When it comes to marketing agencies searching for new clients and business opportunities, the Request For Proposal(RFP) is about as standard a business practice as unlocking the front door and turning on the lights in the morning. Clients in need of consulting and advertising services send out their RFPs, and potential vendors respond with highly detailed proposals hoping to win new business. It’s a time-honored business practice that only seems to be getting more popular as the years go by.
But is responding to every RFP that comes into the office the best way to win new business? Some might see this as a loaded question. That’s because, like the lottery, you need to play to win. You don’t score the big hit by sitting on the sidelines. So the obvious answer would seem to say, ‘Yes, we need to play the RFP roulette wheel.’
Clearly, however, there are enormous downsides to answering a deluge of RFPs.
For one, using RFPs as your agency’s main source of business generation can lead to an enormous use of company resources. RFPs often require reams of documentation, forcing your staff to spend countless hours gathering together experts from various professional fields to complete the process. Not only is this time consuming, it’s also expensive.
Then there’s the dirty little secret in the world of RFPs; clients often don’t have the expertise to know exactly what they want, and send out RFPs to solicit free advice from potential vendors. Yes, your ideas can actually end up being used by one of these potential clients and you get nothing but the bill for all the hard work your company put in to respond.
This is not to suggest, of course, that working the RFP angle is a complete waste of time. It isn’t and, in fact, the RFP will be with us for years to come, so it’s something marketing agencies will always be dealing with.
But marketing agencies wanting to generate qualified leads need to look at their business strategy differently than, say, a company that supplies tangible goods like furniture, factory equipment, or a new computer system. That’s because when a company hires a marketing agency, they are making a much more personal and emotional decision. They need the marketing agency to not just understand the day-to -day workings of their company, but help them create a vision for the company. In essence they want someone who, like a close friend, can listen to their needs, and craft and execute a comprehensive plan in order to realize that vision for a future filled with success.
And this can’t be accomplished by simply answering every RFP that comes through the door.
“We believe that the agency community, as a general whole, is missing a massive opportunity by not focusing more on outbound, proactive new business efforts,” said Matt Chollet, president of Catapult, an agency that helps marketing agencies achieve their business and sales goals. “Too often agencies sit back and wait for referrals, RFPs, or word-of-mouth and the fact is that it’s tough to build a sustainable pipeline through these reactive methods.
“I think right now, we are seeing a huge amount of RFPs going out and a lot of agencies falling back into the trap of relying on those. Our advice is to certainly continue to take advantage of the RFPs that you feel best about, but remember that waiting on RFPs means that you are working only with the companies that come through the door, and you are most likely not to win.”
Chollet believes it’s important to meet the decision makers where they are, and to make them aware you are in this partnership for the long run. That means taking a much more proactive approach to client generation through outbound marketing. That also means taking the time to fully understand the needs and the goals of a potential client, to help them flesh out their organization’s various issues so that you can tailor your pitch to problem solving, rather than selling. He calls it creating a ‘positive sales culture.’
“A positive sales culture can help not only new sales, but also organic growth and employee retention,” Chollet said. “When your prospects, and soon to be clients, understand that making the sale isn’t the most important thing to your team, they will be more inclined to lean further into your organization in order to help solve their brand’s problems.”
Chollet believes that the cookie-cutter lead generation campaigns of the past have given way to a much more nuanced approach. The pandemic and its collective trauma, he says, have forced people everywhere to focus on what’s really important in life.
“Right now it is all about tailoring your message on a one-to-one, human level. Long gone are the days of “spray and pray” mass campaigns. The best way to engage a new prospect right now is by customizing and focusing all of your message to that individual person, rather than focusing on the company in which they work. People want to talk to other people, not brands, so that’s what we try to do for all of our clients.”