How To Write a Request For Proposal (RFP)

Our ultimate step-by-step guide - steering you through the difficult process of writing an RFP.

As a Digital Agency who has worked with some of the largest brands in the UK, we experienced an number of RFPs from both sides of the fence. Writing an RFP can be a tricky and time consuming process, so we created this guide to help you breeze through this process.

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So You Need To Write An RFP?

Starting a new eCommerce project can require a lot of investment in both time and resource to ensure the project is a success. Finding the right partners to work with on your new project is a crucial first step in setting your project up for success.

A well thought-out and well written Request For Proposal (RFP) document should give prospective bidders enough information about your business, your background, your current achievements and your future expectations to allow them to assess if they are a good fit for your business and future project.

An RFP allows you to assess those who respond and judge their suitability of working with you. A single RFP that is provided to a select handful of partners adds an additional layer of robustness to your selection process which you can base your final selection upon.

Step-By-Step Stages Of An Effective RFP

We have outlined the most common sections from the best RFP documents that we have worked with over the years. Following these stages should give your eCommerce project the best possible start and allow you to select your next digital agency to partner with.

RFP Template:

1. Who are you
2. What Is The Project
3. Current Position
4. External Considerations
5. Measures of Success
6. Visual Examples
7. Internal Team Analysis
8. Time Frames
9. Budgets
10. Ways of Working
11. Future Support or Projects
12. Next Steps
13. Signature & Agreement to Pitch

1. Who Are You

This step sounds obvious but is often overlooked. Giving detailed information about you, your project name, your business history, contact information and other project stakeholders is the best start to any RFP as it outlines clearly who is working on the project.

Project Name =
Project Lead = Bugs Bunny - Head of eCommerce
Contact Phone = 0208 XXX XXX
Contact Email = [email protected]

Background - Discount Carrots was founded in 1921 by Mr Disney and since then has grown to be the premium online retailer of carrots. We currently operate online and through a single retail outlet located in Never Never Land. We employ a team of 12 characters who manage online orders, warehousing, marketing and more.

Stakeholders - This project will involve other members of our team which are:
• Donald Duck - Head of Marketing
• Betty Boop - Head of Warehousing
• Yogi Bear - Head of IT

2. What Is The Project?

Starting with a clear and concise project statement is the best first step to letting people know what your challenges are. Try and keep this section as direct as possible with clear goals and measures of success. Ideally, this part of your proposal should be no longer than a single page and never longer than two pages.

It is important in this section that you do not include too many statements on solutions or ways of working as this can be off-putting to forward thinking agencies and stifle creative solutions. A good format for a project statement is to include a start (the current problem) and the end (the desired goal) but exclude the middle of how you think you might get there. Taking this approach allows you to set the background and objectives but leaves your prospective agencies to propose their best solutions to achieve your goals.

3. Current Position

Outlining your current position and providing supporting evidence is a key step to setting the tone of your existing business and why you feel a new project can build on this current position. Your current position section could include some key metrics of your existing website and why you feel these can be improved.

Try to keep this section of your RFP as data driven and factual as you can as this offers prospective agencies the opportunity to really understand your current business and assess where they feel they could add the most value in this project.

Common stats to include could be:

• Monthly Unique Visitors

• Monthly Bounce Rate

• Number of Products

• Monthly Sales Volume

• Average Basket Size

• Average Order Value

• Other stats you measure that are important to your business

Some retailers may have concerns over openly sharing this type of information with external agencies. If you feel the need to, ask your prospective bidders to sign a mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before providing your RFP.

4. External Considerations

Part of your RFP should be dedicated to giving an overview of any external factors that should be considered or impact your project. Examples of these types of considerations could be other agencies that you work closely with such as SEO agencies but also systems that your business relies upon.

