Check and cross mark symbolizing answers to a website design rfp

This previously-published article was updated on October 30, 2017.

I remember writing the original version of this article with a chip on my shoulder while waiting for my oil change in a Firestone lobby. I wasn’t angry at the Firestone crew (great job as always, guys!). Instead, I was angry about the website design RFP our agency had junk sunk a whole bunch of time into, just to receive a canned response informing us they’d “gone in another direction.”

Well, it’s four and a half years later, and it’s been four and a half years since we last decided to answer a website design RFP.

And in the meantime, we’ve learned a lot about how a B2B company should be evaluating agencies for that big, overwhelming website build on the horizon. So we thought now would be a good time for a refresh of this article.

The first time around, I gave our readers more of a rant than an actionable guide. Yeah, sorry about that. This time though, I set out to give you the latter. So below we’ll start by looking at three reasons why we believe website RFPs aren’t the right way to evaluate agencies. And then we’ll share our recommended alternative and a tool to help.

Why the website design RFP is a bad idea

I could probably give you ten or twenty good reasons. But here are the three I believe are most important.

1. Website RFPs suppress the exact expertise you’re seeking

When you’re sick, you go to the doctor. You describe your symptoms, let Doc perform the check up and rely on his/her expertise for both a diagnosis and remedy. Similarly, when you’ve got a leak under the sink that you can’t seem to fix, you call a plumber. The plumber checks out the problem, identifies the solution and chooses the right tools and materials to fix it.

If you’re anything like me, your doctor and your plumber have knowledge, experience and skills that you don’t. And that’s exactly why you’re willing to pay for their help.

Marketing agencies and web design firms are no different. When you hand an agency a list of requirements (in the form of an RFP) instead of explaining the challenges at hand (and your target outcomes), you’re writing off their knowledge, experience and problem-solving abilities as unimportant.

2. Website design RFPs emphasize tactics over goals

Here are the types of things you’ll find listed on website RFPs:

  • Social media interactivity and social sharing icons
  • Joomla content management system
  • Newsfeed on homepage
  • Biographies of all key team members. And definitely links to their social media profiles. Including MySpace
  • Mobile-friendliness across ALL mobile devices ever made in the history of humanity. Ever.
  • Humongous, MASSIVE, COLOSSAL company logo on homepage every page

But here’s what’s backward. When you start by focusing on the tools and tactics, you take all the emphasis off the problems you need to solve in the first place, and more importantly, the outcomes you expect to see when those problems are solved.

Earlier, we talked about how you rely on the expertise of your doctor or your plumber. I don’t tell Doc what medicine to prescribe. I might suggest one that I read about on WebMD (which I’m sure the doctor just loves). But ultimately, that’s his or her job, right? And your plumber has that big white Ford van for a reason. There are all kinds of tools for the job in there. No need to haul your toolbox up from the basement to assist.

So what does it mean to focus on the problems and expected outcomes for your website build instead of the tools and tactics that you suspect will get you there? Well, start with the reasons you’re rebuilding your site in the first place. Ultimately, you’re trying to solve some kind of problem or produce some target outcome, right? Here are some examples that might sound familiar:

Problems you might need to solve:

  • We’re not generating enough qualified leads through our website
  • We’re not ranking in search engines for important keywords and phrases
  • Our website makes us look unprofessional

Ok, now we’re making some progress. So what would success look like? Maybe something like this?:

Goals / outcomes you might want to achieve

  • Attribute $3M in revenue growth over the next 12 months to our marketing investment
  • Generate an average of 10 quotes per month through the website, averaging $100K/each
  • Generate 25 sales-qualified leads per month

Now we’re really getting somewhere.

And here’s what else can be interesting. When you start by focusing on outcomes instead of tactics, your agency might even help you discover that a complete website rebuild isn’t what you need to meet your goals in the first place.

WHAT?! BLASPHEMY!

Here’s an example. When we started working with our client CK Power a few years ago, we learned that they were seeing 2000 – 3000 website visits/month, but getting very few leads. Well, we knew that feeding their sales pipeline with a consistent stream of qualified inbound leads was their priority. So rather than spending months and thousands of dollars rebuilding their less-than-perfect website right away, we focused year one of our engagement on converting more of that existing traffic (on that old, semi-clunky website) into leads. Here’s what happened:

website design rfp

The success that came with going from 0 to 50 leads/month in year one created both the confidence and budget to invest in a full website overhaul during year two. And as you can see in the graph above, results were just further amplified.

When you paint a picture of your target outcomes for the agencies you’re considering hiring, you give them the chance to design a highly-customized and goal-focused plan (rather than focusing their energy on making sure your Twitter icon is on every page).

3. Website RFPs substitute relationships with lists of requirements

It may or may not surprise you to hear that before I started dating my wife Julie back in 2005, I did not put out an RFP with the following requirements before making a decision about whether to marry her or someone else:

  • Brown hair
  • Hazel eyes
  • Can consistently cook a perfect steak
  • Hardcore Green Bay Packers fan (or at least expresses strong dislike of Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings)

Instead, we did that whole thing where you date for a few years, get to know each other, realize you’re ultra compatible, fall in love, get engaged and then eventually get married. I know. It’s crazy, right?

Well, you might not be exactly marrying your marketing or web design agency. But this isn’t like buying a new pair of socks at Target, either. You’ll be spending a lot of time with this group of individuals and putting a lot of trust in them as well. Do you really want to kick off that relationship with an impersonal 15-page document that looks like something out of a law school textbook?

If you find the right-fit agency, they’ll become a partner to you for years to come, helping you finesse your new website and watch your tangible results grow year after year.

So what’s the alternative to issuing a website design RFP?

We wrote our B2B Website Planning Handbook to provide guidance in the process of selecting an agency and planning for a sustainable and results-oriented website build. It’s free and you can get it here. Included in the handbook are the following:

  • Five things a B2B website is not
  • The critical components of a B2B website
  • Six things to do before you start building
  • How to choose a web-design agency
  • Strategic planning worksheet

But before you dive into the handbook, let me leave you with a few parting recommendations:

  1. Have a REAL, human conversation with your potential agency partners. Don’t put yourself through the long tedious process of writing an RFP (and then having to evaluate those firms) before you’ve even met them.
  2. Educate them on the problems you’re trying to solve.
  3. Help them understand what success would look like in the year after your new site goes live. What kind of revenue growth would your company see? What would your inbound lead pipeline look like? What promotion would you be given by your boss as a result of your brilliance?!

At Gorilla 76, our expertise lies in helping manufacturers and industrial sector B2B companies create online marketing and sales programs that attract the right leads and drive more sales. If that sounds like you, and you’d like to try out one of those real-life human conversations I mentioned earlier, click here to Request a Consultation.

Thanks for reading!

Turn your website into a lead generation machine

Our B2B Website Planning Handbook will guide you through the process of planning and building a customer-centric website that attracts ideal-fit customers, earns their trust and attention and converts them into tangible leads for your sales team.

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