RFP season is now upon us. With tight budgets and tough goals, retail marketers are hoping to get more juice from the squeeze. That can be a recipe for disappointment if marketers aren’t adept at the RFP process. Vendors will promise easy onboarding, great results and superior service, but brands need to read between the lines and ask the right questions to find those partners who can really make a big difference.
When in Doubt, Start With a Use Case
When it comes time to make that list of requirements for a new marketing automation tool, data partner or reporting platform, different stakeholders often have different ideas of what matters. Requirements should come from real life use cases that are prioritized based on potential realistic return and solve use cases specific to the industry. While everyone needs a seat at the table, that doesn’t mean that each vision for the new technology is equally valuable. One stakeholder might be thinking about saving a few hours a week of manual labor with AI, while another team thinks they could transform their operation from cost-center to revenue generator.
Each stakeholder should create use cases to describe what they want to be able to do. Examples include being able to identify more on-site shoppers for better targeted marketing, or having reporting that aggregates insights across all channels to create a lifetime value calculation for each customer.
Then each use case should be further developed with IT and marketing, and approved by leadership. Use cases should include what activation channels are needed, what KPIs should be measured and what solutions are needed to make the use cases real. With this information, the entire group of stakeholders can then assess each use case based on two factors—level of effort and ROI.
Keep an Eye on Requirements
The next process is to use the top use cases to create a list of requirements. While I am a big fan of use cases, not every retailer goes through the rigorous process of developing solid use cases. However, nearly every RFP has a list of requirements. However those requirements were determined, a retailer needs to be prepared to review those requirements regularly throughout the evaluation process.
Early on in the RFP process, brands are usually focused on their core business requirements. But as they go deeper it’s common to veer off course. Stakeholders should care more about requirements than the actual type of technology they select. For instance, someone might think they need a CDP and have trouble looking at vendors outside of that bucket rather than gather a list of vendors based on how they match their requirements. Vendors themselves can distract teams from their goals with shiny new features. A core requirement might be to have multiple activation points across SMS and email, until a vendor shows a new social media widget and the original requirement gets forgotten. While innovations and bells and whistles are great, brands will do best when they keep their eye on what matters most.
Even the best list of requirements needs to be rethought based on the messy world that’s actually out there.
Retail brands should weigh requirements against any new capabilities based on KPIs like:
- Scale – what percent of business (number of shoppers/percent of sales/etc.) would be affected
- Lift – how much would it improve outcomes above current performance
- Usability – how easy is it to implement and use
- Revenue Impact – what is the projected ROI from using it
A retail brand with a huge amount of commerce happening on Instagram might actually benefit enough from that new social media capability that it could reprioritize their requirements. A more typical web-based retailer would crunch the numbers and determine that email and SMS matter more because it would deliver more scale and lift. Take time to talk to peers and references about your specific use cases, check out case studies and see how they align with your needs, and talk to analysts and vendors to help with more realistic assessments.
For example, build an accurate picture of the “true cost” of a solution, including everything from costs of integrations and custom reporting to headcount needed to manage the new system. Ask for real examples of who does the work, how long it takes and where the costs factor in.
Finding the Right Fit
Use cases and requirements are not just helpful for finding the right technology. They can also help finding the right partnership. More buyers are turning to peers to help inform their selection process. That means elements like transparency, service and results will weigh more heavily than flashy bells and whistles.
If vendors are just giving a straight sales pitch rather than asking about a brand’s use cases, they might not be very collaborative. If they can’t provide proof that they’ve delivered something important to the solution working, such as custom dashboards or integrations, perhaps they’re willing to exaggerate their capabilities to get the sale only to disappoint during onboarding.
In 2024, getting more from a vendor means doing the work up front, and sticking to a rigorous review process helps both sides find the fit that will deliver success in the long run.