What to Ask Vendors Before You Sign on the Line

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Sometimes, participating in an RFP process is like eavesdropping on an awkward first date. You can tell everybody is trying to say the right thing, but nobody really understands what the other person is talking about.

Here are a few questions to incorporate into your conversations with vendors, so you can better understand what you’re buying before you sign a contract:

What reports and analytics will I receive? 
Web analytics are easy to measure. But you also need to keep track of intangibles, like the success of your PR efforts. Ask your vendor to break down their proposal into as many specific deliverables as possible. How many interviews should you expect? How many byline articles? Press releases?

Whom will I be working with?
The agency principals may wow you at the pitch meeting—but you won’t be working with them on a day-to-day basis.  Find out which individuals will actually be running your account, and ask to meet them beforehand. Make sure you’re comfortable with even the every level staff of the vendor’s organization.

Will your deliverables have any real connection to my business?
It’s great when your PR firm gets you good coverage. But do they show you how to make it pay off? Do they tell you to put it on your website under “News?” Link to it on Twitter? If your vendor doesn’t explain to you how to translate its efforts into business impact, you’re probably going to view the relationship as a failure.

What’s your business continuity plan?
Just as you have to reassure your clients, your vendors need to put your mind at ease. What happens when there’s turnover, or your account lead leaves the agency? What about power loss, outages, or natural disasters? Especially if you’re talking to a host or social media company, find out how they handle cyber security.

What other fees will I have to pay?
Even if you are paying a flat monthly fee, you still need to be on the lookout for additional expenses. Many agencies charge various overhead expenses, such as a flat fee for copying. Some charge by the minute for phone calls. Find out if your contract permits any increase in your monthly fee, and under what circumstances. Also ask whether you will pay markups on outside contractors, such as designers. You should expect to pay travel expenses, but it’s also reasonable to ask the agency to follow your own internal travel policies.

Negotiating a vendor contract can be confusing. Just remember, it never hurts to ask.