From business case to budgets: How to choose the best email marketing tool

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Experts provide a comprehensive guide to identifying the most appropriate email marketing vendor for your business, including how to build an RFP.

Email marketing automation has had such a significant impact in sectors such as financial services, hospitality and retail, that when Forrester outlined the mega-trends that were shaping the market, the growth of automation tools was one of the top contributors.
“If you want to launch a sophisticated acquisition and retention email marketing campaign, you have to have good trigger-based programmes to keep engaging the users - and that has given rise to the entire field of email marketing automation,” says Forrester analyst Jitender Miglani.
But with well over 100 different email marketing vendors in the UK alone, finding a vendor isn’t the challenge – it’s choosing the right one.
Where to begin?
“Before you even start your search for the perfect vendor, it’s essential to assess where your current marketing efforts stand, and where you want them to go. Set up a budget, timeline and business case so that you can hit the ground running as soon as you select a vendor,” recommends Ellen Valentine, product evangelist at Silverpop.
“Once your goals are identified, share your needs and expectations with prospective vendors. Be honest. Also take time to consider each potential feature suggested by a vendor to ensure it’s right for you in both the short and long term.
“Your objective should be to select a provider who fits your needs while also allowing for strategic give and take, especially if you've been using an in-house solution. Remember, digital marketing technology mandates a symbiotic relationship based on both the vendor’s ability to meet your desired needs, and their ability to give candid feedback. There should be a professional chemistry that makes you feel comfortable.”
Steve Kemish, managing director at Cyance Limited and chair of the IDM’s Digital Marketing Council, adds: “Most people buy way more technology than they need. This isn’t just an issue in email marketing. The industry has got very good sales people and marketing are buying technology, and marketers aren’t often technologists, so they get over sold.
“All the tools do roughly the same thing, albeit there may be a few different bells and whistles depending on the industry you work in and where they specialise. From the get go, the ROI piece of buying the system is a challenge because you end up buying many more buttons than you’re ever going to use. So you need to find a vendor who will work with you to help you scale what you’re doing as opposed to selling you the big black box of dreams from day one.”
The RFP process
Because of these challenges, it is critical that your business dedicates proper time for the vendor search, regardless of whether your business consists of marketing veterans or rookies. To help assess the resources available and provide greater clarity, the Request For Proposal (RFP) process is critical.
“RFPs take considerable time and effort to produce and should lay the foundation for a comfortable, yet incredibly efficient and successful working relationship,” says Valentine.
To construct such a plan, she recommends the following:
  • Decide which service option is best for you: Every situation is different, and digital marketing is certainly not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Options include:
    - Full service solution: Where the vendor runs the entire application and all associated services invisibly to you.
    - Self-service solution: You operate the marketing application through a Web-based interface.
    - Collaborative solution: Where you and your vendor both operate portions of the application, and work together on services related to email and marketing automation strategy, best practices, fulfillment, creative design or marketing.
    Deciding which service option is best for you will help trim your list of prospects while also providing more clarity about the options available for digital marketing as you engage your shortlist of vendors.
  • Decide on vendors: Narrow your search down to a handful of vendors who best fit your needs based on the research, goals and initial service level needed.
  • Approach vendors: Remember that while vendors are competing for your business, they are running their own businesses as well. Request information from vendors you’re truly considering engaging so you have a comprehensive view of each vendor’s capabilities.
How to write a RFP
Generally speaking, RFPs should consist of two main sections: ‘Information to provide’ and ‘information to request’.
  • Information to provide: Constructing the ideal digital marketing plan is a two-way street, so be sure to thoroughly document and communicate information about your company, your marketing department goals and reasons why you are considering a new digital marketing platform. Also include administrative information such as deadlines, proposal submission guidelines, evaluation criteria and a schedule of the RFP process.
  • Information to request: Here is where you find out the nuts and bolts of each prospective vendor, and how each best fits your needs. This section should include:
    - Vendor information (Executive summary, vendor size and other company metrics, competitive differentiators.)
    - Proposed solution (Including features, data security and storage options.)
    - Customer service and support plans (Including a detailed plan of how problems are identified, handled and prevented.)
    - Client references (Specify the types of clients you would like to include and how those references will be contacted.)
    - Pricing and purchase terms (This will provide you with a helpful way to consider vendors from a budgeting perspective, while also helping manage all solution costs that may arise.)
Kemish adds: “The advice I always give to people on the selection of email systems is to put questions in the RFP such as ‘where do you see the email marketing industry going in the next 24 months?’ and ‘What do you think are the biggest challenges with email marketing today?’ And that starts to smoke out is people that actually get the marketing aspect of it rather than just being good at the technology sale. My advice is to think laterally about partnering with somebody who can work on your marketing as opposed to providing you with a really sexy set of buttons, bells and whistles.”
After the RFP
While you may be inclined to simply wait for the responses to the RFP, taking a dynamic role in the post-release RFP phase can pay handsome dividends, says Valentine. “Companies should allow for open dialogue with prospects to ensure the best results,” she recommends. “Once you receive all proposals, narrow your list further and arrange for detailed demonstrations from your remaining prospects. From there, coordinate in-person meetings to further assess the prospects and decide on which vendor is ultimately best for you.”
While this entire process can seem overwhelming, ensuring the best value for the best returns will be more than worth the effort.

About Neil Davey


Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.


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