If you are thinking of doing an RFP for a new ESP in 2019, you need to make the right New Year’s resolutions.
It’s the start of a new year in email marketing. And for many email marketers, the calendar in 2019 includes a date for the contract expiration with their exiting ESP. If that date falls in the first half of the year, and you haven’t started an RFP, you might as well realize right now that you’ve going to be renewing that contract. You simply don’t have enough time to conduct a thorough email software RFP.
If your contract expires in the second half of the year (or early in 2020), then you need to get moving on your RFP right away. It can’t wait “until later”. As a public service for those of you contemplating beginning an ESP RFP in the new year, I want to present 5 resolutions you need to make in order to ensure that the process goes as smoothly as an RFP can go (which in most cases isn’t that smoothly!).
1. Before starting any RFP I will negotiate a contract extension with my existing vendor
One of the eternal truths of ESP RFPs is that they always take longer than expected. So even if you are starting the RFP process well in advance of your current contract expiration, you are still likely to be concluding the process up until the point that your existing contract expires.
That’s why we always recommend that our RFP clients negotiate a month-to-month extension before issuing the RFP. Having run a global ESP myself, I can tell you with all certainty that, as long as your current ESP believes it has a good chance to retain your business, it will be very accommodating. The minute your current email provider determines that you are going elsewhere, it will become much more inflexible. So step one in any RFP process should be to lock down a month-to-month extension.
2. I will bring in an outside resource to help me manage my RFP
RFPs are a lot of work if done correctly. And by done correctly, I mean conducting a very thorough review of your options and putting the vendors through their paces as part of the process.
It’s in many ways a full-time job for someone, and unless you have a lot of time on your hands—or someone on your team does—you will find that something has got to give over the course of the RFP. And what invariably gives is the RFP, not your day job.
When that happens all momentum on the RFP will stop, and you will either make an ill-advised decision, or the RFP will drag on and on and on. Bringing in an outside resource to manage the selection process allows you and your team to focus on the outcome of the RFP, not the process. And it also puts the RFP process in the hands of someone who ideally is familiar with the vendors and your needs and can help make sure you make an informed decision (and get a great deal).
3. I will make sure that I compare the vendors as objectively as possible
We all have biases if we’ve worked in email long enough. It might be an ESP we worked with in the past. Or an ESP salesperson with whom we used to work. Biases are not inherently bad until they become emotional shortcuts in reaching a decision.
All too often a poorly managed RFP process will result in no logical methodology for making a decision other than price (wrong!) or “feeling” (wrong again!). The change of making the wrong decision goes up exponentially when you allow subjective factors to guide your outcome.
The method to prevent subjective factors to take over, is to set up the RFP process in a way that allows for direct, side by side comparisons of the competing vendors, whether its around features and functionality, or pricing. Using scorecards lets you further make objective decisions by including as many people as possible in the process, which has a way of negating the biases of any individual participant.
4. I will finish my RFP and come to a decision
Everyone hates RFPs, but what people really hate are RFPs that never quite get finished.
There are a lot of reasons why an RFP might never come to a conclusion.
We’ve touched on several of them, including no one having the time to devote to it, not having a clear methodology for choosing a winner, and having it drag on so long that everyone forgets why it was started in the first place.
The only ones who like RFPs that don’t finish are the incumbents, who get to keep the business without actually defending it all the way to the end. One of the major drawbacks to this happening is that you lose most of your leverage with the incumbent to get a better deal in a new contract. They eventually realize you aren’t moving, and have little incentive to cut pricing to keep you on board.
If your company has a reputation for never-ending RFPs, you will have trouble getting the best vendors to participate in your RFP, and if they do, they won’t put 100% into their effort.
5. I will recognize that it is impossible to nail everything down contractually right out of the gate with my new vendor
There are so many unknowns on both sides when you are going into a relationship with a new ESP. There will be surprises during the migration to the new platform. There will also be dramatic differences between the ongoing support you think you will need, and what you will actually need.
There’s no surer way to get your new relationship off on the wrong foot than to try to get these details 100% right during the contract negotiation. Because you won’t and you, your new vendor, or both of you will feel mistreated shortly into the new relationship.
Email platform migration
In regards to the migration, I don’t believe this should be a money-making endeavor for your new vendor. Nor do I think it who should be a money-losing one either. Settling on a discounted hourly rate for key members of the vendor team, and also allowing for some flexibility in the hours allowed to be charge helps to make sure that everyone has a stake in getting the migration done as quickly and as seamlessly as possible. Both sides win!
Services and support
Regarding the services support you need on an ongoing basis—and you are going to need something no matter how “self-service” you consider yourself to be.
In the contracts we negotiation for our clients we try to arrive at the right number of hours, but we also stipulate that an audit of actual hours used be conducted 6 months after the actual cutover to the new vendor. This gives everyone enough time to settle into a routine and know what the real need is.
If the client is using more hours than they are paying for, then they can either cut back on what they expect from the ESP, or add hours to the contract going forward. And if they aren’t using all the hours they are paying for, the retainer hours can be adjusted down.
Five RFP resolutions to make at the start of the year
So that’s your list of 5 Email RFP resolutions to make at the start of 2019. If you make and keep these resolutions during any RFP you start this year, you will find that things will go smoother for you, and your decisions will be better. And even if you don’t have an RFP planned in the near future, keep this list handy and make sure you get your next ESP RFP process started off on the right foot!