We get a handful of RFPs (request for proposal) each and every week, We actually call them “Request Free Quotes” (RFQs) as they typically come from potential customers submitting a form from our site. Receiving several RFQs each week not only requires a significant amount of time to respond to them in a timely manner, but requires a strategic follow-up plan to ensure that we give ourselves the best opportunity to secure the new business. I thought I’d write up a post on how we initially respond to them and our process of follow-up.
The Request Quote Form
First of all the form itself must be able to collect enough information in order for us to get a good idea of what the submitter is looking for. The typical information is collected including name, company, address, email, URL, etc. We then break the form down into three areas of interest: Organic Search Marketing (SEO), Paid Search Marketing (PPC, PFI) and then a third section that deals with Directory Submissions, Link Popularity Building & Online Press Releases. There is an additional place for the submitter to disclose information about their budget, their target audience and to add any additional comments that might help us to put together a quote. I feel the form allows us to collect all the information we need initially but is not too exhaustive or cumbersome for the submitter to fill out.
Initial Site Evaluation and Reaction
Once I get these (I complete all proposals), my first action is to look at their site. In doing this I want to evaluate the following:
- The size of the company and/or project.
- The attractiveness of their brand as a portfolio client (i.e. Thomasville Furniture vs. Joe’s Furniture Store in Phoenix).
- Their industry – do they qualify for us to take them on meaning are they one of the types of sites that we do not work with (i.e. porn, gambling, affiliate, etc.) or will they directly compete with an existing client?
- The site itself – is it a new site, are there problems with its structure or design, what kind of content does it have, etc.
The initial evaluation of the site determines my initial reaction. For example if it looks to be a very large project and/or an attractive brand, I may drop everything I’m doing and try to respond to it as soon as possible. I may even make a phone call either before responding by email or immediately after, either to establish a personal contact or to clarify issues. If it is a smaller project and/or brand that is not that well know, I will make a best effort to get to it that day but will not necessarily drop everything to get to it right then and there. I will make a very best effort to respond within 24 hours or less, more often less. I do feel that they deserve a quick response because they are most likely shopping other companies as well as the fact that when they submit a proposal, they are in a mental state of openness.
If it is determined that the site would be in direct competition with existing clients and we do not wish to take it on, I send them the following:
Thank you for considering SearchRank for your search marketing project.
However because we already have clients that are similar to your business model, we are going to have to pass on your project. We only take on one, maybe two clients per industry so as not to compete against ourselves.
Thanks again for contacting us and I wish you the best success on the web.
If the site doesn’t qualify because their industry is of the type we do not wish to work with, I send them this message:
Thank you for your interest in SearchRank.
However, we will not be able to provide you SEO/SEM services for one or more of the following reasons:
Per company policy, we cannot promote the following types of web sites …
1. Competitors offering the same services we do.
2. Freely hosted sites such as GeoCities, Angelfire, etc.
3. Personal home pages.
4. Multi-level marketing and/or affiliate program sites.
5. URLs that are part of another main domain.
6. Sites containing pornography, nudity or dealing with gambling. <<<
7. Sites with racist, anti-government, anti-religious and/or illegal content.
I use an arrow to point to the reason which in the example above have marked reason # 6. The message is also less personable and I do not include my personal email address so as to not set myself up to be spammed to death (yes it has happened in the past).
Putting Together Proposal and Sending a Response
In actually responding to RFQs, I use a series of templates that have been saved as text files and use the “insert text from file” function. While each proposal does contain some “personal response” I find that by using a series of templates helps me put together a proposal in the shortest amount of time. I use a master template which serves for the entire proposal and then inserts where appropriate. For example, I have an insert for SEO for a static site and one for a dynamic. I have inserts for PPC, Yahoo!’s paid inclusion, Business.com, link building, etc. I even have a template for dynamic sites that inquires as to how they function and what limitations we might encounter that I send before putting together an actual proposal.
There is a section called “Comments Regarding Your Project” in which I can add a personal touch. I might ask for further information, suggest additional services or even explain why we would be the best choice for the project. Of course the template areas would be unique with pricing and numbers specific to the project itself.
Using a combination of templates as well as the personal touch helps me to put together a proposal as quickly as possible and yet one that is very specific to the project itself.
The Follow Up Process
After sending a response to their request for proposal, if I do not hear anything back from them within 2-3 days, I send a follow-up email that reads like this:
I am following up to make sure you received this proposal and to see if you had any questions? Are you ready to move forward or are you still deciding upon pricing and/or your choice of SEO/SEM vendors?
I look forward to hearing back from you at your earliest convenience.
If I do not get a response within a week, I send the same message a second time but will mark the message as “urgent.” This usually gets a response if not the first one. If another week or two goes by after the second follow-up and I still have not heard anything from them, I will send this message:
I never heard back from you after my initial response to your request for proposal even after two follow-up emails, so I’m going to assume that you either chose another SEM vendor or have put the project on hold and therefore close this one out. I thank you for the opportunity to bid on your project and wish you the best success now and in the future.
If you are still interested in our services and are simply still in the decision making process, please shoot me a quick email and I will happily keep your information on file for another month.
I didn’t start using the third message until this year and it works beautifully. Most often I still do not hear back from them at this stage but at least I can close it out while sending them a message that not only thanks them for the opportunity to bid on their project and wishes them success in their future ventures. It also gives them the opportunity to keep their proposal alive by responding of which some do. In fact, we have even landed a few projects using this message. They responded when I was ready to kill it.
There are times that after I send a proposal via email, I will follow-up with a phone call. Those instances are rare however as most often everything is done by email.
Keeping Track of the Proposal Process
Some people might use sophisticated contact management software of even proprietary software that helps them keep track of the proposal process. I use Outlook Express. In fact I use Outlook Express to track everything – proposals, current projects, travel plans, even online purchase. It is like a virtual inbox/outbox for me.
For proposals I create a master folder entitled “Hot Prospects.” Within that folder are five sub-folders:
- Hot – really active leads where it is very likely we will land the project but are in the process of ironing out the details.
- Leads – general leads
- Partners – agency partnership leads
- Processing – projects that are awaiting a retuned contract
- Shelved – proposals that are no longer active, kept 3 months before deleting
Within these five folders, a folder is made fro each company and/project. So the structure would look like this:
Local Folders / Hot Prospects / Leads / Company Name
When we actually land a new project, the specific company folder I was using to keep track of the proposal process gets moved into a “Current Projects” folder. In this manner I still have all the prior communication, some of which may be helpful as we are crafting a search marketing strategy.
There you have it. It’s certainly not rocket science but is a method to the madness. When you are dealing with dozens of proposals at any given time, that are in all kinds of various stages, it helps to have a system for not only dealing with them initially but in following them through to the very end.