Examples of systems that could be included in this section would be:

• Email Providers - eg MailChimp / Dotmailer

• CRM Systems - eg Salesforce / Insightly

• Warehouse Systems - eg Microsoft Navision / Dynamics / NetSuite

• Sales Channel Systems - eg BrightPearl / Channel Advisor

• ePos Systems - eg CyberTill

• Industry Specific Systems - eg Eurostop

• + Others

Providing a brief summary of external agencies and systems you currently work with or plan to work with as part of your new project, allows your prospective bidders to evaluate and consider these relationships and systems and how they will impact your project.

For any agencies or systems that are particularly important to your project it may also be worthwhile providing contact information for your account manager or main point of contact at your external provider.

5. Measures of Success

This section is a very important part of your RFP and careful thought should be given to the goals you outline here. Using information from the previous section - current position - should allow you to set realistic objectives for the project.

RFP’s that have clear and focussed measures of success will give confidence to prospecting agencies that your expectations are realistic and achievable. Conversely, goals that seem too broad or unrealistic are likely to warn off experienced and professional agencies from pitching for your project.

Try picking three key metrics by which you will measure your projects success. A question to ask yourself and your team might be:

“Six months after launch, I would consider this project a success if….?”

Some examples of measures of success that you could include might be:

• Our current conversion rate is 1.8%, we are aiming to grow this above 2.3% with this project
• Our current abandoned basket rate is 80%, we are aiming to lower this to below 70% with this project
• Our average order value is currently £65, we are aiming to increase this to £75 with this project

6. Visual Examples

A picture speaks a thousand words so including them in your RFP can be an effective way of communicating your thoughts.

Supplying screenshots of website designs or layouts that you like, and importantly don’t like, is often the most useful way to give prospective agencies a clear view of what is it you are looking for.

As well as being used for design thoughts, pictures can be used to communicate functionality, problems or statistics you want to share about your project. If you have seen functionality on another website of either a competitor or another site, including a screenshot and link can be a great way for bidders to understand the functionality you might be trying to add to your site or the data you are working with.

7. Internal Team Analysis

This part of the proposal is an opportunity to reflect on your companies strengths and weaknesses and how this might affect your project and its management.

If you have never run an eCommerce store before or if you were previously an eCommerce manager for a multi-million pound website, including this information can be highly useful and considered when solutions are being presented to you.

If you and your team have strengths in design and branding but not so much in technicalities and fulfilment, sharing this honest evaluation allows responding agencies to know where they are most likely going to need to support you. Similarly, if you have an in-house IT team and are happy with code versioning and deployment infrastructures but lack in areas of design and retail conversion rate optimisations, communicating this in the proposal will be of great use.

As well as highlighting your teams strengths and weaknesses, this part of your RFP starts to build an open and honest relationship with your prospective partner. Being clear in the early stages of areas you need additional support in is ultimately what you are looking for and also where the winning agency can add the most value to your business.

8. Time Frames

Setting time frames for your project allows you to focus on delivering a completed project but also allows prospecting agencies to understand if they can deliver within this time. Beware the agency that can start tomorrow!

Having a launch date for your project is a minimum starting point and generally your RFP should be sent out six months ahead of this date. It is also helpful within this part of your RFP to include some additional dates to let prospective agencies know when you expect information and/or meetings by and the timeline you are working to for this project.

Some examples of deadlines you could look to include in your RFP might be:

• Project Awarded Date

- When will you make a decision and award this project by?

• Final Proposal Deadline

- The date which you want to receive all final proposals

- Usually two weeks prior to you project awarded date.

• Final Shortlist Date

- The date by which you will invite your final agencies to submit proposals

- Usually three to four weeks prior to the final proposal deadline.

• Agency Meetings

- A period of time, usually a two week period, which you will arrange to see a number of

prospective agencies.

- Usually two weeks prior to final shortlist date.

If you follow the above timeline it gives you a 6 - 8 week period of time with various deadlines between first contact and awarding your project and indicates to prospective bidders that you are committed to progressing this project but also setting your expectations of how you like to work.

By setting timelines early on in the process you are leading by example with how you like to work and what you expect when project work is to be delivered back to you.

