Much of our work at Thrive comes from building websites and ySites are a large part of our business.
Some of our business comes through the front door compliments of referrals. Our current clients are a great bunch and frequently they will recommend us to other YMCAs. We are currently building another ySite for California in large part because our friends at the YMCA of Superior California said some nice things about us.
Another portion of our ySite business comes from Google searches. We are very proud that on most Google searches for variations of "YMCA Web Sites", Thrive ranks as the number one organic search result! A LOT of competitors try to buy their way in front of us, but none have the ranking power that Thrive enjoys.
Another portion of our business comes from what we call brute force efforts. We prospect for new YMCA clients by sending a postcard to local YMCAs highlighting our abilities. You may have been the recipient of one of these cards.
Then either myself or James Harsh picks up the phone and call some of the key decision makers at the local Y's and follow up with a series of emails, introducing ourselves and our ySite program. And then we call again. And sometimes again.
At some point we make a connection and if a YMCA needs and wants a new website, we come across one of the following two scenarios:
"Great! Can we see a demonstration of your ySite and review the functionality, benefits and options." Absolutely, what does your calendar look like? Let's pick a date and set a time to meet. We are going to need about an hour, 45 minutes for the demo and about 15 minutes to answer your questions.
"Great. I will send you a copy of our RFP (Request for Proposal). Please review and submit the 30 pages of necessary documentation."
More often than not, we will say "no thank you" and pass. On the surface replying to an RFP seems like a great way of getting in front of sales prospects who obviously want a new website. However, there is more to the RFP story. Generally speaking...
There are several problems with the RFP process from our point of view.
I believe that the process is in many ways a simple exercise to validate a decision that has already been made. And the proposals are one way of making sure the current provider is giving you the very best price.
The process appears to be straightforward. The business designs an RFP outlining what they think they want in a new website. This vision is sent out to a bunch of design firms. In come all the proposals. Throw out the highest price and the lowest price and select someone from the middle. So at the very start in order to have a chance, my bid must be average. Sorry, but we do not like to do average work.
Frequently there is a requirement for 30 pages of documentation - Due Diligence. The Due Diligence is certainly important, but I have yet to have a company follow up on the documentation as part of the decision making process. This can easily be encumbered on the winning firm once you are closer to making a decision.
It takes a lot of effort to fill out all this paperwork, in the preferred format. If I thought this information was being used in the decision making process, I would gladly fill it out. But admit it, it isn't being used in the selection process unless you are sending it out to developers who are not qualified to receive it in the first place.
More often than not, the RFP is co-generated by the incumbent web designer and as such, the very process of developing the RFP has an inherent advantage slanted in their favor. This designer is not going to recommend an approach or technology that is not known to them. We ran into this problem a couple of years ago when the consumer tide was racing to mobile devices. We started building mobile friendly, responsive websites, yet many of the RFPs didn't even address this issue. Frequently by presenting us with the problem, rather than "this is the way we want it done", we can actually save you money. But the rigidity of the RFP does not allow this level of discovery.
Another problem with many RFPs is that the thought process appears to be, "We need a modern sleek looking website but let's build it so that it operates with our current restraints!"
This year we have received, on average, one to two RFPs per month. Not a single one has asked for Alert Bars. Or Countdown Clocks. Or a Y Box. Or Membership Machines. It is near impossible to ask for something that you do not know exists.
Part of the responsibility of being a website developer for YMCAs is to also be a thought leader. We spend a lot of time talking to business owners asking about the problems they experience every day. Problems that stop them from doing business. And we solve those problems.
I have been on the other side of the table for much of my career. I think the perfect RFP for a business and a developer is a single one page document.
We need a new website.
Our member services provider is (fill in the blank).
Our biggest problems are...
Show us what you can do. We will give you one hour to show us how you can solve our problems.
More than likely this will scare many of you. "Jeff you don't understand, we are sending our proposal out to a dozen or more developers. Each meeting takes an hour. We couldn't possibly get our team together for this many demonstrations. We would never meet our launch date of XX/YY/ZZZZ!"
Then change the launch date or buckle down and schedule the meetings.
This is one of the most important marketing decisions you will make this year. Every prospective new member will start judging you by your digital storefront. And if you think “you are a YMCA” and have no competition, you are wrong. Every Walk-in Gym is your competitor. Every Zoomba class. Every Swimming Pool. Every Basketball League. Every Diabetes and Fitness Class. Every program offering Child Care. Your competition is all around you, nibbling at the edges of your business and your website is your first line of defense.
"People do business with people, not businesses."
I continue to believe that we win a lot of business because we do great work and we really care about the companies we work for. The team at Thrive is made up with thought leaders from a number of different disciplines. Our yTeam has an amazing Graphic Artist and a brilliant Software Engineer waiting to solve your problems. The yTeam also has two brilliant Marketing Professionals, well versed in digital and analog marketing and advertising. And Thrive has the sharpest Social Media mind I have ever worked with. We do our best work when our clients give us problems that seem unsolvable.
“Thanks for all the effort you put into submitting your proposal. We were really impressed. However, we have chosen another provider."
So far this year the “other provider” turns out to be the developer they are already working with more than 90% of the time.