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The Right Way to Think About Your Marketing Software RFP [+Sample]

rfp processintermediate

It’s a tough world out there for marketers. A 2011 study by the Fournaise Group estimated that 73% of CEOs think marketers can’t demonstrate their impact on the company’s top line, while Jonathan Salem Baskin estimates that CMOs get fired 25% more often than CIOs, and more than twice as frequently as any other colleague in the C-Suite. With the convergence of pressures on marketers, it’s more important than ever that you find vendors (or better yet, partners) who understand your objective and have the technology, tools, and support to help you achieve your big, hairy, audacious marketing goals.

Whether due to a requirement from your finance department or a desire to get feedback from a wide cross-section of solutions providers, requests for proposals (RFPs) are often the vehicle of choice for businesses to recruit, narrow down, and ultimately select the right vendor or partner for the job. But in an effort to address a wide variety of concerns, questions, requirements, and challenges, RFPs often end up being long, cumbersome, and incredibly details ... or incredibly generic. You end up with pages upon pages of data, case studies, and background information, but no real answers to why this partner is the right choice for you, or how your entities will work together to achieve your marketing goal.

That's why we created an RFP for you to help evaluate your marketing software providers -- download your copy, form-free, here -- and wrote this blog post to show you how you can think about the RFP process. Here are some ideas on how to optimize the RFP process to work for your company.

(Note: The RFP process in which an organization solicits information from vendors is more common with enterprise organizations, to be sure. So if this process doesn't sound familiar to you, don't worry -- your business simply doesn't require a research and comparison process formalized to this degree.)

1) Start With the Finish Line

One of the reasons the C-Suite gets frustrated with marketing is a lack of clarity in marketing metrics. So start with the finish line: What is your quantifiable marketing goal, and when do you want to get there? Your job is to get alignment on the "what" and the "when" -- the "how" and "why" are the questions your vendor or partner should help you answer.

The “finish line” for most companies is one of three things: increased traffic, more sales-ready leads, or more customers. As a result, your goal shouldn’t be something like, “securing a marketing automation vendor.” Your goal should be tied to your business results -- the things your CEO can tie back to the bottom line -- like increasing lead conversion by 30% in 18 months, or increasing organic search traffic by 15%. As you can see here, we've set a SMART goal that actually shows how moving marketing metrics increases customer count.


2) Identify Your Roadblocks

Now that you have the end goal in sight, it’s imperative that your team align on roadblocks that could prevent you from getting there. For example, if your IT team is completely under-staffed, it’s unlikely you’re going to get a full-time head devoted to integration; in that case, you should seek out a solution that’s easy for your team to own and manage, with features like a WYSIWYG editor to make creating and editing items easy for non-technical marketers. Or let's say you’ve always had a challenge quantifying the impact marketing has on your sales team; in that case, you’ll want to invest significantly in ensuring that your vendor has an integrated platform to address analytics. Identifying your roadblocks early on will help you plan around them, and choose a partner that can fill in your weak points.

3) Focus on the Big Picture (Literally)

Visualize a large picture frame hanging up in your office one year from now. In it is a picture of you receiving an award for the very program for which you're about to send out for an RFP. What's the award for? It's probably not for releasing the most detailed RFP possible, or hiring the most people to onboard a new vendor. Instead, it will be about the inbound leads your decision helped generate, the value your decision drove for the organization, or the innovation you leveraged to nurture leads to fruition in a particularly challenging business environment.

Business value isn't captured in the number of emails you send. So focus on what matters -- leads, customers, and revenue. RFPs often lead people to focus on incredibly minute details; reverse the trend by focusing on the big picture, and thinking ahead to what success looks like as a result of the vendor, partner, or program you choose.

4) Reduce Buyer Remorse With Specific Questions

That isn't to say you shouldn't be detail-oriented, though. Asking only "yes" or "no" questions can seem like the most direct path to get the answers you're looking for, but in the ever-changing world of marketing software, what constitutes "social media tools" or "ongoing customer service" can vary significantly in meaning for a vendor. Formulate detailed questions on the features most critical to your team's success.

For instance, you might ask, "Can you provide an example of where and how you've solved for a company's email expiration challenge?" Or you might inquire, "How many steps does it take for a non-technical user to create a custom landing page?" Formulating detailed questions requires more effort on both the RFP design and analysis, but going beyond simple feature checklists will help you achieve greater clarity into how the tool will help you achieve your goals, and also align on common definitions of terms so that your team and your vendor are on the same page with regard to expectation.

Fundamentally, your RFP isn't designed to be a standardized test; it's meant to find the right vendor with the right suite of software to address your needs. As such, your questions should go well beyond the True/False and Yes/No questions, to help reveal whether the vendor's system truly fits your team's requirements. 

5) Know the Players On Your Team

No matter what solution you choose, you'll need a great team of leaders to make the solution a success at your company. Typically, this includes a solid partnership with your technology team to ensure alignment of goals and security processes, individuals on your marketing team to create and promote great content, and alignment with your sales team on the objectives you're seeking to tackle together. Instead of making assumptions based on current roles and responsibilities, create a realistic game plan around staffing prior to releasing the RFP. Taking this extra step will not only make your team feel engaged and involved in the decision, but also save you a significant amount of money down the line. For example, if you need to hire an external designer or bother your IT team to create a landing page every time you need one, you're looking at thousands of dollars in additional support costs in just one year. 

RFPs offer a number of vehicles for reducing variable costs, from setting clear expectations on pricing and implementation to choosing a vendor that doesn't price per volume of email sent. However, the single greatest variable in the cost to implement your software will come with staffing, so creating a list of your key players and their roles, responsibilities, and capabilities will help set internal clarity on needs, but also limit your out of pocket spend once you choose the right partner for your needs. 

RFPs can have a considerable impact on the success or failure of your marketing program. As the complexity of an RFP grows, many key issues can get lost in translation, from the end goals of your marketing program to the definition and execution of specific features. To that end, following the five steps above can help you find the right marketing software partner for your company's needs -- and your colleagues, employees, and customers will thank you for it. 

Not sure where to start? Download our free sample RFP here, no form to fill out, to make your marketing software search simpler.