When you need an RFP to find your email service provider…and when you don’t

For some organizations, RFPs are the only reliable way to search for a new email service provider. For others, RFPs can be complicated, costly and of questionable value. Should you use an RFP to find your new vendor?

How are you facing the challenge of choosing a new email service provider?  Here are the reasons to use an RFP… or not.

When an RFP makes sense

An RFP makes sense if you don’t have the necessary internal expertise needed to objectively evaluate an email service provider all on your own.

It may be that your internal email expert has left or you inherited a legacy system. If you are not an expert on email marketing and email service providers, having vendors respond to your request for proposals will educate you. It’s also an opportunity to educate those around you as well.

An RFP will force you to take a good, hard look at your business goals and your email marketing processes. You have to be crystal clear on your requirements now and your projected plans in order to put together an RFP that will do you any good.

Making an apples to apples comparison of ESPs

Using an RFP process to find a new email service provider makes sense when you want to standardize your selection criteria.

Without your questions as a framework for their responses, participating ESPs may present very different information – usually information that highlights their strengths and plays down any weaknesses – making it impossible for you to actually compare the two. The process itself forces an apples-to-apples comparison.

Going through the RFP process increases internal visibility. This can save you from suffering complaints or blame from others later if they don’t like your ESP choice. With an RFP, you can involve everyone who will be affected by the eventual selection: marketing, technology, sales, product, etc. This way everyone’s needs get placed upon the table. The process becomes a public one, and one with executive buy-in.

Finally, going the RFP route also limits the engagement of vendors. Rather than swooping down upon your office to give you a flashy sales pitch and showy PowerPoint, ESPs are forced into an objectivity of sorts as they respond to questions and requests for information. Not that they won’t still try and sell you with their response! But their behavior will be limited. Along those lines, don’t ask for demonstrations in the first round. Wait until you have narrowed the field to a short list of capable email service providers.

When an RFP doesn’t make sense

A prime reason to skip the RFP process is time. It takes time to pull together the requirements list and to create the RFP. It takes time to go through the responses and interview vendors and talk to their references. It takes time to get everyone’s buy-in.

All that time could be spent on implementation after you choose a new email service provider. You’re also taking time away from your current email marketing. Time is money and there is only so much of it to go around. Make sure the time invested in the RFP process is time well spent.

An RFP isolates you from the positive side of selling. Above, I said avoiding the sales pitch is a benefit to the RFP process, but it can put you at a disadvantage too because you don’t experience the vendor’s people and service. Some organizations are simply more helpful than others, for example, and you won’t get a feel for that with the objectivity of an RFP. Service is a big deal! Dissatisfaction with an ESP’s customer service is the number one reason companies switch ESPs!

There is a danger in yes/no questions… and answers

An RFP can work against you with the words left out too. When you’re reading through the responses to your RFP, it can be difficult to know whether answers are truthful, and to what degree. You also might not get full answers to questions via the written response.

To help you get the information you need if you do use an RFP, don’t settle for yes/no responses. Make sure respondents explain answers and provide examples. If you don’t understand part of a response you receive, ask the vendor for clarification. Be bold. You are going to invest a lot of time, effort and money in this switch. You deserve straightforward and detailed answers.

Make sure you start with the right short list

Although one can argue in favor of the RFP, it’s a hazardous path to take if you really don’t know what you’re doing. You could even end up with a short list of the wrong vendors.

If you are new to the ESP selection process and not sure which email vendors should be on your short list, do some research first…whether you’re using an RFP or not. Look at your competitors and businesses of a similar size to yours. Which email service providers are they using? Start a long list and make sure you’re talking to the right players right off the bat.

The 80/20 rule definitely applies to vendor selection: All ESPs deliver email, offer an email creation tool, and have reporting. The 20% that differentiates the ESPs from each other is the most important. As to which differentiators matter the most, is based upon your specific needs. You can use an online ESP selection tool like the one we offer to help you narrow down your choices and get you started. Do you need a large enterprise solution or and ESP that focuses on small business needs?

When to consider an email marketing consultant

Or perhaps an email marketing consultant is your best option. A consultant can guide you through the RFP process, help you determine your requirements, create a short list of the right vendors for you, or even help you determine if an ESP switch is the right answer to your perceived problem.

If signs indicate it’s time for a new email service provider, weigh your options before deciding for or against the RFP process.


About Marco Marini

With 25 years in business, Marco is a walking encyclopedia of all things email: best practices, technologies, trends, and more. Marco is currently the COO of iPost, an email platform built for marketers by marketers. iPost an easy, flexible, dynamic marketing automation solution for email and mobile marketing. He has also held key marketing positions with CyberSource, ClickMail, eHealthInsurance, DoveBid and IBM Canada.

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