9. Budgets

Discussing budgets this early on is a vital part of the process as it allows both parties to understand what the projects expectations are but more importantly if they align. An RFP that outlines a lot of bespoke design and development with complex integrations into third party external systems and then establishes a budget of less than £5,000 will need to be rethought as opposed to an RFP that might have a more realistic budget established in the RFP.

A common phrase that is used when requesting quotes for project is: “I don’t have any idea how much this will cost” or words to that effect. Whilst this may be true you are much more likely to know how much you would like to spend and so sharing this information early on can help progress your project.

Rather than including a specific figure in your RFP we would advise to include a range of +/- 10%. If you expect to spend £50,000 on a project, including a statement such as:

“I would envisage a project of this nature to fall within the £45,000 - £55,000 bracket….”

Is a great starting point for conversation.

A well written RFP should allow a practised and experienced agency to, at the very least, give you a ballpark figure on what your project might cost. If it aligns with your already stated expectations then this allows your project to quickly progress through to more detailed conversations around requirements and budgets.

Alongside an anticipated budget for your project, outlining how you would like to see any future proposal is also a key part to your RFP. If you would like to see all activities broken down into individual tasks and how much they each cost, including that here is the right time. If you are initially looking for a final figure again, mentioning that within this section is the right time to do so.

Finally, within your budget section it is worth giving thought to how you plan to pay for your project and the payment terms you feel most comfortable with. The majority of digital projects follow a 50% upfront deposit followed by future milestone payments of varying amounts.

If you have any specific requirements of payment terms, including them early on can allow for an open discussion around your requests.

10. Ways of Working

Who ever you choose to work with on your next project project will likely have a preferred way of working. This section of your RFP is an opportunity for you to outline how you would like to work and any specific requirements you need an agency to follow in order to work with you.

Regular calls and meetings is good practise and establishing this expectation early on in your project sets all parties expectations. If there are specific days of the week you are not contactable or if you work in different time zones or have any annual leave due throughout the project highlighting these within this part of your RFP would be the appropriate section to do so.

As an example, on an eCommerce build or support project at Space Between we would offer you weekly calls with a dedicated account manager with monthly remote meetings to demonstrate project progress with 8 weekly face to face meetings throughout your project and support.

11. Future Support or Projects

Indicating the type of relationship you are looking for with your project is an important part of your RFP. If your project is to be considered as single one-off piece of work then highlighting that within your RFP allows your prospective bidders to pitch and plan accordingly.

If following a project you are looking for on-going support then mentioning that within this section will allow your bidders to factor this into their considerations and if appropriate, provide you with additional information surrounding any ongoing costs or ways of working.

If it’s a larger project, you may consider breaking it down into smaller phased projects. If this is the case highlighting how many phases you envisage there being to your project and when you expect them to be carried out is important to include within this section.

Whilst future projects and support might not be the main focus for this RFP or project, having a clear understanding of future plans and projects will allow your prospecting agencies to offer solutions in development and design that may benefit or support your future plans.

12. Next Steps

Closely tied to your above time frames section, this section should be used to indicated what you are expecting invited agencies to do next. Would you like to arrange an introductory call, would you like them to review your current site and offer your some points for discussion, would you like to arrange a face to face meeting?

Sending out an RFP with clearly outlined next steps again allows you to control your proposal process and set your expectations of what you would like to happen next.

13. Signature & Agreement to Pitch

Once you're happy with your RFP & that it contains all the relevant information surrounding your project you should include a brief summary and a signature section where those signing are agreeing to pitch for your project.

It is likely that your RFP document will go through many amendments so having a signed and dated copy can help keep all parties working from the latest approved version.

That’s it!

Every project is unique, but this guide to creating an RFP for eCommerce projects should give you the key elements and a structure for crafting a document that presents your project to potential bidders effectively and professionally.

Tendering for an eCommerce project and exploring potential agencies? Get in touch with us and arrange a free consultation.