Proponents of the Request for Proposal (RFP) process argue that it’s the best way to find the right fit; opponents say it’s a waste of money that doesn’t compare apples to apples. At Hanson, we understand why so many clients go this route and we regularly participate in the process. But we’ve also seen the process leave clients and agencies frustrated from time to time. So in a good faith effort to make it more valuable for everyone, here are a few observations from the agency side of the process.

Make your RFP as information-rich as possible.

We like to think that RFP stands for “request for partner.” And as your potential partner, we want to give and receive as much information as is truly helpful to the process.

Agencies have lots of experience researching industries and clients, but we are first of all experts in solutions. So the more information you provide prospective agencies about your products and audiences and who you consider your top competitors, the more quickly we will be able to assess the needs of your audiences within the competitive landscape.

This is especially important if you’ve given us a quick deadline. Because every agency will tell you that good thinking takes time, and none of us wants to waste it researching stuff you already know.

And if you already have some related initiatives underway, please disclose that whenever possible so we don’t accidentally bite off what someone else is already chewing. We respect that you may have other partners already and we have every intention of playing nice with them while we help you solve the specific problem at hand.

Present the business problem, not the solution.

Are you launching a new product line? Folding in an acquired brand? Updating your website to keep up with your competitors? Instead of telling prospective agencies you want an app that does X, identify your objective and invite all of us to present our smartest strategy for making that happen. This kind of thinking is an agency’s bread and butter, and none of your prospective partners would be here today if we didn’t have a team of people that are good at it.

And don’t forget to tell us how you will measure success. A clear statement of “if we accomplish X, we will be successful” sets expectations for all of the responding agencies and helps to ensure that the proposals you receive really are all apples and not a pile of mixed fruit.

Give a hint about your planned budget range.

As your prospective partner, we can deliver a solid solution that makes the most of your budget, or we can dream big and deliver a ground-breaking, industry-leading solution. Which one is your priority?

Without that information, your responding agencies are making assumptions that may turn out to be faulty. If we craft a solution we think matches your planned investment and you reject it because you were looking for shoot-for-the-sky thinking—or vice versa—both the client and the agency loses an opportunity to solve a problem together. On the other hand, a ballpark about what you plan to invest ensures that all of your prospective partners are delivering their best strategic thinking within the parameters you have set.

So put yourself in the shoes of your potential agencies. We promise to do the same for you. Because years of responding to RFPs and building strong client partnerships has taught us that when we’re open with each other from the beginning, we create a real opportunity to build something great—together.