Learning From RFP Responses That Don’t Make the Cut

Does your ad agency’s new business team learn something every time an RFP submission doesn’t get you to the next round? Is every RFP better than the one before? Some rejection letters provide insightful feedback that an agency can use to improve future RFP responses and make it to the finals more often.

Here’s the second sentence of a rejection letter that I recently read: “Reading through the submitted RFPs compelled our team to hold significant internal conversations surrounding the importance and priority of agency capabilities.”

You might read this and conclude that the client’s marketing team was relatively inexperienced with the agency selection process, and you’d be correct (the letter came from a client with a large budget that selected an agency using the Marketing Mine platform). At the same time, if you were the agency president, you should feel proud that you took their conversation to a higher level.

In the second paragraph, the SVP Marketing details how they selected the agency finalists. He begins by saying that it was a quantitative-based decision process, so you know they assigned a numerical score to each RFP in the following categories:

  • Brand strategy
  • CPG experience demonstrated by client list
  • Case studies
  • Processes
  • Proposed strategies
  • Experience of the agency team
  • References
  • Office locations
  • Scope of capabilities

He then praises the agency for the areas where they shined. Finally, he points out two significant areas where they fell short:

  1. “Client base not quite as relevant to our needs as other agencies.” In other words, this agency did not have significant enough CPG experience.
  2. Strategies proposed…were not pulled through to the solve in a linear fashion.” Wow, that’s a nugget! 

If you were the agency president, this would be a tremendous opportunity to bring your new business team together to do an RFP debrief. First, to dissect the strategy you proposed to this client: map it out step-by-step to see if it really hung together. The key is to figure out where it fell short.

And then, as a way to forever improve future RFP responses, create a process or check-list to ensure that each future strategy flows from beginning to end. When you propose a strategy it needs to be easy for the client’s senior marketing team to follow – and quickly conclude that it will solve their marketing problem.

Three cheers to this client for taking the time to provide such insightful feedback. And, hats-off to the agency(s) that use rejection letters to improve future RFP responses.


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