At The Relevancy Group, we spend a lot of time helping clients manage the increasingly complex process around RFPs for new marketing technology partners, particularly in the email marketing space. This has given us a very unique perspective on the process of pitching for business and the pitfalls that can trip up a vendor at every stage of it.
Whether you are an enterprise provider pitching a Fortune 500 prospect or are looking to serve the small or midmarket segments, the same universal truths apply when in the RFP process. So as a public service to all our friends in the ESP space, this month I offer you the three universal truths of all email RFPs -- ones that actually apply to all marketing technology RFPs.
If you aren't invited to the party, don't crash it
Managing an RFP process obviously means disappointing many very capable candidates at different points. There can only be one winner after all. At each phase of the process, candidates are eliminated, and we try to provide them with constructive feedback. And despite their disappointment, by and large the vendors are gracious and very professional in their response.
However, in some of our client engagements, there's the vendor who didn't even make the cut to be included in the RFP and yet has a close relationship with someone in senior management. And that vendor uses that relationship to get imposed on the process, sometimes when it's already well down the road.
Before your company does this, here are some things you should consider:
There are very good reasons you weren't included in the first place. Those reasons will invariably surface during the process, as the methodology we use is very objective and based on unbiased scorecards. It's not that we don't know enough about your company; it's that we know enough about your company to have decided it's not a good fit in this particular RFP.
You're not winning any friends when you crash the party. Your party-crashing going to extend the length of the process for the client and give him or her the added pressure of having to deal with executive management oversight of the project. As for The Relevancy Group, we manage a lot of RFPs -- not just the one you've decided to crash.
Introduce the people who will actually manage the business if you win
I have written about this before, but I'm going to say it again: Email marketing (and marketing technology in general) is a service business, and our clients want to get comfortable with the team with whom they would work if they award you the business. In The Relevancy Group's recently completed "ESP Buyers Guide" (you can get a free excerpt here), we found that the quality of the people is as important in selecting a new ESP as are the features and functionality of the platform, particularly at the enterprise level. It's extremely difficult to make a pure platform play these days.
But in far too many RFP presentations, the ESP team is comprised of sales leads, sales engineers, implementation specialists, etc. And maybe one person who will actually be part of the team managing the business. Making matters worse, of the seven or eight people presenting, only one is a woman. Some of the smartest people with whom I've ever worked just happen to be women!
If you take anything away from this at all, it should be this: 100 percent of the time, the decision makers at the prospect are going to include women -- 100 percent of the time. So include women and the people who will manage the business in your presentations. Ideally they are one and the same. Lastly, one salesperson should do it. That's getting harder these days because of the purchases of ESPs by the likes of Adobe, Oracle, Teradata, Salesforce.com, etc. Having lived through the purchase of Digital Impact by Acxiom back in 2005, I know how difficult keeping it to one or two salespeople can be. The "mother ship" (as we referred to Acxiom back in the day) wants at least one of its salespeople in all the opportunities along with the team from the ESP. After all, one of the reasons to buy an ESP is to have another entry point into prospects. But there's no upside for the prospect during an RFP to have two or more salespeople involved. And it can confuse the daylights out of us as well. We often end up not knowing with whom we should be speaking.
Remember that every marketer has different needs
Ignore those different needs at your peril. There's usually one or two critical features on which an RFP turns -- features that in all likelihood are unique to that marketer. So vendors that stick to a playbook and script often don't recognize the importance that a prospect puts on a particular feature. Or they do pick up on it, and rather than address it, they try to hide the fact that they have an inelegant solution for that need by shifting the focus to something else.
Recognizing these inflection points in an RFP process requires excellent listening skills on the part of the ESP's team. And if your platform doesn't address the requirement, it's even more critical that you get ahead of that fact. Don't try to ignore it and move on. We advise vendors to acknowledge when their ability to address a specific requirement misses the mark. At this point, they should outline a roadmap to solve the problem, while also emphasizing how their platform is superior in handling the remainder of the requirements specific to that marketer. Merely saying "we're the best," "we are winning the most business," or "we invest the most money in our platform" is not a winning strategy at this point in the RFP.
Prevailing in any RFP takes a lot of work, a bit of luck, and a good product. Even so, if you are honest with yourself, no matter how good your team and platform might be, you're not going to win every time. But you can certainly improve your odds of winning if you follow the advice we've included here. And even a small uptick in your win rate will mean a lot more revenue over time!
Chris Marriott is the vice president of services and principal consultant at The Relevancy Group.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.