In our world, requests for proposals come in two flavors:
- Tell us how you’ll perform a set of tasks, and how much it will cost.
- Tell us how you’ll solve a problem while staying within a specified budget.
I’m kidding. Every RFP we see is the first flavor. Sometimes RFPs are driven by purchasing requirements, but the rationale behind them is always the same–clients want to accurately compare the costs of competing vendors. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to wring the most out of every buck. Fiscal prudence is a good thing. But we rarely respond to RFPs because we’ve learned that this transactional approach to buying marketing services puts clients at a disadvantage. They get the low price, but they rarely get the best solutions.
There’s a better way. But it requires reframing the discussion to focus on solutions and budgets.
We start with the belief that every project should be the answer to an important question. For example:
How do we introduce a premium product in a marketplace ruled by commodities?
Can we identify, communicate with and convert new types of customers for a well-established service?
How rapidly can we provide prospects with information that addresses objections raised during sales calls?
We’re asking clients how we can solve problems. We’re not asking if a brochure or website needs to have photos of the products or end users. By taking a step back from a set of solutions, we can do several things:
- Focus on the question, and think about possible solutions from customers’ points of view
- Consider the customer journey, and plan a process that sometimes crosses media in order to answer the question
- Place a priority on solutions that are likely to engage customers, or that they will more quickly adopt
Next, we need to talk budget.
We get it. It can be hard to lay your cards on the table and commit to a specific level of spending for a solution that may not yet exist. That’s a bigger leap of faith than agreeing to drop a few thousand for a shiny, four-color brochure. But it’s essential for several reasons:
- Your proposed budget focuses our thinking. We quickly know which resources and solutions are available to you.
- It’s a reality check. At a certain point aspirations and budget have to match. We don’t want to guess whether your spending matches your plans, and you don’t want us giving you false hope.
- It’s a starting point for planning. Some clients don’t know how much it may cost to solve a particular problem, and we want to help. If we know the budget we can provide guidance on how to structure a marketing program, where to focus resources, and how to build internal support for your plans.
Sadly, transactional thinking is the norm, but we don’t stop trying. We’re in the business of helping clients answer tough questions, and that demands looking beyond cranking out collateral or websites. It demands creative solutions that fit clients’ budgets. We’ve tried it both ways. One works. One doesn’t.