What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the letters “RFP”? Chances are it isn’t something good—unless, of course, you work at The Relevancy Group. We love RFPs and helping our clients manage the process and get great deals. But for the rest of the email world on both the buy side and the sell side these three letters come with a lot of baggage. Why is that?
The Sell Side
It’s a fairly simple question to answer if you are on the sell side of the business. When your client decides to conduct an ESP RFP you face the probability that you’re going to be less one client at the end of the process. While The Relevancy Group always advises our clients to be biased towards the incumbent, this rarely happens in most RFPs. Sometimes it’s as simple as relationship fatigue, while other times there are real issues that the ESP has neglected or been unable to address. In any case, for the incumbent ESP an RFP represents the commitment of a lot of resources to defend a piece of business in what will be an uphill battle.
For those ESPs who are not the incumbent, these three letters are a little more palatable. But let’s face it, most sales people trying to woo a new client secretly believe they can get the business without that prospect conducting a formal RFP. They continue to believe they can pull that off up until that point in time when the prospect announces they are going to RFP. And once it goes to RFP the odds for any individual ESP to win the business goes down in proportion to the number of ESPs invited to participate.
For the ESPs participating, the RFP process represents—just like for the incumbent—an enormous commitment of resources with no clear idea of when that commitment will be over. Many times the people managing the RFP on the client side have little or no experience in managing an RFP so the process proceeds in fits and starts, with decisions that can sometimes appear capricious to the participants. While the ESPs who have been in RFPs that we’ve managed know that we’re going to put them through the ringer, they also understand our process and know that our scorecard-based approach leads to a very objective evaluation process (and that we’ll keep the process moving forward to a timely conclusion).
The Buy Side
As mentioned earlier, there are many reasons why a marketer goes into an RFP. But just because it’s their decision to conduct an RFP doesn’t mean they have to like it (and sometimes the marketing team is pushed into the RFP by procurement rules which require one on a regularly scheduled basis). In fact marketers tend to dislike RFPs for any number of reasons, including:
- They take up too much time that could be better spent on one’s day job
- They create, or further exacerbate tensions within the organization, particularly between marketing and IT
- They never, ever end on time. Often they drag out over months
- It’s impossible to discern actual differences between the various participants—everyone can do everything (apparently)
- No one really knows what they should be putting into the requirements, or how they should be weighted
- No one really knows where the market is in terms of pricing—what’s a fair deal these days?
Let me point out here that our clients don’t have to face these issues. We do the heavy lifting for them, and no one has a better handle than us on where the market is in terms of pricing. But for most of the companies charging into an RFP, these are very real issues that must be overcome in order to achieve a successful outcome. RFPs have a very bad tendency to start with a bang but then reaching a point 4-6 months down the road where inertia sets in, and the ability to move forward seems to have slipped from the grasp of anyone on the marketer side, and sometimes even on the side of the folks pitching the business. Often making matters even worse at this point is the impending end of one’s contract with their existing ESP. If you’re going to look for an extension, don’t expect to get very favorable pricing at this point. Then again, that might not even matter to you, because you or the person leading the RFP from your side has moved on to another role within the organization dropping the whole mess into the lap of someone entirely new to the process. This is the place RFPs go to die.
Of course there’s a bright side to all of this RFP stuff. Most RFPs do cross the finish line eventually. And there’s a lot of truth to the saying, “nothing concentrates the mind like a hanging in the morning.” The minute you announce an RFP you’re likely to get extra attention from your incumbent, who now realizes the phrase “ex-client” may soon apply to your company. In addition, depending how long you’ve been with your exiting provider, there could be a whole new world of features and functionality to which you will soon be exposed. In fact, you might find that even your incumbent has rolled out an improved platform since you first became a client (you would be surprised how many ESPs have more than one platform being used by its client base). You can also be sure that pricing—at least for the technology side of things—has dropped since you signed your last contract—sometimes dramatically.
I’m not going to lie to you, RFPs are never going to be fun whether you manage it yourself, or bring in someone like The Relevancy Group to manage it for you. So it’s vitally important for those on the buy side to remember this as when embarking on an RFP: There’s a reason RFPs are so much work. Because they’re worth it! And those of you on the sell side, well you just might end up with a bright and shiny new client!