So a client has a website that needs to be built, surely rather than having lots of individual meetings with web designers who’ll go for the hard-sell, they’re better of writing a specification and emailing this to numerous web agencies asking for quotes? Then they can pick the one they want to work with. It sounds like a good idea… unfortunately it’s not as perfect as it seems.
Firstly, let’s switch sector and talk about buying houses. If you want a 3 bedroom semi-detached house with a garage, why not email each estate agent in your area, ask them for their 'best' 3 bedroom semi, and get them to email the details to you?
Well, the estate agents will likely choose the property that they think may be the best, based on your short brief, rather than the property that you think is best. If, for example, you forgot to mention that you have children, the estate agents may provide the best house overall, but in an area that isn’t child-friendly or close to an underperforming school. For you this would mean that their ‘best option’ isn’t acceptable, but of course they weren’t to know.
The end result would be that your inbox would be filled with a handful of random properties that, despite them matching your original brief, may or may not be applicable.
What you should do is sit with an estate agent, let them ask questions based on the range of properties available, and collaboratively arrive at the property that best suits your needs; after all usually you need to compromise somewhere as expectations often exceed budgets!
So why should websites be any different? The issue is that quite often the client writing the tender knows what they think they’re after, and the web agency interprets what they think the client wants, and make compromises or decisions on the client’s behalf. The finished proposal may not necessarily match what the client expected. Yes the client has a portfolio of proposals to choose from, but none of these are likely to be the best that each agency could offer.
Any web agency worth their salt is likely to have the best chance of delivering an optimal solution if they have a chat to their client, and collaboratively arrive at a solution. This way the client can discuss their requirements in detail, and the web agency can use their expertise to ask the correct questions in order to make a decision on which direction to take.
Similarly, in the case of large websites, or when the budget isn’t generous enough, the web agency can determine the importance of each aspect of the functionality and omit those that are expensive but trivial to the client. From our experience tenders often contain a list of all features that would be nice to have, rather than those that are vital.
Then of course comes budget; using another analogy, most car buyers wouldn’t dream of not letting their garage know what they can afford; not because they don’t want to spend it all, but because buyers with a large budget will have different expectations than those with a smaller one. If garage provided an example of a car that was over budget, they are likely to be dismissed, through no fault of their own; even though they may have had a cheaper vehicle fitting the client’s brief perfectly on their forecourt.
The cost-issue is huge in the web industry, with platforms such as WordPress usually being cheaper than bespoke solutions or enterprise-level platforms such as Drupal. Without entering a debate over which platform is best, each of them vary in costs and functionality massively. Agencies like us are platform-independent and therefore for a single project we could propose both a low-cost WordPress/Joomla, and higher-cost custom/Drupal solution. It’s likely that one of these would suit the client and the other wouldn’t, and through a tender this can be little more than guess work.
So with a website tender it’s likely that the web agency will take a ‘shot in the dark’ at what the client wants, costing them quite a fair amount of time. The client will then have a selection of proposals to choose from, none of which are likely to represent what the web agencies would be able to produce if they had more of an opportunity.
Essentially the tender processing is tying the web agencies’ hands, and the end result is everyone loses out. To make matters worse, often the differences between the client’s expectations and end product aren’t apparent until the website is almost built.
So what should happen?
The tender document or specification should be used as a starting point as it allows the web agencies to see whether it’s a project they would like to get involved with.
Following this the web agency and client should meet, or at the very least have an in depth phone conversation to answer any questions that they have for each other. This will enable the web agency to delve deeper in to the client’s requirements, ask probing questions, and hopefully make the client think about what they’re after. Ideally at this stage budgets should be mentioned so that the web agency can tailor their advice accordingly.
This time should also be used to see whether the parties actually like each other. Websites should have a collaborative approach and it’s important that the client and web agency are in sync, it will make the whole process far smoother. It’s possible that there could be a really nice client and a really high-quality web agency that both produce excellent work, but clash on their opinions.
So for any companies thinking of putting projects out to tender, by all means write a specification, and send this to a handful of agencies that you think you could work with, but if you’d like to achieve the best end result, be prepared to meet and talk to the web agencies and start building a relationship. If nothing else, it will indicate to both parties that the other is willing to put in the effort, and get to know people in a personal level.
In essence the tendering document should be a conversation starter, not a full specification that leads to a quote.
We are Webbed Feet, we like working with people.