It’s been just over two years since I first posted my Marketing Automation Vendor RFP process. Since then, marketing automation continues to evolve and more and more companies are joining up. What I see in the marketplace, however, is that many of the new users are not fully prepared. One of my personal missions is to make sure you are prepared for your marketing automation system. The best way to prepare is to follow the RFP (request for proposal) process and plan ahead. Just as your prospects go through 60% of the buying process before they call you, expect to do the same as a Buyer of marketing automation. The good news is, all of the marketing automation firms understand this and provide you with as much product information as you can handle. The bad news is, there’s a lot of information! Here’s a good process for sifting through all of that information. The following discussion draws on my webinar with RingLead, How to be a Marketing Automation Rockstar in July 2014.

Use your brain

Marketing RFP BrainFirst use your brain to figure out the following

  • What you need
  • What your team needs
  • What skills your team or company has
  • Political will – do you have commitment from above?

Start with what you need

Marketing automation rockstars start with what they need, not with what the vendor has. My advice here is to nail this down before you even go too far into the research process. When I first started with marketing automation, I didn’t even know what I should ask. If that’s the case with you, review the resources below first. Be prepared before you contact any vendor.

Find and review existing RFP examples

There are now several marketing automation RFP examples, including Perkuto’s, Marketo’s, and HubSpot’s. I recommend reviewing several of these to understand typical options and features. Then modify one to list out the factors important for your vendor to meet.

Survey your firm to find out what is needed and when

Bring together the key constituents, potential users, and internal customers to review the impact of a new system. Understand each group’s motivations, goals, and existing tools. Teams to bring in include:

  • Sales VP
  • Sales Operations
  • Business Analysis
  • IT/Website Development
  • Product Development
  • Product Marketing
  • Marketing team or group leaders

Not every firm will have every department, of course.  Failure to bring in the team leaders early in the process will lead to political resentment as well as potential project failure because you did not anticipate each team’s needs.

Read vendor sites…several vendor sites

This seems like an obvious bit of advice, so I’ll say it again: Go to as many vendor sites as you can reasonably find and review. Understand the differences between the vendors and their vision for marketing automation. Look at how they pitch their service. Ask questions like

  • Are they using their product effectively?
  • Is their content marketing helping me understand marketing better?
  • Is their content congruent across media?
  • Do they make it easy for me to interact?
  • Does their product integration on their site seem good or bad?

Questions you should ask about each vendor

  • What’s going to work at my company?
  • Is this vendor too advanced for what I need or are they too far behind?
  • Are they going to grow with me, do they have a good support team?
  • Are they on a growth trajectory?

Also consider asking these questions in social media and with your network.

Monitor social networks and join the conversation

Social media is a great place to lurk, scanning public statements of users and vendors, industry pundits and the like. I do recommend gleaning as much information as you can on your top 3 or 4 vendors.

  • Are comments positive or negative?
  • How does the company respond?
  • Are salespeople crowding questioners or are real people?

Then join the conversation with the right keywords and call outs to see what happens. Listen and learn. Marketing Automation RFP Twitter Question Be careful because a lot of people new to marketing automation ask, “Which is better, HubSpot or Marketo?” Or “Marketo vs. Eloqua?”  Those are the wrong questions.  Start with what does your company need? What skill sets do you have on the team? What will you need in the first year vs. second year as you grow your skills? Definitely ask people you personally know who are doing this and ask, “What’s been working for them?”

Read reviews

G2 Crowd Grid for Marketing AutomationThen go seek out sites like G2Crowd and TrustRadius for reviews. You can also just search for “marketing automation reviews” to see what blogger-users like me have to say. Remember that while crowdsourced reviews are independent, there are these considerations:

  • Vendors push happy users to do these reviews.
  • Very angry or very happy people tend to post reviews. (Although I have seen less of this in B2B).
  • The issues the reviewers raise may have nothing to do with your needs.
  • The reviews may deal with issues that the vendor resolved a year ago.

Engage with industry analysts and reports

In the marketing automation world, there are a few key analysts and reports to examine. If you can, reach out to the analyst or writer directly. Many are quite happy to help you as they can expand their network and listen to current concerns of buyers. They may pitch you on their advisory services at some point, so be ready for that. Analyst reports and blogs are full of detail on the state of the industry, future roadmaps, potential mergers, and more. Scan this information and learn what you can, especially for your top 3 vendors.

Your network

Another obvious choice, but I find this one is not used as much as people claim. For this one, you should consider searching for people in your network who have listed the vendors in their profiles. Avoid calling on them publicly; rather reach out directly to get a phone call. Most end-users will tell you the full story (good and bad) about a vendor. They may even provide tips on negotiating pricing. But when to call on the network? In my experience the network serves you best at two points: at The Start and at Reviewing Proposals. Your friends will give you some good ideas to get going and then give you the detail you need at the end of the buying process.

Now call up the vendor to speak to Sales

You may have heard that 60% of the buying process happens before the Buyer tries to contact a salesperson. Good news! You are like everyone else and now 60% of the way there and you should call a salesperson. When you do speak to Sales, make sure you explain to them what you are looking for and your RFP process. Use the keywords to let them know you are a “qualified lead” just like you would expect in your lead lifecycle system. When you provide your RFP sheet, be sure they tick the boxes and provide additional detail. Don’t let salespeople ignore the question or run over you…make them stop and find an answer to your questions. You have a right to know what you are buying. One key point for me is responsiveness. How quickly did the vendor respond to you at each point:

  • Initial request – 5 minutes or 5 days?
  • Sales manager – may depend on SDR setup, but should be within a day.
  • RFP – give them a deadline and ignore vendors who fail.
  • Questions – if you have a quick question, how fast does the sales rep get back to you?

For me, responsiveness tells me about the kind of people who are at the vendor and if I want to do business with them:

  • They want my business.
  • They understand service.
  • They operate in a way I’d expect my own firm to act.

Also, be ready with a roadmap for the salesperson: explain your process and who else is on the team. Explain the approvals required. Help them understand delays or timelines. If you are in charge of running the project, tell the salesperson that she must go through you. Take care to understand where the salesperson is coming from too. They want to close a deal quickly and to navigate your firm properly. Help them do that because they may help you close the deal internally with pricing incentives, presentations, or materials. Great salespeople know they have to make you look good too. I’ve known Nick Valldeperas, Enterprise Account Executive at Marketo ever since he sold me my first Marketo instance. I asked Nick what he needs help with during the final stages of the buying process. (note: this does not necessarily represent Marketo’s view).

“It is our job to help the customer navigate this process and learn about the product, but we can only work with what we are given. Spend some time to educate the sales rep on your business, your goals, and your needs. Allow the rep to ask questions. This may take a few calls and a bit longer on the front end, but you will end up with a more compelling presentation and result.”

The Proposal and Negotiation

Now you have reached the last step before signing. You asked one or two vendors for a proposal and started to negotiate terms. Remember that while the salesperson will typically work for you to obtain the terms you need, there are limits. Understand what is flexible and what is not. If it is the end of the quarter, see what sweeteners can be thrown in (training, reduced event fees, etc). Congrats! You signed on to a vendor. Be ready for Day 1: marketing automation implementation.

Additional resources to use for your RFP

Do you have other marketing automation selection tips? Let us know!