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PHOTO: Marc van der Chijs

Most marketers in the hunt for technology take an “informal” approach to assessing requirements as they begin the buying process, according to data from Target Marketing and IBM (download required). Informal or formal, one of the key steps in the MarTech buying process — or any enterprise technology buying program, for that matter — is the request for proposal (RFP). Typically created at the beginning of the procurement process, RFP is a set of requirements, criteria and questions a buyer/business makes in order to release a formal bid for potential vendors for a solution, service, commodity or asset. 

When you consider the impact the right vendor or solution makes on your business, you start to understand how involved this process can get. “There are so many different things that should be asked,” said Faith Adams, a Forrester analyst who serves customer experience professionals. “And it all comes down to the individual organization and what they're trying to do. So you think about a large enterprise customer versus maybe a medium-sized company — that would be very different. But there are going to be some very similar things as well.”

We caught up with practitioners, analysts and experts who shared their tips for creating an RFP that ensures you get what you need and asked for.

Related Article: Don't Let MarTech Vendors Sweep You Off Your Feet: A Guide for the RFP Process

Think About the Long-Term Technology Needs

Most technology buyers think about the "now" and not where their organization wants to be in a year or two but it's just or perhaps more important to consider the business' short, middle and long term goals of choosing a platform, Adams said. “You don't want to break up with a vendor, especially in this space within that short of a time frame. It's not good for anybody because then you have to reset and it could take upwards of eight months to get it implemented again,” Adams said.

Ask Vendors About Their Partner Ecosystem

Have a full accounting of who your vendor partners with and what their agreements look like. What partners do they have in place for support? “You have to be able to account for the ecosystem,” Adams said. “That's one of the questions that I definitely think is incredibly important.” 

What if your vendor partners with a provider of a speech-to-text platform and something goes wrong? You’ve got a tech 911 with a major deadline on an account. “If it's not owned by the platform, how can (your vendor) be accountable for what happens?” Adams asked. “It might break down and you just might be stuck because you don't have a relationship with that actual vendor and you're just waiting for them to essentially fix it.”

Related Article: Navigating the RFP Process: 7 Tips on Evaluating Digital Agency Experience

Determine Best and Worst Case Scenarios for Price

Each RFP will naturally include some detailed material about cost, or it should. Future costs may not be something that’s necessarily transparent, according to Adams. Make sure there's nothing that's hidden because some organizations find they think it's going to cost one amount and then because their survey volume is higher, for instance, your price goes up one tier, and it could significantly impact the cost. “I always recommend making sure you have the best and the worst case scenario as far as the price that you can expect,” Adams said.

Investigate Make-or-Break Scenarios

RFPs are mostly about what you shouldn't include, according to Sarah Redin, founder of Redin Consult. “Many of the things in them should never have gotten in but are the byproduct of the internal discussions and expectation-setting that the organization does prior to the process,” Redin said.

Your organization ultimately needs a partner who can guide you and who understands and acknowledges their own limitations, Redin said. “That is why I prefer investigating the scenarios that are going to be make-or-break for that particular customer and then turn those into RFP questions,” Redin said. 

Redin suggested including topics such as: 

  • Exit-strategy: what happens when I want to replace the technology or the consultants working with it?
  • Key scenarios that are unique to us as a customer 
  • Architectural fit: only the parts that will matter.

In the RFP, Redin said you should always include frank information about who you are as a customer: 

  • Stakeholder landscape
  • Project team and how much time they can dedicate
  • Funding of project: expected budget.

Don’t Forget About Executive Sponsors, Supporters

Adam Mertz, VP of marketing and strategy at Act-On, told CMSWire that RFPs often put too much of the focus on what is most critical for the user. Yet, two other roles — the executive sponsor (funder and/or approver) and the CRM/MarTech technical resource (supporter) — also need to be considered. “What’s most critical to executive sponsors and supporters in the decision process is different and both are subsets of what users find most important,” Mertz said. “We find users and executive sponsors strongly lean toward platforms that are future proof. That means the RFP should include aspects that bring better understanding to a vendor’s stability, product vision and ability to execute that vision over the next two years.”

Get to Know Your Vendor Through and Through

Kevin Joyce, CMO and VP of strategy for The Pedowitz Group, offered up this list of must-haves in RFPs outside of the usual use cases for the technology.

  • What out-of-the-box integrations are available?
  • List customers of my size in my industry
  • If Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), development and new release cycle time and release process
  • What standards do you adhere to?
  • If vendor company is small, provide insight on funding, backers, investors, etc.
  • Provide a six-month to one-year roadmap
  • Describe your sustainable competitive advantage
  • Describe issue escalation process for level 1 bugs or quality issues

Cover Your Technology Base

Naturally, you’ll have a list of questions about the technology itself. Here are some things in particular to look out for, according to Mertz.

  • Is the platform easy enough to use that anyone in marketing could start leveraging it (no "certified" expert badge needed)?
  • Are the reporting and analytics provided both helpful and easily shareable across the organization?
  • Are nurturing capabilities (automated programs) robust?
  • Is there a native, bi-directional integration with CRM?

“Technical maturity of the platform is something that users and supporters should be thinking a lot about,” Mertz said. “If you are migrating from another system, how easy does the new vendor make it? In this vein, integrations across the MarTech stack are so critical that they are another area to make sure to cover thoroughly in your RFP.”

RFP Template Examples

Here are some examples of RFP templates for your consideration: