How to conduct a tender process and create a website brief


Finding the right agency to work with on your website project can be time consuming and stressful but given the right preparation and planning it doesn’t have to be.

Quba has been established for over 18 years so we've been involved in thousands of digital pitches and tenders, both small and large. We understand how to create a tender process that will ensure you appoint the best possible digital partner to deliver your project. 

Have a clear plan 

Plan out your process from start to finish. You should clearly set out the structure of the tender process, including the timeline and criteria against which the tenders are judged. It may be beneficial to create a scoring matrix as it’s always good practice to ensure a consistent and fair scoring method is in place throughout this process.  

Provide those tendering with as much background information as possible as this will result in better quality submissions that are easier for you and your team to compare. A typical brief may cover the following areas: 

  • An introduction / background to your organisation 
  • An overview of what you want to achieve   
  • Goals and objectives 
  • Background to your existing website likes / dislikes  

Outline your requirements in terms of:  

Design, look and feel, brand, UX expectations, structure and navigation, target users, content requirements, technical specification in terms of web applications and databases, integration points, future functionality that may need to be considered in a phase 2, hosting and support. 

  • Project budget 
  • Tender criteria how the submissions will be assessed   
  •  Project timeline 
  • Time and date deadline for submissions 
  • Contacts responsible for the tender process 

Putting together your team 

Selecting the right people for your team to evaluate the website briefs and attend the pitch will depend on your company is structure and your key decision makers. Typically, the team will be made up from representatives of different departments. Your team leader will depend on your organisation, but in most cases its likely to be the marketing director or head of digital.  

It's important to get buy in from all the stakeholders in the organisation, including representatives from the technical / IT department and finance makes sense. It's also important to involve members of the team who are likely to be in day to day contact with the agency, such as the project manager or website manager to ensure that they have ownership and thus responsibility.  

Set a budget  

It may sound obvious, but it’s important to know budget allocation from the outset. You need to consider all aspects of the project not just the design and build. 

These could include: 

  • Hosting fees 
  • Content Management System (CMS) software licenses  
  • Third party licenses, for example SSL for ecommerce websites  
  • Ongoing maintenance 

Being transparent with your budget is the best approach. This way you can compare tenders arcuately (it's impossible to compare an agency charging £5,000 and an agency charging £80,000). Furthermore, it gets the relationship off on the right footing with your agency. 

If you are unsure as to what the likely costs are, then either set a range or set a budget around your mid-point and ask the agencies to tell you what they can deliver for this amount.  

Let’s get technical! 

Well not exactly, but you should consider the platform that the website is built on. Chances are that you may already have narrowed down your choice to either an open source CMS or a Microsoft based.Net CMS, such as Umbaco, Kentico and Sitecore. 

Whilst you may not have a clear view of exactly which system is right for your organisation, at this stage it's advisable to have done your homework on your required features, the scale and the complexity of your website. For an entry level website, a CMS such as Umbraco can meet the needs of most clients. If you require more demanding requirements such as complex marketing capabilities and multiple integrations, then Kenitco or Sitecore are going to offer the enterprise features that suit the needs of ambitious medium to larger sized organisations. 

Decide how you wish to tender 

Is your tender going to be open or will you decide to shortlist the agencies? The latter option is likely to be more manageable. A public-sector organisation must go through an open tender process, open tenderers usually ask for an RFP (Request For Proposal) as a means of filtering out agencies that are either not suitable or capable. 

When it comes to inviting agencies to tender, it's vital to do your homework first. By looking at their case studies you should gain insight into their capabilities such as the scale of projects or sector experience. Looking at their blog and social media channels will give you a feel for the agencies personality and whether it's a good fit with your organisation. 

How to build a long list of agencies  

Start by assembling a list of companies that potentially fit the bill. For example, if you have one or two Content Management Systems (CMS) in mind then this can be a great starting place. Look at the CMS partner pages and build up a list this way. 

How many agencies you decide to include in this list is entirely up to you, but you should aim to assess the agencies using a clear set of criteria such as size, location, similar clients, technical capability, culture and personality.  

Once you've assembled your long list you should aim to reduce this down by producing a standard set of qualification criteria, with which you can narrow down to approach. These questions will depend on your own specific requirements but are likely to cover areas such as financials, the team, expertise in your business sector etc. 

