First tip for marketers: Plan your conference process carefully
It is significant that you keep in mind that you are going to have to sit through final presentations for many ESPs. Keep this in mind while depicting up program for the in-person conference. For example, while it might seem like a big idea to hear about things like “How email is growing” or “The effect of mobile on email marketing,” there are plenty of places you can get this information. Devoting a significant part of the in-person presentations to topics like this means that you are going to have to sit through four or more presentations on the same topic. You can trust me that by the third meeting you are going to dread this section. Why? Because all of the ESPs are going to tell you pretty much the exact same thing on broad industry topics like these. You’re not going to hear anything that will help you determine who might be the best partner.
A improved approach is to make out what it is about your current partner that has brought you to this point. Are there pain points in the process that could perhaps be made to disappear if you changed ESPs? Are there steps that could be automated to reduce time and cost? Use cases are a great way to get fresh thinking, even from the incumbent. Asking the ESPs to use the in-person meeting to respond to specific use cases lets you see how they approach problems, how they think, and who the really smart people on their teams are. Even if you’re doing the RFP only because procurement mandates you do one every three or four years, that doesn’t mean you should simply settle for a cheaper ESP. Switching is going to be brutal; don’t kid yourself. It’s only worth it if you get a better solution along with some cost savings. Asking their opinions on social media isn’t going to get you there.
Second Tip for marketers: The search process is going to be longer than you believe all the time!
I have not at all participated in an RFP where the original timetable was met. RFPs are very time consuming, and they should be because the stakes are so high. The longer time frame isn’t indicative of a breakdown in the process. It merely reflects the fact that you are going to have so many people involved with so many moving parts that, even with the best intentions, meeting dates are going to take longer to get scheduled.
If you go into an RFP with this attitude, then you’ll be capable to time it while taking into account peak sending periods for your product or service and not find yourself having to migrate to a new vendor right before that time hits. This way, if you’re a retailer you don’t get stuck migrating in November, if you’re a cruise line you’re not doing it in February, and if you’re a summer vacation spot, you’re not migrating in May. So by all means put together a timetable for the RFP. You have to start somewhere. But please do keep in mind it’s an aspirational timetable.
And if you still are going into the process insisting that you will stick to your original timetable, at least negotiate a month-to-month deal with your current vendor so you’re not stuck when your date slips (and it’s going to). You’ll get a much better deal if you’re not doing it 30 days before your current contract expires. At the beginning of the search, your vendor still thinks they are in the running. Later in the process, if it looks like you’re not going to pick them, they won’t be so flexible.