E-Commerce Link: Shop Around
How to write and manage an RFP for e-mail deployment
If you’ve made the decision to look for an e-mail deployment solution, you need to ensure you get the best deal from the best provider. Regardless of whether you want to license software, use a self-service application service provider (ASP), or select a full-service provider, it is a good idea to use a request for proposal (RFP) process. Using this process you can survey suppliers, solicit competitive bids and evaluate potential vendors in a consistent manner.
Your RFP document should outline specific information about your organization, the services you need, and the specific requirements vendors must meet to win your business. Here are some thoughts on how to prepare.
First, appoint someone who will be responsible for managing the process and consolidating all internal requirements. Many companies hire an outside consultant conversant with e-mail to help them: define requirements; identify potential vendors; assist in the writing of the RFP; manage vendor questions; and follow up with vendors if their answers are inadequate. If you use a consultant, make sure he or she reports directly to your internal manager.
You’ll want to identify between six and 10 potential vendors. Hold preliminary conversations with each vendor to understand what they offer. Have several internal department members participate in capabilities demonstrations. This legwork should provide you with a better view of what is available and help you focus on the technology and feature sets important to your business. This also may rule out vendors whose solutions do not mesh with your needs.
Finally, begin to organize specific requirements. Companies in the early stages of an e-mail program will want to drill down on baseline services such as delivery, bounce management, tracking and reporting, and list management. Marketers who are further along likely will be interested in hosted registration and ongoing personal-profile management pages, triggered messaging, dynamic content and advanced personalization, along with modeling and analytical capabilities.
Write the RFP
The introductory section of your RFP should provide:
1) General information regarding the RFP, company contacts and a confidentiality statement. You and/or the vendors selected may require a mutual non-disclosure agreement be signed prior to any information exchange.
2) An executive summary that provides company background and outlines your business needs and requirements. Here you might summarize anticipated e-mail volume, frequency of campaigns and features required.
3) RFP response guidelines for vendors. It’s in your best interest to structure the document so that each vendor uses your format to respond. This allows you to easily and objectively compare vendors. Most questions should require a short-form answer such as: “comply,” “do not comply,” or “not applicable,” with room allowed for a short explanation. On key questions you can solicit “long-form” answers, screen shots of the interface or technology documentation. Explain that a non-response to a question indicates the vendor is unable to comply with or meet the requirement.
4) Process timing. Explain when responses are due, when “finalists” will be brought in for presentations, and when the final decision will be made.
5) Any specific evaluation criteria you will use.
6) A vendor profile form with an organization overview (including size, financial stability and experience), number of employees, staffing in critical departments, how the company would assist in implementation, the ongoing support you would expect, and applicable client references.
The body of the RFP contains specific questions based on your requirements. Be as focused as possible since a response requires considerable effort on the part of the vendor, and a fair evaluation necessitates your review of all answers. Don’t ask hundreds of questions. Here are some areas to include:
1) Technology: Inquire about platform and network architecture, capacity and scalability, security, ease of installation and use, deliverability (ISP relationships, filtering and blocking), bounce handling, system availability, and administrative tools.
2) Campaign and data management: Ask about customer profiling
services, ease of import and export of data and reports, e-mail hygiene services, list creation and management, segmentation, and personalization.
3) Message creation and management: Does the company have the ability to handle rich media and flash, template-driven content, and dynamic personalization?
4) Message transmission: What will the “from” line look like? Also ask about auto-sensing, processes for handling of inbound replies such as auto-responder messages, whether you will have a unique IP address or share with other clients, any frequency controls, and the quality assurance process.
5) Campaign tracking, measurement and analysis: Beyond standard tracking, can you compare multiple campaigns, track beyond click-throughs to sales or registrations on your site, or easily drill down on behavior important to your business?
6) Training and support: How quickly will they answer problem calls? Is there telephone support? If you require custom programming, what is the process and maximum delivery time?
And last, include a section on pricing. You’ll need to understand any license or startup fees, ongoing pricing based on the volume and information you have provided, additional charges if you opt to use certain feature sets, the cost of client services support and how the company charges for any professional services. A well-designed RFP goes a long way toward reducing future problems. It allows you and the vendor to establish a dialog so that you are both “on the same page” in terms of requirements, technology and information.