Why Website RFPs Don’t Work

grumpy baby

As a digital agency in business since 1996, we’ve had the opportunity to create hundreds of corporate and non-profit websites. We’ve learned plenty along the way and have gotten our process down to a well-oiled machine.

Our process starts with a website blueprint, which allows us to do some initial prep work and hammer out details with the client before we get too far down the road of quoting and designing.

Despite the fact that this process works really really well, we still encounter the dreaded RFP from time to time. Does anyone love RFPs? I didn’t think so. Yet they continue to be the norm for organizations looking for a starting point when they need a website project executed.

Here’s a secret: Website RFPs don’t work. They are not good for the client and they are not good for the agency.

Here’s a story that illustrates what I’m talking about. An organization recently came to us looking for help with their website. They had an RFP put together than outlined a standard set of features, some unique requests, and the usual wish list items (including the good old standard: “we want our new website to be easy to navigate”).

So far, so good. However, we explained that our process starts with a website blueprint, which is designed to give us a little bit of consulting, planning, and site mapping time before we commit to a price. They agreed to temporarily put the RFP to the side and start with a blueprint and we got things kicked off.

During our first blueprint meeting, we dug into some specific goals, asked questions, and discussed marketing scenarios. During our discussion, it became clear that some of the items in the RFP were no longer necessary once we answered some of their questions and offered our advice based on years of experience.

We also uncovered some new considerations not even included in the RFP. Our client was extremely pleased that we were able to “optimize” their requirements and make sure we were all on the same page regarding what the plan was.

Additionally, we ended up saving the client money. Had we quoted a price based on the RFP, we would have based it on requirements that were not actually right for the organization. Instead, we consulted with them to provide alternatives that were both a better fit and more cost-effective.

We see this scenario over and over, which is why we are so committed to the blueprint process and why we don’t believe in website RFPs.

Here is the fundamental problem with RFPs – they are written by the organization requesting help, yet they try to preemptively predict the right solutions. How do you know you need a product configuration wizard? Are you sure you want to include a members-only area? Why did you choose this feature over that feature? It’s the equivalent of going to the doctor to get a diagnosis and treatment, but asking for specific medication before you even visit his office.

So if you are planning a new website project, please try to break the RFP habit. Start with conversations and planning with your agency (or potential agency) and take a more agile approach to your website project. Most of the time you will find that you’ll get a better outcome and you might even save some money!


  1. 1

    I disagree. RFPs aren’t just a terrible idea for websites, they are a terrible idea for any project.

    The reasons are those you mentioned above. But here’s the most essential reasons why RFPs don’t work: they assume the client has already done all of the innovation.

    If you can innovate without help, then what does that say about your viewpoint on the help you think you need?

  2. 3

    I’ll provide a proposal based off an RFP for a website, but it’s going to require a far bigger investment by the client since we’d much rather have an ongoing relationship than project work.

  3. 4
  4. 5

    Well said. This is true for websites…and every other product or service that is not an absolute commodity. RFPs attempt to quantify things (so we can compare them in a spreadsheet) that defy quantification. Unless you’re asking for quotes on, say, a railroad car of iron ore pellets (and maybe not even then!), you need to identify providers you trust and allow them to become advisors to the process. Otherwise, the result is one that “looks good on paper,” but which does not work well in the real world.

  5. 7

    The conclusion: Most of the Clients doesn´t really know what they want, but most of all they don´t know what they need…… eternal evangelization from agencies…..

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