The ESP RFP Of The Future

I think most of you must have been a part of an Email Service Provider RFP or RFI process at some point.   For years, the RFP trend was a two- to three-year virtuous cycle, a long draw-out process with a lot of people chiming in who didn’t really know much about email or technology.  The frequency of switching was mostly attributed to either the need to compress costs or the advent of new people (email professionals had a two- to three-year tenure in roles).

If you’ve been on one side of the other of these processes, it’s painful for all involved.  I honestly think these are a tremendous drain of time and effort, without a great deal of value.

Depending on the size, scale and complexity of your program, switching platforms alone can prove to be costly and risky.   Switch decisions should be predicated on these key technology criteria:

-      Technology performance

-      To increase productivity



-      Tighter integration

-      Total cost of ownership

Switching platforms present risks in many forms:

-      Deliverability doesn’t transfer.  This isn’t like your cell phone service, where you keep your number forever regardless of the carrier.   You will have to develop new sets of IP addresses.   Granted, this is managed much better than it has been in the past, but your program will be under scrutiny, so pick your windows strategically to limit your exposure and demand SLAs during this time.

-      Embedded messaging.  We’ve moved further down the automation curve, and setting up new triggers, new API integrations and integration with “other” systems can be a pretty expensive and hairy undertaking.  This should be one of the primary reasons you consider switching in the first place.  You should be at a point where you are comfortable redesigning your entire lifecycle program (automation, business rules, triggers).

-      Running in parallel.  Many email programs are revenue-generators, so it’s rare that you have a pure change from one platform to another.  You will more than likely operate in parallel for a period of time.  Depending on your service model and how you manage email from a workflow perspective (how data is managed, segmented, campaigns set up, etc.), this can be a tremendous distraction.

-      Manual error. You will have to expect manual errors in any transition, which could be exacerbated by your service model and number of new faces involved. Errors could include sending to the wrong list, sending to your opt-out list, etc. I’d suggest you get that “Apology” email and have contingencies ready.

The primary reason why many marketers switch ESPs today is directly related to the level and quality of service, not platform capabilities.  I still believe there may be a 20% productivity enhancement with a new platform. You should not expect to realize this in year 1.  You’ll have to factor in additional features, new capabilities, productivity enhancement, performance improvements (sending) and deliverability performance into a longer0term view of TCO.  Much like presidential terms, I don’t believe most will realize a great ROI for a contract term of less than three years. 

Switching can be fun, educational and necessary to allow you to reach new levels of performance. I’m waiting for that bold marketer to issue the first real performance-based RFP/RFI.  I believe this will change many companies’ perspective on when, why and how often platform/service providers decisions are made and may allow for working with multiple providers in coordination.   

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