The RFP (request for proposal) process is undoubtedly frustrating. Parties enter in with mismatched expectations. They end up talking on two different levels. And sometimes, companies walk away empty handed without a partner to help them tackle their project.

As someone who has been on both sides of the table in this situation, I get it.

If you’re gearing up for a new marketing campaign and need to partner with an agency, where do you start? An RFP isn’t a bad idea– if you’re willing to put in the work to get it right.

To help make sure that everyone finds the right partner agency, we’ve created a guide for handling RFPs like pro. If you need a place to start, these seven must-haves will get you on the right track to writing a thoughtful and complete RFP.

Outline Your Business Opportunities

You know your business better than anyone. You know where you stand amongst your competition as well as your unique selling position, so make sure to convey this to your prospective partners. There is only so much agencies can research during the proposal window. If you, instead, provide these details, they can take your insight and use that time to create something special.

Does your university teach and mentor the highest number of Associates degree students in the state? The right marketing agency will highlight this strength with custom campaigns such as an influencer marketing campaign targeting prospective students who are looking for success on a less traditional education path.

Clearly State Your Business Goals

This may come as a shock, but more traffic or sales isn’t a helpful benchmark. Instead, define what those new sales look like to your business. Are you looking to capture a greater market share in a specific region, industry, or consumer demographic? Do you want to be well positioned for a lucrative buy-out within the next ten years? This information provides a deeper look into your overall business goals, not just those specific to individual campaigns.

Identify the Scope of Your Project

If you want a detailed understanding of each agency’s capabilities, now’s your chance! Get very specific about what services you are looking for so that only the agencies that are a good fit respond. Do you want to enhance your social media presence with paid ads? Do you wish to continue a hybrid marketing model with a balance between traditional and digital marketing?

Go a step further and break your goals and milestones into phases so that potential agencies can provide you specific strategies surrounding budgeting, timelines, and other resources.

Keep It Objective and Make Your Rubric Available

Good RFPs let you know how you will be scored. The best, however, explain how much weight will be applied to each category. For example, in the commercial construction industry, extra weight is often given to one’s experience in a given vertical (healthcare, education, etc.).

This does two things. It lets the agency know what’s important to the client, but it also lets the agency do a gut-check to figure out how well qualified they are for the project. This information helps companies realize when they aren’t positioned to win a bid and may lead them to bow out, narrowing your review to the right agencies.

If you haven’t defined a rubric, let this serve as a sign for you to do so before you release the RFP. The RFP process is designed to be objective, and it’s your responsibility is to ensure it will be.

Be Honest About Your Budget

Contrary to what my brethren may say, I’d argue that the RFP process virtually ensures you will get a competitive price– so long as you follow the above advice. Vendors know that they’re not being evaluated just on their own merits but within the context of their competition.

That being the case, your budget serves to help agencies evaluate their ability to execute on the project and bow out if they can’t. A client that is unwilling to communicate their budget is simply not honoring what the RFP process is designed to provide: objectivity. Objectivity is best achieved through a thorough dissemination of facts and figures, budget included.

Set Expectations with a Detailed Timeline

Timelines are critical, especially if important events like new product launches are driving your go-live dates. Agencies understand that marketing is just one piece of your puzzle, but we need to know how you anticipate us fitting into your larger strategy.

If you outline the parameters surrounding your project, agencies, like with the rubric, will begin to weed themselves out should they be unable to finish the project in time.

Be Available for Questions

When agencies don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, they often play it safe.  It’s hard to pitch a client on a robust PPC strategy when you don’t know if they’ve ever advertised on a certain platform before.

Though details concerning your complete digital presence should be included in your business description, it’s best to let agencies know that you’re available for questions– especially if you’re trying to stretch them for custom solutions. Not only will this help you identify which partners value engagement with their clients (ie: those asking smart questions), but it also prevents you from siphoning through a pile of generic proposal responses at the end of the day.