I've been looking hard at the burgeoning content marketing software landscape recently, and I've realized marketers need help not only navigating a growing universe of tools and software for their content marketing needs, but also determining what their own needs really are.
Without understanding those needs, selecting vendors and determining budgets for solutions are well nigh impossible, and when solutions are purchased, money is often wasted, or inappropriately allocated.
As a content software vendor recently put it, "Most brands aren't yet able to clearly articulate their content marketing needs or end KPIs. This makes creating an RFP and asking the right questions incredibly difficult." Brands and their agencies can't frame "what's needed" or how to get to the end goal.
So my latest project as an analyst has been to create the "Content Marketing Software RFP: A Framework to Determine Needs & Solicit Proposals" (download available at no cost). Existing RFP templates can't be retrofitted to the task of soliciting content marketing solutions due to a number of specific challenges.
There are seven steps to the process, including looking beyond marketing into cross-functional needs, as well as integration with other software systems.
Determine goals and provide background
Because content marketing is still nascent, this initial step helps align the organization with the RFP process. Write a brief that includes project goals and objectives, your initial deployment approach, the competitive landscape (if relevant), and an implementation timeline.
For example, one goal could be to streamline content creation throughout marketing to reduce duplicated efforts. Or you may want to syndicate existing content across multiple websites and use analytics to optimize content for greater visibility. A thorough brief also helps the software vendors understand goals, targets, and unique challenges.
Determine and prioritize content marketing use cases
The next step is to determine which use cases apply to your project. The template reflects the framework outlined in Altimeter's report, "The Content Marketing Software Landscape: Marketer Needs and Vendor Solutions," which explains how to identify marketers' needs against eight use cases, each containing numerous subcategories and integration considerations.
A key part of your RFP process is determining which use cases and subcategory features are most important to your organization. Very rarely does an RFP address all eight use cases; you can reduce the complexity of the process by selecting from the start only those use cases that most apply to your organization's content needs.
Gather cross-functional requirements
Now that you have the broad outlines of your organization's content needs, identify stakeholders and end users, and solicit them for their requirements, input, and collaboration.
Plan for integration and evolution
Integration considerations are essential because of the consolidation driven by converged media, as well as the evolution of content stacks, end-to-end content marketing solutions akin to ad stacks. Each content marketing use case comes with a host of potential integration issues. Identifying essential integrations can help refine your final list of prospective vendors. Content marketing software integration considerations are tripartite:
Integration with marketing systems
This includes legacy and existing marketing-related systems, such as CRM, social listening tools, content management systems (CMS), digital asset management (DAM) solutions, marketing automation, and so on. Integration requirements with other marketing systems are critical and typically comprise the most immediate integration needs when implementing new content marketing software.
Integration with enterprise systems
This includes legacy and existing enterprise systems that support or could support content marketing processes (e.g., management, workflow, analytics, etc.). Examples include internal communications platforms, corporate intelligence, and internal collaboration networks. Depending on organizational needs, enterprise system integration may be an immediate or a longer-term priority.
While future will hold different definitions for different organizations, remember to consider how the business and IT roadmap will impact integration needs down the road. Also consider external forces, emerging technology platforms, changing capabilities, and device types.
Create the RFP background and vendor response documents
The goal of any RFP is to bring structure to the procurement process. Each step outlined above provides you with the requirements needed to build a realistic and complete picture of your current and future needs. Framing good questions around strategies, needs, and business objectives results in better answers from vendors, especially when an industry sector is new, crowded, diverse, inconsistent, and undergoing rapid change and upheaval.
The background also provides company and background information, current tools, and integration needs, enabling vendors to respond to the bigger picture. You should also include the decision-making timeline and any evaluation criteria or budget information that you would like to share.
Identify and prioritize vendors
Having prioritized use cases and integration requirements, you now must figure out which vendors can satisfy the requirements of those use cases. Altimeter requested information from 110 content marketing vendors, and 53 provided responses to our extensive survey. Each vendor was not only asked which use cases their platform supports but also to force rank the use cases they support best. Look at your own prioritized use cases developed in step four, and see which vendors should be on your shortlist because their priorities match your own. Also consider working with multiple small vendors that provide point solutions, as they may concentrate on key use cases that are important to your content marketing organization.
Compile and compare responses
With responses in hand, you can begin to compare your options. Consolidate and review all responses to the RFP. At the end of the process, follow up with all of the vendors and provide feedback to those not selected because you may want to work with them in the future. The information gathered can provide you with pointed feedback and documentation.
While based on research, this framework, as well as the accompanying template, is untested. I'd love your feedback. How can we make it better?