By Josh Hill
Marketing technology RFPs are different from agency briefs because technology solutions are clearly defined with distinct feature sets, pricing, users, etc. Reputation, presentation and customer service are key aspects but in a different way than a creative agency. The nature of a technology solution is that it will only allow creativity within the boundaries of the capability of the software. It is your job as CMO to determine how well your needs and the software’s capabilities align.
By asking clear questions about feature sets in your RFP, your technology salesperson will be able to get you clear answers faster than if you take three calls and 10 emails to get that detail.
Structure of a Great Marketing Technology RFP
The best marketing technology RFPs clearly describe what you are looking for, your authority to make a decision, your budget and your timeline. In other words, it tells the salesperson your “BANT” (budget, authority, need, timeframe) so he knows you are serious. Here is a structure to follow:
- Do Your Research
Understand the vendor landscape and the typical features offered. If you are able to research and decide on the top three to seven vendors you will solicit responses from, this will help you write the RFP better.
- Describe Your Situation
Give the vendor the current situation. You do not have to reveal exact database sizes or budget numbers at this stage, but you should give the vendor an approximation. For instance, if you have 1 million database records and need to send out 10 million emails per month, the vendor needs to know that in case that is not a volume it can handle. Not revealing that will waste your time and the vendor’s.
Tell the vendor the story of how you reached this point. Answer some basic questions: How is your department structured? What kind of business are you (B2C, B2B, B2B2C)? Does each team have a specific goal of leads to provide? Why do you need a technology solution?
- Have Clear Goals
Have clear goals for what you want to achieve. Tell the vendor you want a fully functioning marketing automation system by Dec. 31, or within six months of signing. Tell the vendor you need to go from 30,000 leads to 200,000 leads without adding headcount to manage that.
- Have Clear Feature Needs
Rank your needs from “required” to “ideal.” You may not want to reveal more than the minimum requirements until later so you have an edge in negotiations. You do want to flush out vendors that can’t meet your minimums as early in the process as possible.
- Have Functional Sections
Divide the RFP into feature sections, such as “email deliverability,” “lead scoring” and “CRM integration.” Each section should briefly describe the business requirement of why you need this and how important it is.
- Clear Estimated Feature Requirements
Each functional section will break down a solution into specific features, such as “sales force integration” and “logic branching.” Ask additional clarification questions such as, “Is this done automatically?” “Is this part of the standard package?”
Create a table or spreadsheet with the functional areas and the feature breakdown. Have a column for “questions” and “vendor response.” This format makes it easier to compare vendors in one place after they provide a response.
- Be Wary of Software Lock-in
Selecting marketing technology exposes you to software lock-in. Ask the vendor about the importing and exporting of data, as well as its capability to grow with you.
- Pricing and Budget
Understand the available pricing models. Most marketing technology tools are priced in a matrix of three packages with levels of features, and then by the number of users, database record count, emails sent and add-on features.
Some firms provide discounts for annual or quarterly up-front pricing. Make sure to request information on the cost of training and the cost of setup. Expect to receive the standard pricing from the firm’s website and then negotiate from there.
You should normalize the pricing across vendors by calculating the real cost of packages, user licenses, add-ons and timeframe. Figure out the annual price and then consider multiyear options. Doing this will ensure you know the total cost of ownership.
- Your Timeline
In your RFP letter, state the timeline for a response, a decision and implementation. Salespeople—yours included—want the BANT information before they start responding. Knowing your deadlines will ensure a timely response.
Be reasonable with response times, but don’t disregard them because they indicate a firm’s ability or willingness to help post-sale. When a firm misses a deadline you set, it’s always a bad sign.
Remember, technology salespeople are hunters. They want your deal and they want it before the end of the quarter, so structure your timeline to close at the end of the quarter to help discover heavy discounts.
- Be Flexible
Be flexible in your RFP and the rest of the purchase process. You may discover new solutions or a great salesperson may help you uncover hidden needs you didn’t realize you had or suggest a new, possibly cheaper and better way of getting to your goals.