1. Define the Needs for a Marketing Project Using an Outside Vendor
Vendors play a key role with most marketing teams because few companies have the resources to complete every project in-house. Outsourcing to specialized marketing vendors, interactive agency or consultants can give you access to deep industry experience and resources that you do not have in-house.
Before evaluating an interactive agency for a specific project, it is a smart idea to create a clear project definition, which includes the type of service needed and work to perform, project success criteria, the vendor evaluation criteria, budget, key dates and milestones, and resources you need to commit to supporting the project.
Create a Project Definition for Interactive Agency Requirements
It can be challenging and time-consuming to find a good interactive agency to manage your marketing project. The first step is to define the components of your project and your success criteria. When you know what you will expect and need from a vendor, it will be easier to qualify, evaluate and choose the right one for your project.
Begin by documenting as much as you can about the project and putting together a plan for your vendor research. What services do you need the vendor to deliver?
- Type of Service and
- Specific Work to Perform
What resources will you allocate to the project? It may be important to communicate these to your potential vendors before they prepare your quote. Consider:
- Resources to Commit
- Hours to Deliver to Project
Project Success Criteria
What defines a successful project for you? These “success criteria” will fuel your vendor evaluation as well as your management of the project.
Worst Case Scenarios
What are the potential worst-case scenarios and consequences if the vendor does not meet the desired goals?
Number of Invitations to Send
How many invitations do you need to send?
What are the most crucial factors in selecting the winning vendor (in order)?
- Track record
Make a list of the vendor criteria and the level of importance of each criterion.
Have you set a budget for the project? If not, is there a general range that you can afford to spend?
|Will you share this range with the bidders?||There are pros and cons to sharing your budget with bidders. |
Ensures that bidders will supply a solution that works within your budget.
They may recommend more than you need if your budget is higher than you really need, or they may simply bid at the top of your budget. If your budget is too low, you may miss hearing about alternative solutions that cost more but could be better for your company.
|Was your budget set by you or your purchasing department?||If it was set by buying, is it enough to cover the project?|
Are there any critical deadlines that you need to hit? If so, build your plan around those dates. If you are not yet sure, you can continue with the subject and revisit later, as each task below is described in more detail later in this subject.
Here are examples of important dates for an outsourced project:
- Complete research to understand what options are available
- Find potential vendors and complete the first round of analysis
- Complete second round of vendor analysis
- Send out Request for Proposals
- Receive proposals*
- Review proposals, negotiate with finalists*
- Select vendor
- Execute contract
- Manage implementation
- Manage ongoing relationship
*Make sure to give your vendor enough time to prepare a proposal and give yourself enough time to go back and forth with questions and revisions as needed. A simple quote may only take a couple of days to send, but a comprehensive service proposal may involve many departments at your vendor’s company and require several weeks. If you are not sure how much time a vendor needs to evaluate your needs and send a proposal, ask upfront for a guideline – you will get a better-quality proposal when you give them enough time to complete it.
Make a list of the project items and final deadline.
List the areas in which you need the vendor’s expertise.
Make a list of the criteria on which the success of the outsourcing project will be based.
List the key dates or milestones for the project:
- Bid date
- Award date
- Start date
- Project completion date
What are the main tasks that you need to complete throughout the project? Consider some of the following.
- Research vendors
- Interview vendors
- Prepare RFP
- Review proposals
- Select vendor
- Manage project
2. Decide Evaluation Criteria for an Interactive Agency
An Interactive agency can build your website or campaign-specific microsites; create and manage digital campaigns using email, search engines, advertising networks and social media; and can typically create video and mobile apps.
Local and national firms can be found from Web searches, social media, chamber of commerce listings, and on sites like Advertising Age, AdWeek and The Firm List.
During discussions with potential vendors, you may wish to dig deeper to understand the exact services the agency provides, which services are performed in-house and which services are provided by any partner firms, the agency’s core ability, and their experience in working with programs and companies like yours.
