5 Email RFP Resolutions for 2020

If you are thinking of doing an RFP for a new ESP in 2020, you need to make the right New Year’s resolutions. It’s the start of a new year in email marketing.

For many email marketers, the 2020 calendar has a contract expiration date for their existing / exiting ESP. We first published these resolutions last year as advice to folks planning an RFP. Ever-relevant this is the updated version for brands looking to switch ESP platforms in 2020.

If your contract expires in the second half of the year (or early in 2021), then you need to get moving on your RFP right away.

It can’t wait “until later”.

If your contract expires in the first quarter of this year, you might as well flip a coin for a new vendor, because you don’t have time to run a thorough RFP process.

And your current ESP knows that.

1. Before starting any RFP I will negotiate a contract extension with my existing vendor

Just following this one simple resolution will save you from major headaches down the road.

That’s because RFPs always take longer than you expect. Even if you are starting the RFP process well in advance of your current contract expiration (6 months or more), you are still likely to blow through the expiration of your current contract. Even if you conclude on time, there’s the migration to the new platform that you probably didn’t take into account.

That’s why it is most important to negotiate a month-to-month (preferred) or 3-month (better than nothing) extension before issuing your RFP.

As long as your current ESP believes it has a chance to retain your business, it will be very accommodating. The minute your current email provider thinks they don’t have a fighting chance, they will become much more inflexible.

email RFP planning

So step one in any RFP process should be to lock down an extension.

If you are unlucky enough to be using one of the platforms that under no circumstances will give you an extension of anything less than a year, then you really need to plan early. (contact us and we’ll be happy to tell you what you can expect from your current vendor).

2. I will compare the vendors as objectively as possible

Comparing vendors objectively isn’t easy, even if you think it should be.

Differences in how the vendors’ platforms operate are substantial, and few of us understand how those differences will impact our email programs’ future performance.

When we hit that wall, we tend to fall back on using emotional shortcuts to help decide between platforms.

The chance of making the wrong decision goes up exponentially when you allow emotional shortcuts (your gut) to guide your decisions. The only way to keep it factual is to set up an RFP process that allows for direct, side by side comparisons of the competing vendors.

This includes features and functionality, services, and pricing. One of the most effective ways to achieve your goal of an objective process is to use scorecards at each stage. Using scorecards lets you make objective decisions and has the added benefit of letting you include as many people in the scoring as you want. When folks feel included in the process, they tend to not fight the final decision.

3. I will bring in outside knowledge to help manage my RFP

RFPs represent an enormous amount of work. If you are going to go through the process, you want to ensure you do a good job, right?

RFPs require a lot of expertise and vendor knowledge. It’s highly unlikely that anyone at your company has been staying on top of changes in the vendor landscape since your last RFP. This isn’t surprising, because that is a LOT of work too.

I know it sounds self-serving to mention getting outside help. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is a critical step you should take.

Unless you or your team have a lot of time on your hands you will find that keeping the RFP moving forward becomes harder and harder.

When that happens all momentum on the RFP stops, 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.

4. I will finish my RFP and come to a decision

We saw some very painful examples of RFPs not coming to a decision in 2019. (None of the RFPs under our guidance). If you were one of the vendors involved in one of these RFPs, I feel for you. Nobody is happy – even the brand involved – when an RFP never gets concluded and a new vendor doesn’t get selected.

There are a lot of reasons why an RFP might never come to a conclusion. And I’ve touched on several of them in each of the first 3 resolutions.

Think of problems like:

  • not having the time to devote to the RFP,
  • not enough knowledge of the market,
  • not having a clear methodology to choose a winner

Sometimes the RFP has dragged on so long that no one remembers why it was started in the first place. If it has been too long, RFP itself must be put out of its misery.

The worst thing a brand can do in these cases is to pretend that nothing happened to begin with, leaving the participating vendors in the dark about what decisions did or did not get made.
But the point is, don’t let things get that far. Keep pushing through to a decision.

There’s a reason you started the RFP process in the first place -don’t lose sight of that!

The only ones who like unfinished or unending RFPs are the incumbents, who get to keep the business without making huge price concessions. They’ve realized you aren’t moving, and have no reason to cut pricing to keep you on board.

If your company gets 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.

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 2020. If you make and keep these resolutions during any RFP you start this year, things will go smoother, 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!

But wait, there’s more! Several brands successfully completed the process last year, and we were able to help each navigate these resolutions. There were many brands that struck out on their own, and several of them ran into trouble during the process because they didn’t follow these simple guidelines.

For the 2020 version of this column, I decided to add a resolution for the ESPs to make regarding RFPs.

For vendors: I will not take losing an RFP personally

There are often many reasons why a particular ESP doesn’t prevail in an email marketing RFP. It could be that they are too expensive, or they are too big (or too small), or their platform doesn’t completely address the most critical needs of the brand.

A good RFP process is designed to vet the vendors objectively with an eye towards selecting the platform that is the best fit. It is not personal if you don’t win – don’t take it personally. You can’t treat every RFP in which you participate as just another episode of “The Bachelor”, where you succeed or fail based on subjective areas – specifically how well you are liked!

The problem with taking a loss personally is that the vendor does not examine with a critical eye those things that may have made a difference in the process.

There are learnings that can be taken from every RFP, both those that you’ve won and those that you came up short. In fact, we are happy to meet with every vendor that participates in our RFPs after the fact to give them feedback on how they performed vis-s-vis the winners.

Not surprisingly, those ESPs that learn win more RFPs over time. The ESPs that blame anyone for not “liking” them, tend to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Which only compounds the perception that is IS personal when they don’t win future RFPs either. Trust me, it’s not.

Chris Marriott

About Chris Marriott

President & Founder of Email Connect. A 25-year veteran of digital marketing, including well over a decade in email marketing, Chris is a recognized expert in the process of connecting leading brands with the right marketing technology partners and platforms.
Prior to founding Email Connect as a consultancy focused exclusively on the ESP/CRM vendor selection process, Chris served as a tenured executive at Acxiom, leading and building its Global Digital and Email Agency Services team into one of the industry’s top services providers.

Chris is also the co-host with Paul Shriner of "Email Geeks at Home Drinking Coffee", a weekly podcast devoted to featuring guests from business, sports and the arts who have great and inspiring stories to share--which sometimes includes email marketing!

Additionally, he is a regular columnist on email marketing and the RFP process and is an advisor to several emerging marketing technology companies including AudiencePoint and CertainSource.

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