The Inevitable email service provider RFP: Do it yourself or outsource?

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Every company will, at some point, deliver an RFP seeking one or more ESP vendors due to a need for new technology, better integrations, service, SLA re-writes or incumbent renegotiation, to name a few.

For large organizations looking to consolidate vendors across multiple divisions, it can be overwhelming. How to best go about this process?

The investment in email service provider selection

It is critical to find the RIGHT ESP that best meets your company’s ROI goals, budget and matches YOUR and THEIR future roadmaps/releases, not what the ESP says you must have.

This can demand weeks or months of diligence – from RFI to RFP to Q/A to meetings/presentations to final contract negotiations, often swallowing many employees’ precious hours. Often, with a very large company, multiple vendors may be necessary for redundancy. Technology sometimes fails. It just does. ESPs can become compromised, or their platforms may go down for a short time.

My experience in going from 7 to 3 Email Service Providers

I recently created an RFP for a large company with 17 divisions and seven incumbent email vendors, and for cost and data efficiencies, they wished to consolidate.

Their internal cost would have been ~ $80,000
It is always important to calculate the true cost of switching to a new ESP. Calculating the amount of hours and cost of doing business for in this case four senior marketers, four IT and 2 procurement staff and ~6 months of work with their schedules. The internal costs for these individuals (salary/job fulfillment/weekly business deliverable timeframes) were examined. Choosing to outsource served them with a new RFI/RFP, and a decision in less than 3 months, at a significant cost saving to them.

Each RFP process is unique (or should be). We ended up with 3 vendors, mainly utilizing two. Each ESP was hand-picked to fit their challenges, ultimate goals and resource constraints. Most companies are unfamiliar with the entire ESP field of candidates, as was this client.

What should an RFP include and what are your options?

An RFP should consist of three main sets of questions with regards to needs:
1) IT,
2) Marketing/Sales needs and
3) Vendor history/success and references.

It should have a strict time frame outline, a delivery deadline and preferred format of delivery, sent to one appointed decision maker/contact.

You can “do it yourself” (DIY); you can look for an experienced consultant to assist you navigate the landscape and handle much of the preliminary work that it takes to start the RFP process, or hire a consultant to handle the majority of the process for you.

Many companies do have internal RFP writers/divisions. A consultant can also assist in helping to eliminate vendors that don’t seem to fit the criteria and save you time. They study the field and should know most of the ESP capabilities and platforms.

A “DIY” RFP is doable, but never free.

There are multiple free or paid templates, whitepapers or examples that can help you, but look for those written by consultants, agencies or client-side companies. Ensure critical needs are covered. Published reports are often short on some great ESPs that “don’t make the list” but could be a perfect solution. And the “reports/scorecards” can be very expensive.

Create a roadmap

If you choose to “DIY” create a roadmap (each step that needs to be taken) and a strict timeframe goal for each step, calculate the costs your company will incur to utilize internal resources and be ready for a long process. Stick to the roadmap and timeframe. Ensure key decision makers are available and on call, including C-Level participation. Ensure that each candidate you choose is scalable to your needs over time.

Watch out for “fake it ‘til we make it’

Watch out for the “fake it ‘til we make it’ statements – custom-built applications are costly and time-consuming, not often scalable without additional costs to you (although the vendor ends up benefiting by adding a tool to their arsenal they never had) and there is surely a fit that already exists. You just have to know where to look.

Potentially outsource to RFI/RFP consultants

A consultant or company specializing in RFPs can lend expertise or vendor possibilities you may not know about, and they can help severely delimit internal bandwidth constraints and costs, even in a blended scenario with partial DIY, letting the consultant do much of the research and providing a template that is proven to work. They also know the “reports/scorecards” and the veritable dozens and dozens of vendor possibilities, and help you make quicker work of what can be a cumbersome process.

With any of these options, an RFP process is detailed and lengthy, but if done correctly can end up with a tremendous cost-savings for your company over the duration of the contract.

Image via flickr

Dori Thompson

About Dori Thompson


Dori Thompson is a results-driven executive consultant with 20 years of experience in direct and online marketing, ecommerce, sales, strategy, and research. Working with clients and agencies, she has consulted on hundreds of high impact direct, email and lifecycle/ CRM marketing programs for Fortune 500 companies such as Polo/Ralph Lauren, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Cisco, Intuit, General Mills, Fossil, GE, Proctor & Gamble, EarthLink, Mazda, Volvo, Allergan, Blockbuster, Anheuser-Busch, Busch Entertainment Corporation, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Hallmark and DishNetwork to create and evolve programs, increase customer acquisition and retention, ROI and incremental revenue.

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