Outline Interactive Agency Criteria
In addition to the standard questions, you will ask any vendor, here are questions specifically for an interactive agency:
- What services does the agency provide? For example, do they offer web design & development, online campaign development and management, email marketing, social media, search marketing, publicity, and blogging?
- Which services are performed in-house and which services are provided by a partner firm?
- What is the agency’s core ability?
- Does the agency also offer offline (or traditional) agency services?
- Does the agency have experience with programs and companies like yours?
- Can you speak with three references? Ask for references that have faced challenges — the overwhelmingly glowing reference is not always helpful.
- Who will manage your account on a day-to-day basis?
- Who oversees making sure that your goals are consistently met?
- Does the agency truly have the resources to execute your program?
- How often will the agency review progress vs. goals?
- How will the agency measure its performance?
- How well does the agency understand your business?
Now, consider your business needs and outline any specific criteria you have for your vendor for this project.
3. Evaluate Whether to Use a Request for Proposal and If So, Create One
A Request for Proposal, or RFP, is a document that outlines requirements for a project and asks bidders to respond to questions and supply a bid in a standard format.
RFPs are helpful for projects that have intangible work products, such as website development services, for projects that have extremely specific criteria used to evaluate vendors, and for projects that require evaluating numerous bidders.
A typical RFP includes the project overview, specific project-related questions that gauge how well vendors understand the project requirements, needed project deliverables, due date, and project timing. It asks vendors for pricing and allows them to supply any other comments about how they would manage specific aspects of the project.
Decide When to Use an RFP
A Request for Proposal, or RFP, is a document that outlines your requirements for a project and asks bidders to 1) respond to questions and 2) supply a bid in a standard format.
When should you use an RFP instead of having bidders send bids in their own format?
|Scenarios for an RFP|
|When your project has intangible work products, such as website development or services|
|When you have specific criteria, you will use to evaluate vendors|
|When you will be evaluating bidders based on few select criteria|
Is an RFP right for your project?
Create RFP Template
It is important to ask the right questions in the RFP so that vendors understand the project, the services you need and how their proposals will be evaluated.
Share as much information to potential vendors as possible during the bidding process. Let them know:
- Your needs in detail
- Your desired results
- The reporting methods needed
- The penalties for not meeting those results
- Your timeline
- Desired payment terms, if applicable
- Your budget (if appropriate and if it will affect their recommendations on how to supply the solution you need. For example, if you are hiring a design firm to develop a series of mail pieces, you will want to tell them how much you have budgeted for printing & production of those pieces so they will understand what their design limitations may be.)
- Ask bidders to answer specific questions – your “measurement criteria” – so that you have those responses in writing for easy evaluation.
- Ask bidders to respond in your desired format. Many vendors have standard proposal templates that address typical questions, but it can be time-consuming to find the answers you need. Do the same with your pricing sheet – you want to be able to compare prices from different bidders, so ask them to standardize the way they bid.
- Ask for suggestions on alternative or new ways to solve your problem. If it is wildly outside the scope of your RFP, then you may have to start the process over from the beginning. However, if the innovative approach can save you substantial time and money, it may be worthwhile.
To create your RFP, select and answer the questions relevant to your project and send to vendors.
Supply any background information about your company that may help the vendor to supply a better proposal.
Explain the project in as much detail as possible. Include any key dates and requirements.
- What specifically do you want the vendor to provide?
- If you have any specific reporting requirements or metrics that the vendor needs to hit, detail them as well.
- How will you measure success on the program?
- What is most important to you as you evaluate prospective vendors?
In this section, list the questions for your RFP. You will want to receive responses that you can rate according to the above criteria you created. Here are some potential questions to include:
- Please describe how you will implement this program.
- Please describe your company’s experience with programs such as ours.
- How will you ensure that our quality goals are met?
- How will you manage this program?
- Please supply references for programs similar to ours.
- Why should we select you for the project?
Supply a standard format for the vendor to bid. Tell the vendor how to break out the fees.
List all the key dates that your vendor will need to know.
- Proposals due
- Decision date
- Implementation dates
Be sure to thank the company for bidding.