Need a New Website? Don’t Use an RFP!

Why Request for Proposal documents are the worst way to buy a website

Request for Proposal document
Using an RFP is not the best way to buy a new website.

One of the most unfortunate decisions that an organization can make as they begin shopping for a new website is to put out an RFP, or Request for Proposal.

RFPs are, quiet simply, one of the worst ways to begin the web design process. Here are some of the reasons you should avoid this route in your new website redesign process.

RFPs Limit Conversation and Collaboration

Most RFPs are sent out with a list of requirements for the new website (more on that shortly).

There is often a set period of time when questions about those requirements can be submitted. A follow-up document answering all of the questions that were submitted is then sent to every company who decided to reply to the RFP. This is supposed to level the playing field so that all companies can see all the questions and answers. What this really does, however, is stifle actual conversations and collaboration between the company who needs the new website and any of the people they hope to hire to help them build it.

Successful web design projects require a strong partnership and open communication. This communication starts during the sales process, continues through a website’s kickoff, into the design and development stages, and even after the site has gone live and post-launch initiatives kick in. Using an RFP that puts the client on one side of a wall and the web professionals on the other, preventing actual back and forth communication in the process, is a recipe for misunderstandings and miscommunication.

It's also a very poor way to start a relationship.

Most Companies Don’t Realize What They Need in a New Website

Another challenge with RFPs is that they are often incomplete in the requirements that they are asking for in the new site. This is because RFPs are written by people within the company that needs the website, as opposed to web professionals who can actually do that work.

This causes many RFP documents to be incomplete, asking for some of what that company may need in a new website, but missing out on other possibilities.

If there was an open line of communication between the client and the web professionals reviewing their requirements, this "missing requirements" situation could easily be resolved, but we have already addressed the communication issues found in RFPs. Instead, those documents enter the world incomplete, opening the door for a website that is also incomplete in terms of the features it will actually need to succeed.

RFPs Rarely List a Budget

One item that is glaringly absent from many RFPs is a budget for that project. Companies omit this requirement intentionally in the hope that they will get an honest range of prices. This is never a good strategy.

Buying a website is, in many ways, like buying a house. If you do not have a budget for what you can afford to spend on a home or if you do not share that budget with your Realtor, they will have no idea what type of property to show you. They may show you homes that are way more than you can afford or properties that are cheaper that your budget, but which will not meet your needs. You need a budget in mind so you can look at listings that are right for you.

 Buying a website is no different than buying a house in this respect. If you have a budget specified, the web professionals reviewing that RFP can determine which solutions may be a good fit to meet your needs - one of which is that budgetary number that you are working to hit.

RFPs Attract Bottom Feeders

Whether or not you list a budget on your RFP, this process is notorious for attracting low-ball offers and the bottom feeders of the industry. Oftentimes their strategy is to deliver a response with a low-end price that just barely meets your stated requirements, even if they know that there are items in that RFP that you may be missing. Then, once they have won the project with their lowball offer and the engagement is underway, they identify some additional items you will need but which were not listed in the RFP.

Surprise!  To add those features onto the project will add significant cost, and in the end, their “lowball” price actually ends up costing you way more than you anticipated or budgeted for.

RFPs Are Often Unnecessarily Involved

One final challenge with RFPs is that they often make companies jump through hoops in order to respond to them. Many times RFPs require companies to submit digital and physical copies of the proposal – and they often ask for multiple physical copies. Printing and binding 5 or 6 or more copies or a response takes time, which would not be a problem if companies actually looked at them!  I have actually spoken with numerous companies who have used RFPs in the past who have admitted to me that they included that requirement “in case” someone needed a printed copy, but that they really just ended up in the trash.

Bottom line – the more challenging you make it for companies to reply to your RFP, the less likely they are to do so. Since the whole point of putting out an RFP is to get a range of proposals from qualified companies, driving anyone away due to unreasonable procedural requests ultimately hurts your company and the prospects of your new website.

What If You Have to Use an RFP?

I have spent this entire article telling you why you should avoid using an RFP to buy a website, but what if you don’t have a choice in the matter? Some organizations are actually required to solicit multiple bids for a project through an RFP process (this is common for federal and local government agencies as well as many not-for-profit organizations).

If you have to use an RFP, at least consider how you can make that process as smooth and accurate as possible to make sure you get the best response and, in the end, the best new website possible.