Between Christmas and New Year, colleagues and I had the pleasure of combing through 33 responses to a request for proposal we posted through the OJEU (that’s a European procurement framework, if you’ve not yet had the pleasure…)
I’m not being sarcastic: over the course of that week, we saw some incredible proposals and some really interesting ideas from some of Europe’s top digital agencies. But there were some that really stood out. What did they all have in common?
1. Proposal first, creds second
Let’s face it; we’re clients, we like hearing about ourselves. We want to hear your take on our problems: convince us you’re the right folk for the job, then prove it with your creds. Wading through five pages of creds before you’ve even seen an idea is a bit of a turn off.
2. Structure your response around evaluation criteria
Make it easy for us. Don’t make us hunt around. If we’ve stated criteria we’re measuring against, why not structure your proposal around those criteria?
3. Show you’re excited about the brief
We want to work with people who are genuinely passionate about the brief, itching to work with us, and hungry for the opportunity. You can’t fake enthusiasm, but if you want to work with us, explain why!
4. Reframe the brief
We saw a few versions of ‘There’s no point in reiterating the brief’ in the 33 proposals we read. Yes, actually, there is a point in doing that, because it shows us you’ve got under the skin of the brief. We want to see how you’ve unpacked the problem, how you’ve challenged the brief, and re-articulated it. It shows us the quality of your thinking and your confidence in getting to the heart of the issue.
5. Explain YOUR process
There are a few tried and tested models for the design process and proven methodologies for developing and delivering digital products and services: Corey Stern’s CUBI model, Damien Newman’s Squiggle, the Design Council’s Double Diamond (and all kinds of permutations of phases brought to you by the letter D) – they all made an appearance in our 33 proposals. But if you’re going to use a tried and tested process or framework, call it out – don’t imply this is your own approach.
And whatever process you’re using, show how you’re flexing that around our challenges. Don’t give us a generic process – tell us what you will do, in what order, and why it’s the right approach for us and our challenge.
6. Don’t jump on a solution
So you’ve understood the problem, but try to avoid jumping on a solution – even caveating it with ‘this is just an indication of the thinking we’d do’ doesn’t disguise pre-supposing you know the answer. We want to you to unpack the problem and explain how you’re going to go about solving it – not just dive straight into implementing the solution you’ve proposed.
7. Avoid bad cut and paste
So the likelihood is our challenges aren’t specific to us alone. We know you’ve done some amazing work for clients like us. But don’t just include a cut and paste of the case studies we could easily check out on your website: by all means include them, but tell us what they achieved – give us some meaty stats and evidence – and explain why they’re relevant to us.
8. Add some value
I know, I can’t bear the phrase either. But the best proposals we saw were from agencies who showed us they don’t just make nice websites. They demonstrated how they’ve helped others drive genuine business value from the digital solutions they develop, and not just financial value, but happier, more productive staff, or more efficient business processes, for example. Explain where you think the value lies, and where – and how – you might be able to unlock it.
9. Get the right team for the job
We want to understand who from the team will be working on our project – who are they, what role will they have on the project. Most importantly, we’ll be looking at the proportion of staff you’ll be allocating to your project – there will be warning bells if it’s more than half your team, for example. We’re looking for a team that will deliver – one that’s not too top heavy, but with just the right amount of senior involvement.
10. Tell us what you expect from us
We need to make sure we’re ready for you. So tell us what you’re expecting of our in-house team. Explain how you will work to ensure we are able to manage our business as usual alongside a fast-paced project with you. And, better still, tell us how you’ll help us embed skills and gather enough internal momentum to get the project underway and the organisation behind the project.
11. Proofread, proofread, proofread
We were mean. We had set – for reasons I won’t go into here – a horrible deadline just after Christmas. Even if you’re suffering from post-office-Christmas-party hangovers or in an almighty rush, do a spellcheck, learn the difference between its and it’s and, for goodness sake, spell your company name right.
And if you’re wondering which of the 33 got the website refresh gig, more on that soon…