Column: Taking Measure -- Learning the ABCs of RFPs

Now that the New Year is under way and final budgets are set, many companies will be initiating RFPs for their marketing effectiveness programs. I get to see many of these RFPs. They range from vague, single-page requests to procurement-led tours de force with binders full of mind-numbing artificial precision. In hopes of bringing some middle-of-the-road sanity to the process, I offer up the following suggestions.

When crafting a marketing effectiveness RFP, you should provide a solid background for the project. Start with an explanation of the goals of the effort, provide a high-level description for a successful outcome, and explain the developments that led to the initiation of the program. Is this a first-time project, or does the company have recent experience with marketing effectiveness programs? If the marketing effectiveness RFP is part of a larger marketing transformation, describe the breadth of that effort as well, so that the context is clear.

As part of the background, it is also important to provide some perspective on the company’s marketing activities. If at all possible, share the total marketing budget. Describe the types of marketing vehicles used by the company, including mass media, direct marketing, Web efforts, CRM, sponsorships, etc. Basically, any activity that represents significant spending should get an overview. In addition, explain any major shifts in approach over the previous two years. These might include major shifts in spending, tactics, or messaging. Finally, offer a high-level description of the marketing planning process. Is marketing fluidly managed throughout the year, or are plans set and executed, and then evaluated at the year’s end?

Defining scope is the next challenge. Often, marketers realize that they don’t know what they do not know. They may want to take advantage of the experience and best thinking of the vendor, and avoid being too specific in their request. This can be a good strategy if the company is open to a dialogue.

If the client has a bit more experience, or wants to conduct the process with limited interaction, it’s best to provide a description of how the analytics will be used. For example are they focused on optimizing the media plan, or are they looking at all marketing tactics and spending? Will sales-force activities be included? Will the analytics be used to influence operations such as forecasting? What organizational stakeholders will be involved? Research? Marketing? Finance? Strategic planning? Merchandising or operations?

As much as possible, clients should explain their expectations for the deliverables themselves. Do they need pure analytics or formal consulting recommendations? Will simulations and optimizations be needed, and if so, how many? Is a tool required? With what capabilities? Web-based or installed software? Are ongoing data updates needed?

The defined deliverables, along with company background, offer a good hint as to the amount of ongoing support the client will need — but be explicit if possible. How much help will be required to assemble the data? Will help with third-party contracts be needed? How many times will the final documents be presented? Will there be ongoing follow-up throughout the year, or does the assignment cover a discrete time period?

Next, be clear about timing. When will the final results be due? Are there milestones that must be hit along the way? Will the effort be a one-off project, or will it continue? If the effort is continuous, how will it sync up with the annual planning cycle? Will it be phased in or launched as a big bang?

In soliciting a cost quote, companies should ask for prices for several different scenarios and require detailed assumptions around each. Be sure to ask explicitly what is not included in the cost of the project. It is also a good idea to ask what the most important drivers of cost are, and how the goals of the project can be accomplished as inexpensively as possible. The vendor should price the whole job, not dissect the pieces. 

By addressing these questions, clients will provide all the information needed by a vendor to develop a strong marketing effectiveness proposal. Responses should be consistently structured so that they can be easily compared for evaluation. Time lines and work plans should be transparent. Cost levers should be easily understood. In this way, both client and vendor can get through the process to a final decision as expeditiously as possible.

John Nardone is chief client officer for Marketing Management Analytics. (john.nardone@mma.com)