How to craft a future-proof RFP

the_rfp_of_the_future

I have spent the better part of the last 15 years working in the email marketing space, selling technology to world-class companies. During that time I have participated in hundreds of RFPs.

I have always been amazed at how some organizations aren’t thinking about the future when considering new vendors. Why is this and how can you do a better job?

Will it be future-proof? Looking at the long term

The digital marketing departments at most organizations are still finding their voices. Not only are they looking to gain budget allocations from traditional marketing, but they are in a fight for revenue attribution with their fellow digital channels.

Email remains the core revenue generator for most companies; it’s the place where the conversions take place. It’s the convergence of customer communication and it is complex; yet most RFPs focus on the core email technology and seek vendors who can:

  • Offer a strong user interface
  • Have a strong security infrastructure
  • Provide detailed reporting
  • Give 24/7 technical and services support
  • Engage in a wide variety of multichannel integrations
  • Have sophisticated campaign management tools

While all of this is important, you need to take the long view of your organization’s work. Consolidate your marketing over the next 24 months; it will serve you well in other areas you need to consider when choosing a vendor.

Your current CRM and database

Too often, companies running RFPs fail to identify their go-forward strategy. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve started out talking about a multichannel need or integration with social media at companies over the years. Those talks invariably ended up focusing on basic email marketing while abandoning the larger need.

You need to consider the following when evaluating a vendor:

  • What is your current CRM platform or data warehousing system, and where will your first-party data reside?
  • How easily can the vendor integrate with your existing platforms?
  • What is the data structure of your vendor’s platform? How does the vendor receive files? How long does file transfer take?
  • Does the vendor have options that can augment your current database structure and enhance your current messaging options?
  • How integrated will your social media and email programming be?
  • What analytics tools are you using/considering, and how easily can they be used with the email vendor?
  • What reports does the vendor offer that can help you make decisions on your customers in other channels? How can they help you see your customers more holistically?
  • Where is the vendor headed with its business?

If you select an email tool based on only your current needs, you’ll find yourself unable to grow as digital marketing expands in the near future.

Why is the long view important?

“No, we can’t do that. Our database won’t let us move the files that way. This is a show stopper.” – RFP Prospect 2012

One reason that RFP selection processes bog down internally for many companies is a lack of cohesion amongst the internal stakeholders. As the quote above illustrates, when a company lacks internal focus, comments like that occur. That was something said to me and my team during an RFP review. The quote came from the internal owner of the database system, who was clearly reluctant to consider making a switch to a new vendor.

That comment is indicative of an organization that hasn’t spent the time internally to plan for the next iteration of its digital marketing growth. Now that organization is falling behind in customer communications because needs have outgrown capabilities. If the company had taken the time necessary to check off the elements discussed earlier in this blog, it would have had a plan in assessing the marketplace with an eye on the future.

The RFP of the future

Vendor section is difficult, and trying to do choose a vendor without a clear needs assessment will make a difficult task harder. Take time to consider both future needs and integration requirements, and plan ahead; it will make vetting vendors more efficient and prevents problems down the road.

Image via Flickr

Jason Simon

About Jason Simon


Jason Simon is the CEO and Founder of Eta Consults, a firm dedicated to working with early stage and emerging companies to develop revenue and growth. Prior to this, Simon held several senior executive sales leadership roles in the ESP space at companies such as Bigfoot Interactive, Epsilon, Datran Media and StrongMial. In addition, Simon led sales teams at ClickEquations and Zeta Interactive. A seasoned veteran, he has worked with Fortune 500 brands like Citibank, Chase, Discover Financial Services, Northwest Airlines, Disney World, Capital One, Wal-Mart, Target, New York & Company, TV Guide, Verizon, Jib Jab, Overstock and Oriental Trading Company. @etaconsults on Twitter

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  • Darcy Grabenstein

    Jason, you make valid points. Many businesses suffer from shortsightedness. They are so focused on the short term (i.e., how can we make this month’s numbers?) that they fail to consider the future ramifications of their decisions. This is particularly true in email marketing, which offers immediate, real-time insight into customer actions/habits. Successful companies apply current learnings when building future campaigns – and they should do the same when considering vendors.

    Darcy Grabenstein, APR, ABC

  • Pete Austin

    No mention of real-time!?

  • Eta Consults

    Pete good catch. Real-time deployment will of course involve the ability of the database/CRM to move the data into the tool.