Web developers explain RFP process

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Web site developers say that when potential clients issues a request for proposals for a Web site, it's critical that the developers know as much as possible about the marketers' business models, Internet objectives and abilities to execute.

"We can never get too much information," says Douglas Rice, president-CEO of Interactive8, New York. "It is important to have a clear understanding of the traditional challenges and objectives inherent in a b-to-b site, including their entire marketing brief that outlines the goals and vision for the enterprise. This allows us to develop highly integrated communications and gives us insights into how best to move the business into the e-commerce environment."

Many, if not most, interactive agencies formalize the get-acquainted process with a list of specific questions tied in with a timetable.

For instance, Vivid Studios in San Francisco prefers to have two weeks from the time an online marketer approaches it until the get-acquainted process, says Sarah Cooper, senior VP-business development. She says this timing helps Vivid identify if its workload allows taking on another project.

In this initial contact, Ms. Cooper says, she prefers an e-mail from the potential customer that includes a paragraph summarizing what the company's business is, who it sells to and what it expects from the site.

If she's interested, Ms. Cooper usually will set up a phone call to walk the applicant through the RFP process.

"Then, if they are still qualified, the prospect comes in," she says.

Among questions Ms. Cooper and her colleagues will ask are: What are the business drivers behind the Web site update? Do you want to provide customer service or do e-commerce? What is your audience profile? Who are you trying to appeal to?

At Wiesemorr.interactive, Arlington, Texas, initial RFP questions cover such topics as business expectations and technological and personnel capabilities to help execute and then maintain the site, and the money the potential client is willing to commit to developing or boosting the site.

"The more in-depth the RFP, the more process-dependent our questions," says Bryon Morrison, whose formal title at Wiesemorr.interactive is "right brain."

What an RFP should have

Ian Seymour, director of strategic information planning for Macquarium Intelligent Communications, Atlanta, identified several specifics that the online marketer needs to put in the RFP:

  • Overall goals.

  • Current Web strategy.

  • What other Web, Internet or electronic-business initiative it has undertaken.

  • Expected project time line.

  • Anticipated budget.

  • Current Web site traffic patterns.

  • Technical capabilities of the customer, such as an on-site Web server.

  • Which department(s) will be involved in the project.

  • Level of commitment to keeping the site well-maintained after the initial ramp-up period.

    Some developers need up to three weeks to read and decide on an RFP's merits. Vivid generally needs one to three days, Ms. Cooper says; however, that does not mean her department will drop everything to read it.

    "If they call back the same day [they've submitted the RFP], that's a red flag," she says. "It shows us that they don't understand the structures of an ongoing company."

    Discussing cost

    When it comes to cost, many developers can synchronize the amount a marketer has to spend with the fees it will incur if it hires a shop.

    Nearly all interactive agencies want this information defined in the RFP and decided going in. Most will help applicants with this part of the RFP by discussing beforehand the parameters of the project and the cost.

    Finally, when it comes to time commitment, a lack of execution on the part of the marketer will drive any Web developer nuts, developers say. This can be too few people available to work on the project, unanticipated layers of approval or lack of buy-in from the top of the company.

    "The most important contribution a client can make is to assure us that there is one point of contact for the account manager to communicate with who is empowered to make decisions and move the project forward," Mr. Rice says.

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