The Insights Blog

The Prospect-Centric RFI

The Prospect-Centric RFI

Last week we discussed how important it is to write a fantastic RFI if you want to successfully move through a competitive review. We discussed how most clients read the RFI responses and the RFI responses help determine which agencies advance to the coveted finalist list.

Despite the importance of having a well-crafted and compelling RFI response, many Agency RFI responses miss the mark and cost the agencies a chance to move along in a competitive review.

What can an agency do to increase their odds of success at the RFI step?

The Mercer Island Group team has been reading RFI responses for over thirty years. We’ve read thousands of them and have a number of suggestions that can help you increase your odds of success.

The key to writing a great RFI that helps your agency move along in an RFP process is to make the response prospect-centric. Here’s how.

The cover letter needs to focus on the prospect

Most cover notes that we read on agency RFI responses are all about the agency. They typically brag about the agency’s capabilities, skills, and successes. They may touch on related client experience, but they fail to truly differentiate the agency.

A good cover letter focuses on the prospect, their business and their challenge. That focus screams “we’re thinking about your business, Ms. Prospect.”

And, by focusing on the prospect, the cover note immediately differentiates the agency from the rest of the RFI responses whose cover notes predominantly focus on themselves.

Ensure the RFI response has strong wayfinding

Most RFIs request very specific information about the agency.

Make your responses to those specifics easy to find! A table of contents, page numbers, clear headings… it all makes a difference.

Tailor your case studies to the prospect and highlight their relevance

Selecting the right cases is critical. The prospect has specific business challenges to address, and they are looking for a partner that can help them succeed. You’ll want to select cases that showcase how your agency has addressed similar challenges to those faced by the prospect (even better if it is the same industry or industry-adjacent).

Once you have the right cases selected, the next step is to customize their presentation to appear as if they were specifically written for the prospect. And, of course, you’ll want to ensure you follow normal best practices of good case studies (include the business challenge, objectives, analysis, strategy, tactics/solution and results) while telling a good story.

Finally, make sure you highlight right at the outset exactly why the case was chosen and its relevance to the prospect. Spell it out!

Bios should be customized to the prospect

It is difficult to know exactly how you would staff an account at the RFI stage. Clients know this! They also want reassurance that the agency has staff with relevant experience to help solve their problems. They typically want to know that staff at the client have experience in the right industry, with relevant brands or in addressing specific business challenges. Our advice is that you take the few minutes necessary to highlight the relevant experience and talents of the key individuals that may assist with the account. What category experience do they have? Which key brands have they worked on? How many years have they worked in the category? Have they won any category centric awards, or awards while working on prominent and relevant brands?

Help the reader by spelling out how relevant the team members are. This is far more important in an RFI than highlights of the team’s personal lives.

Add some prospect-centric value

It’s an RFI response, so you shouldn’t be solving for the strategic, creative, PR or media challenge of the prospect. However, you can get significant extra credit by adding some insights or analysis of the prospect’s industry or challenges. Have you come across new, relevant second party research? Have you been following trends that impact the prospect? Share the information, explain how it is relevant, and give the prospect a glimpse into what it will be like to work with your agency.

Make the response visually appealing and concise

The client is likely reading 8-10 RFI responses. No one wants to read a 200 page deck or 100 pages of small font text! In fact, while clients read RFIs, they won’t read every page if it is too long or too dense.

Be thorough yet concise. Make your case in as few words as possible.

And make your response visually appealing. You’re an agency. It’s expected.

Try these tips!

Try these tips. We’re confident they will help your RFI responses stand out better in competitive reviews. Let us know what you think!

Lindsay O’Neil, a Director and member of the senior leadership team at Mercer Island Group, has participated in extensive research across all marketing practices including Media, Digital, PR, Advertising, and Social. She has led and participated in numerous agency searches for clients like FreshDirect, Zillow, Barre3, TrueCar, UScellular, Brooks Running and Insulet. One of her key strengths as a consultant is her deep understanding of marketing strategy and agency new business development practices.