To RFP or not to RFP, that is the question

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Picture this: A fortune 1000 company has pulled multiple business units across the globe to evaluate its investment in, and execution of, search engine marketing. A long list of questions was explored. What works? What doesn´t? When is it best for the business units to make their own decisions and when is it best to centralize? Two months and many stakeholder meetings later, a decision has been made to select an external vendor.

One would think that the hardest part would be over, yet nothing could be further from the truth. The burden of sifting through the myriad options to actually execute on search has fallen on the shoulders of one marketing manager. His boss, and his boss´s boss have entrusted him to gather the data and present a recommendation. And so the process begins.

While those of us in the industry can differentiate between an SEM firm that offers a proprietary technology and a technology company that offers some SEM services, the distinction is not as obvious to the marketing manager. I took one look at the list and I realized that he was not only comparing apples to oranges, but to mangoes and even some lemons. We cleaned up the list and the request for proposal was sent to those who had made it to this round.

Perhaps there is nothing more detested by SEM agencies than the dreaded RFP. After all, answering a series of dry questions is not the best means of expressing a company´s history, culture and success stories. And so most agencies either deliver standard, canned answers to these questions or simply refuse to answer a RFP.

To put this succinctly, perhaps an RFP is not the fast ticket to winning a new client, but not responding to an RFP is a sure way to guarantee that you are not even in the race. Through the eyes of a Fortune 1000 company executive who has endured endless hours of internal organization to even get to the point of issuing an RFP, refusing to respond simply makes his job harder.

As many of us know, there is a good deal of smoke and mirrors when it comes to search marketing materials. A quick tour of any search engine strategies show provides immediate proof of this. And once again, while insiders can navigate this fragmented landscape quite easily, it is a shame that we leave those who are ultimately paying for our business to make sense of the mess. This, in my opinion, is why RFPs exist at all.

So for those who wish they never had to write another RFP response in their life, herein lies the answer. If we all spent more time crystallizing our service offerings and providing normalized comparisons of products, we would be spending much less time with the dreaded RFP.

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