RFPs have real consequences for your company, and possibly for your job. Here’s a list of 4 of the most common mistakes we’ve encountered when being be hired to salvage an email RFP.
- Underestimating the time your RFP is going to take
This might be the best way to derail your RFP right from the start. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a marketer say “My contract with my current provider runs for another 9 months, so I don’t need to think about and RFP quite yet.” Nine months?! It might already be too late! Email RFPs take a long time, particularly those which are managed by an in-house team. And they will always take longer than you think. Our rule of thumb is to double the original estimate of time. And don’t forget the migration part. The more complex your program the longer it will take you to move to a new platform. It’s not a 30-day switch. In truth, it is never too early to begin the RFP process. Nine-twelve months out is a good rule of thumb, six months is the absolute minimum, yet it leaves you little/no time for migration so you will likely be on two platforms for a period of time—the old and the new. Few things are less fun than the conversation you’ll be forced to have with your incumbent when you realize the RFP will extend beyond your contract expiration. Unless they think they are going to keep the business, you are about to be charged an arm and a leg to extend or go month-to-month.
- Using social media and discussion boards to get advice on ESPs to invite to your RFP
The question of who should be invited to your RFP is of critical importance. If you haven’t been in the marketplace for a while, you can’t be expected to know which ESPs are currently leading the market in terms of features and functions. But asking anonymous or semi-anonymous people in your network who you should include in your RFP is like asking them what car you should buy. They’ll tell you what they would buy! Inviting a particular ESP to pitch your business based on the recommendation of someone in an entirely different type of business carries a lot of risk with it. You have your own unique requirements (trust me, you do) and the right ESP for one company can be a poor fit for another. To be clear, I’m not advocating that you don’t speak with others to get their impressions regarding an ESP, but the time to do that is when you are down to your final two. At this point speaking to people familiar with an ESP you are strongly considering can be very useful—particularly if that person isn’t the reference client. No ESP ever knowingly uses an unhappy customer for a reference. So how do you pick who to invite to the RFP? Hiring us would be a good idea. Barring that, there are various guides with useful advice. You can also attend some of the most important email marketing conferences to get a feel for which ESPs seem to be leading the pack these days. If you only rely on your social network for ideas on who to invite, you’re increasing the risk that your RFP will go off the rails. You’ll likely end up with a mixed bag of ESPs… and literally no way to make meaningful comparisons.
- Recycling RFP Questionnaires
This is another excellent common mistake we encounter. Whether you’re recycling the RFP your company used the last time they conducted an email RFP (with a few new requirements thrown in), or you borrowed the boilerplate from a helpful friend at another company, in both cases you’re asking questions that have little bearing on your current needs. If you re-use the RFP your company used 3 years ago for your new RFP you’re likely to pick the ESP that was perfect for you three years ago. Which, if you think about it, you already did…three years ago! You could save yourself the trouble in that case, and give them a new 3 year contract. It’s similar situation if you use an RFP borrowed from a friend… you’ll end up picking the ESP perfect for your friend’s company. You have your own unique requirements at the time of your RFP. Your search process must specifically address those requirements. If it doesn’t, it might be too late when you realize your new ESP can’t do everything you need. That will NOT be a fun conversation to have with your CMO.
- Not getting the buy in from all stakeholders in your organization
You’d be amazed how the passive aggressive behaviors by others in your organization can totally derail your RFP. Or maybe you wouldn’t be that amazed. In either case, leaving a department head outside the circle of trust in the RFP planning process almost always ensures that this person will do everything possible to thwart your efforts. This can be particularly disruptive if this person is in procurement or IT. Procurement folks can have very long memories. Remember that RFP you did last year for a content management tool? The one where you bypassed your procurement team? They certainly remember, and this time around it’s going to cost you. Or maybe there’s a new senior hire in IT who has his or her heart set on building their own in-house email solution (trust me, if you hire anyone from Amazon this is guaranteed to happen). If you neglect to get everyone’s buy in for your RFP plans, you will come regret it at some point in the process.
So there you have it. 4 common but serious email RFP mistakes. If you make more than one of these mistakes, the collapse of your RFP process will be that much more spectacular when it happens. Even if you get to the end, you’ll likely be limping across the finish line. And you’ll be making a decision just to put an end to your misery. A decision that you will likely regret sooner rather than later.