Now you have a long list you can issue your RFP 

At this point, you need to allow for potential questions. Be prepared to set time aside to respond to these questions. If necessary, set out how the questioning process will be handled. Will you have full disclosure on any questions asked? Be clear about what information you will/won't disclose. This must be the same for all tenderers otherwise the process will be unbalanced. 

The purpose of this stage to identify the most suitable agencies to approach to submit a proposal. 

The proposal stage 

This stage is where you send out your full brief or requirements and request proposals from your agency shortlist, typically around four to six. Decide on a structure and include some open-ended questions, allowing you to assess their ability to add value. It's advisable to include a word limit on the responses, you don't want to be reading through six versions of War and Peace! 

There isn't a need to specify a meeting within this document but most agencies worth their salt will want to meet at this point. This is a good way to identify those agencies willing to put in the effort in to get to know you and your requirements in more detail.  

As well as addressing questions about the project, you should ask about how the project will be managed, profiles of the team members involved along with other relevant background information.  

Once all of the proposals have been gathered then it's time to start assessing them. It's important to take a methodical approach at this stage applying the scoring matrix methodology and making notes until a further final shortlist is made.  

Should you ask for designs? 

Most experienced agencies will be cautious of submitting designs without sufficient insight. Unless you can provide an extremely detailed creative brief you are unlikely to get anything meaningful. This means that powerful design comes from in-depth requirements gathering, generally after the chosen agencies initial scoping meeting. 

In addition, a visual communication is likely something your team will all have a strong opinion on. The risk is that a strong tender response is overlooked because the members of the team assessing it are swayed by impressive visuals by an agency that's possibly weak in other areas. 

Asking the agency to explain how they would approach a design challenge using examples of their work would be a better approach. Or perhaps presenting a UX based concept, explaining how they might tackle the actual design. This is often an effective method allowing you to assess their creative approach at the pitch stage.  

Other considerations 

What level of support is available? Does the agency offer 24/7 support? These are important questions to ask at the tender stage as delivering the website is only the first part of what is likely to be a long relationship with your selected agency. 

For example, at Quba offer all of our clients a support package called Quba Care. This comes with a host of benefits including a dedicated account manager, guaranteed response times and a priority for any new development work. Your website is likely to constantly evolve and develop so the relationship with your agency is going to be of paramount importance, so make sure they have a well-defined support package.  

Another consideration is to take references from some of the agency’s clients. This doesn’t have to be a lengthy process; 2-3 clients should be enough to give you an insight into how the agency is viewed from a none bias point of view. 

The pitch  

You should now have filtered down your shortlist to around 3-4 agencies to pitch. 

You will want to tailor the pitch process to your own requirements. In most cases, the aim should be to gain a better understanding of what the agency is proposing. A reputable agency will have plenty of ideas about how they can approach the project, demonstrating their creative thinking.  

You could ask them to simply present their proposal. Or set a specific task relating to the project to see how they might approach a particular challenge. Alternatively, if you have some research then ask them to consider how this information might impact on their approach to the project. The response might allow for the presentation of ideas, concepts, wireframes, anything to illustrate how they tackle projects.  

An important aspect of the pitch is to meet the team and get a feel for the chemistry. Typically a new business manager or company director will attend however, it can be useful to ask that the project manager or account manager to attend the pitch as they will normally deliver the project and be your day to day agency contact. 

When it comes to the pitch itself, clearly set out the time allowed and allocate each agency their time slot. If necessary, describe how the pitch should run and what they should or must cover. Let the agency know the names and job roles of your team attending the pitch. This will help them establish who should be attending from the agency. 

During the pitch things to observe: 

  • How well have they done their research? 
  • How well do they understand you, your company and your sector? 
  • How well do they set out their high-level thinking in terms of how they have approached the brief? 
  • Check how many from the agency will actually be working on the project 
  • Have a fixed set of questions to ask each agency but also additional questions specific to their pitch that you should look out for. 
  • Does the agency ask insightful questions? 

Summary 

To get the best out of a tender process requires careful planning and preparation. A well-documented process with a means of assessing the quality of responses, that is not based on gut instinct is key to making the right decision. 

The relationship with your agency is going to be a long-term one, so investing time now is going to pay dividends in the future.

26 Jun

2018
Matt Jones
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Estimated read time:
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