RFP Season Is Upon Us

This time of year brings  about the dreaded RFP process. Brands ask the logical question:  “How would you improve our email marketing program?” Back in the day, I built RFPs, ran them for myself, helped administer them for clients, responded to more than I preferred -- and most of them probably should have stayed at home.  

What I’ve found over the years is there are only a few root reasons why companies go through an RFP process:  

1.  Cost:   The reasons many people switch jobs? They figure they’re likely to get paid more by leaving -- only to find out it’s not as rosy at the other end.   Reducing costs is the top reasons most switch. They’ve heard that CPM prices are declining, and they haven’t renegotiated for a few years and feel they are leaving money on the table.

2.  Dissatisfaction with services: The vendor doesn’t open my car door any longer!  Quality of performance, response and strategic has dulled. You’re on the Aluminum Plan, not the Gold Support Plan.



3.  Better capabilities:&nbsp ; This is the strangest rationale, but trade shows will always be full of impressive WOW demos that you want to take home.   Strange, since most don’t even come close to maximizing the capabilities of their existing technology.

4.  General changing of the guard:  We still find that the average tenure of an email marketer is two to three years, and CMOs lifespan tend to mirror that.   Change is good in marketing, yet we find programs that consistently outperforrm others in retail have an ability to retain people in these roles longer than the average. That experience really pays off, with fewer mistakes, and better cost management.

What makes all this more of a challenge is that procurement gets much more involved today, so you add the extra challenge of justifying value vs. cost compression.  And if inexperience and procurement meet, things get cut and you don’t realize what you’ve sacrificed.

The difference between today’s and yesterday’s RFPs is the sheer number of questions. The last few I’ve seen had 400+.-- -- There is no possible way someone can distill this information in a meaningful way -- and rarely dos these capabilities roll into pricing (Yes you do this, is it an extra charge?)

Most still use the typical analyst guideline for top enterprise selectors, but there are many other options more informed about the technical sides of the ESPS (who actually use the tools), migration, and security views.  There are larger community groups of “insiders” and “influencers” that work collectively across the industry and there are more than a few consultants playing the RFP arbitrator.  All can be very useful.  The challenge is who to use, if anyone at all?   Even customer referral is not as exact a science, as I doubt your direct competitor will tell you much about how they operate with a vendor, so any input from another client is purely contextual.    

 It will take two to three months to write requirements and develop an RFI or RFP. If it’s cross-departmental, you should add 10%-20% to the time for coordination of all inputs/needs.   The submission process and management of the RFP can take up to three months, from beginning to selection.  The contracting process can take one to two months and in the event you do not select your incumbent, the migration process is likely no less than three to six months to get to an unplugged state. 

A few things to keep in mind:

  • If you don’t think you can compress costs more than 20%, it’s probably not financially worth the effort, but 20% is at the expense of what type of service/capability?
  • Your operational model?   Self/Full/Hybrid/Global?  If you can’t operate it yourself and plan to support your own team, you’d better understand how to remediate problems, or your ability to respond will put you at a disadvantage to your retail competitors. (Resource costs never outweigh response and accuracy opportunity costs).
  • Technology is at parity in many respects. There is maybe a 10%-15% variance in any production-related activity across all the top platforms.  Unfortunately, no analyst will ever be able to compare that side-by-side, as no one runs a lab anymore.  Only way you’ll verify this is to simulate your work environment, which takes a bit of time on your side.  Most large retailers will send 2000+ campaigns a year (essentially up to four a day). They’re not all being sent to the same group -- but more campaigns means you are spending more time in data processing, targeting and creative, not to mention the reporting/optimization side.

The few things that are getting much more attention in RFPs these days, especially in retail, are:

  • Security and privacy – No one wants to be on the cover of The Wall Street Journal
  • Business continuity – The focus should be on SLAs, not how many data centers you have.  Who will pay you if you lose revenue due to technology problems?  This is where your “risk” analysis needs to come into play.
  • Insight and reporting -- not just clicks and opens, but new views of site, commerce, segment  -- and, since we are sending more campaigns, more discrete information on the performance of campaigns by segment, device etc., for a new dimension of reporting and insight  

My advice to the many future RFP writers and responders:  Let’s move outside the box in finding client/vendor partnerships that can sustain the key drivers of RFPS, can evolve as needs evolve, and eliminate the bait and switch that happens when vendors get negotiated past the point of value-add.

2 comments about "RFP Season Is Upon Us".
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  1. Mike LaPenske from LMP Associates, July 1, 2013 at 11:54 a.m.

    Nice perspective and generally agree on the points above.

    Curious about the Security piece showing up in RFP's, what aspects of security are you noticing?

  2. John Caldwell from, July 2, 2013 at 3:12 p.m.

    @David; I think you're pretty accurate in projecting 2-3 months in writing requirements for someone with even a little experience in doing so. With literally dozens of vendor selections/RFPs under our belt, we've seen several organizations struggle to define and separate functional and non-functional specifications drawing the process out a bit longer. All-in-all, though, I think 2-3 months for specs and RFP and another 2-3 months for demos, evaluations, RFP response, selection, and contract negotiations is a reasonable expectation.

    We've seen some of the 400-question RFPs, too, and think that they are way over-done. Most that we've see are asking every imaginable application of a given feature or function rather than focusing on the core feature or function itself. One doesn't need to list in their RFP every possible combination of form-triggered message they might have when what they want to know is can the vendor support form-triggered messages.

    We see this kind of thing from clients that are unsure what they're doing, but want to be thorough; and from consultants that somewhat new to vendor selection and RFPs, or are piling up paper for billing or other purposes.

    @Mike; When it comes to security a lot of our clients are looking for vendors with a stated security policy for starters. In some verticals we're seeing encrypted data at rest popping up more often, as are geo and IP-based restrictions. PCI compliance is still fairly rare, but we're beginning to see it more often, too.

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