How to Write an RFP That Gives You More Options

Marketing Automation has risen in popularity for its ability to deliver highly targeted messages and greater levels of prospect engagement.

If you are currently making use of this technology, or looking to become acquainted with it, then you may want to consider outsourcing assistance to get the most from these platforms.

In my previous blog I reviewed points to be considered before launching a marketing automation initiative. In this post I will discuss how to structure a request for proposal capable of addressing the requirements that are unique to a marketing automation project.

Crafting a Request for Proposal - What's the Payoff?

Developing a comprehensive request for proposal can be a considerable amount of work, so it is reasonable to ask where the payoff is. A request for proposal allows a company to evaluate multiple vendors across a level playing field. Pricing for services can vary widely, making it a challenge for a company to determine if their money is being well spent. A properly structured RFP can eliminate variability, and enable meaningful comparisons. As a secondary benefit, the exercise of writing an RFP compels marketers to verify departmental alignments and freshly evaluate objectives.

Structure of the RFP

The document should provide a potential vendor with sufficient background information to adequately address the marketing challenge. The structure outlined below has been developed specifically for marketing automation scenarios.

Overview of Your Company

To help vendors get acquainted with your company, it is useful to present a quick picture of your organization’s, history, competencies, values, and the market that it serves. To some extent, you are also using this section to sell a prospective vendor on the value of working with you.

• Company information; founding year, size of operations, markets served
• A resource section where bidders can learn about your company and the customers you serve
• Point of contact information

The Overview of the Project

The project overview section addresses the context and reason for soliciting the RFP. Is the RFP motivated by a new marketing program, or are you switching suppliers? This type of background will help those responding to understand how the project fits into your company’s overall mission.

• Project name
• Reason for the tender
• Overall goal for the initiative
• Deadline for bid submissions
• Type of bid (In general, most marketing bids are sealed, but if that is not the case, it is worth noting).

Outline of the Technology Stack

At this point in the RFP, you will want to disclose what tools are available for the project. This can include technology that is at hand, or yet to be integrated. Is a Customer Relationship (CRM) platform part of the initiative? Has a marketing automation platform been selected? Will technology stack recommendations be part of the project? If so you will want to invite input on these considerations in the strategy and tactics section of the bid response.

Summary of Objectives

The summary of objectives section lends itself to a more operational discussion of the project. (As opposed to the Overview section, which is more overarching). It is appropriate to focus on achievements that can be quantified and measured. The objectives should reference the types of pay-offs that marketing automation can deliver.

Sample objectives:
A) Increase the number of demos that each sales representative gives in a week by a factor of ten
B) Diversify customer knowledge, and promote awareness of five additional products
C) Shorten the length of the sales cycle by five days

Project Scope of Work (SOW)

The scope section is where you outline the necessary components of the project.

Project Strategy
Although process oriented, marketing automation can also be a creative endeavor, so it is reasonable to invite strategy recommendations on how the technology can be leveraged. Such requests are open-ended, and frequently provide agencies with an opportunity to draw from their overall experience in the sector. If you already have a sense of how you wish to proceed, then you may forego a request for strategy and move directly on to tactical deliverables.

Tactical Deliverables
In the scope section of the RFP you will want to itemize required tasks and deliverables. These should correlate as closely as possible to the items outlined in the Summary of Objectives.

Sample deliverables:
A) Develop a complementary email and landing page set that provides a compelling reason to request a demo
B) Create an email campaign that systematically educates customers about an extended product line
C) Develop an automated scoring system that alters sales representatives to interested prospects

It is important to remember that a key objective of the RFP is to elicit answers in a standardized format. Itemize the deliverables in such a way that the vendor response matches your break-down of the project. You are looking for responses that are easy to quantify, or met with a price. Aside from the strategy component, it is best to discourage lengthy answers. Although in-depth responses may be informative, they can potentially inhibit the evaluation process.

Request for Proposal versus Request for Quotation (RFQ)
It’s worthwhile to take a moment and discuss the difference between an RFP and an RFQ. A Request for Proposal is an invitation to provide ideas about what a solution could look like. An RFQ is different in that it solicits bids on solutions that are already defined. When drafting the RFP, it is advisable to include RFQ elements to facilitate price comparisons. It may be useful to include an itemized chart to help get a sense of a vendor’s costing structure. Even if you believe that it is too early in the planning process to itemize required assets, it’s a good idea to generate a temporary list in order to draw out comparative pricing figures.

Price Chart (possible items to solicit for pricing)
• The cost of one branded email template
• The cost of a basic landing page, complete with a stylized form
• The cost of developing a four stage nurture campaign
• Cost of a single training session

The ease of your evaluation process will be influenced by the exactness that you bring to the SOW section. The less interpretive room that vendors are given, the greater the likelihood that they will submit quotes for the exact same task. This will also help to avoid scope overruns when the project moves forward.

Providing a budget will help vendors land their quotes in a viable price range.

Ongoing Support
Any requirements relating to ongoing support and systems maintenance should be specified.


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Jeff Stiles is a marketing automation specialist, and digital marketing enthusiast. His favourite colour is #00a3e0, formerly Pantone 299 C.