

Be reasonable as to how you require us to submit responses. Government entities aside, the days of wasteful printing of multiple copies are history. Specify universally acceptable file formats, such as .doc or .pdf. Work with one of the many free platforms for secure sharing of large files.

Ease the Pain of Website Redesign RFP

The website design and development RFP process need not be painful for you or the vendor, and it can be enlightening for both. As in any human transaction, everyone benefits when motivations are clear, and both parties are open and striving to help.

Website Redesign RFP Template

Here’s an example of a ‘real world’ RFP we received that follows all the points provided above.

RFP exampleRFP Example

Matthew KargeMatthew Karge/Business Development Manager

Matthew Karge is a Business Development Manager at Northwoods. He works with clients of many industries helping them to pursue a digital marketing path with the greatest amount of return. He’s always happy to meet over a cup of coffee to listen to your needs and provide as many resources as possible to help you succeed.

Connect with Matthew on LinkedIn | Read Matthew Karge's Blogs

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