One of the first posts on this site was the Marketing Automation RFP.
That post was born out of working with my first Marketing Automation RFP where I selected Marketo over Eloqua (and a few others). Having been a salesperson, as well as having worked with many event vendors, meant I had a fairly good idea of how I needed to proceed. Yet, it was still a difficult call to choose one vendor over another when the comparison is fairly close. And it’s still a difficult call. All sorts of human thoughts come into play like:
- I’ll disappoint the salesperson. They were nice.
- This better work, otherwise it’s going to be on me.
- So-and-so wanted vendor X, but vendor Y is really a better bet.
- I’ve already put so much time into this vendor, it’ll be easier to stay with them (sunk cost fallacy!).
And unless you’ve worked with that vendor before, it is a pretty big bet to commit to a one year contract and tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of work.
A lot of smaller B2B firms, especially tech B2B, tend to play fast and loose with the many martech vendors out there. Some are super cheap microservices that are easy to swap. Others are much larger investments of time to solve real business scale problems.
When conducting martech vendor evaluations, I see a lot of firms and team members spend very little time evaluating the problem they want to solve and very little time evaluating the vendor. With a few simple rules, you can improve your hit rate with vendors and avoid bad experiences.
Understand Your Needs or You Will Get Sold
The simplest change you can make in your RFP process is to first understand fully your team’s needs. I receive a lot of requests from other marketers that go like this:
“We need vendor X because we’re growing.”
“We need vendor Y because I can’t do spreadsheets anymore.”
Notice that the vendor is already decided here without any particular understanding of the real need. It’s hard to do this, but you MUST push back in a professional, curious way to better understand why your colleagues need a new tool. Be curious, ask questions to fill the answers:
- Ok, tell me about your spreadsheets.
- Are your spreadsheets about budgeting?
- What are you trying to track?
- What do you do now?
- Tell me about your growth plans.
Usually there is resistance because these questions are getting in the way of your colleagues’ assumed plans. What you want to end up with is User Stories where you have a sheet or document that says:
As a marketer, I want to know how many registrants I have for event Z within seconds instead of going to 3 different places.
If you are able to do this effectively, you can then explore what may solve that problem or empower the marketer to do this. Many times, existing tools will help a person without purchasing anything. Sometimes it’s just a simple report tweak. Sometimes it’s exploring how an existing tool is used. For example, one need was to more easily deploy a small roadshow with a more flexible page layout. All we had to do was recode a page and Program Token to empower the marketer — no tool required!
Of course, your exploration of the needs will also translate into requirements and features, features you may not have right now. That’s when you compile the needs and can more effectively look outside the organization for a solution. Without this needs list, you will just see shiny objects everywhere.
Remember, it is the salesperson’s job to sell you, or “educate” you, on their services and vision. If you aren’t sure where you want to go, you will be sold on the vision that may not be a real solution to your needs.
Sales Responsiveness Matters
Sales responsiveness matters because it is an indicator of the culture of the firm and if they will care about you after the contract is signed, whether that’s Customer Success, Implementation, Support, or Roadmap – do they care about your business?
If there’s any feeling they do not care, best to drop them from the shortlist. Seriously. No regrets.
One of my core values is service, and as a salesperson, service meant picking up the phone in under 2 rings or responding to email quickly. I evaluate every vendor on this type of responsiveness.
In my first RFP process with marketing automation, it was hard to select a vendor! There were the usual 6 main choices to research—companies that you would feel, on the surface, are safe choices. I was concerned with how scalable the system was; would it work with our systems? Would I be able to make it work? Would other people adopt it? Would it be a quick project or longer? If this worked, would I advance my career? If it didn’t, how would I fix it?
As a marketer or salesperson, these are the hidden questions you, and your prospects and clients are asking. Find a way to answer them in the most appropriate way. The flip side is that you are asking these questions too when buying new martech, so remember how this all works!
Now you have to get a martech vendor to respond to you. This is surprisingly difficult. You have to show the right behaviors and reach their MQL/SQL thresholds to reach a real person. It is amazing how hard it is to have a company respond to a request such as
“I am selecting a Marketing Automation vendor for my company. I have $3,000 per month to spend. I will be your main contact and will recommend you to my manager. Please call me to discuss pricing and provide a demonstration. Please fill out my RFP.”
Some companies will never respond. WTF? When I was looking for marketing automation vendors, a couple of vendors responded with a quick demo, but when I asked for further details, I never heard back. One person actually wanted to not demo the service when I told her I was unable to pay $5,000 per month in the first months of the contract. She never even wanted to negotiate. Other vendors made me go through their junior SDRs to qualify me for the Account Executive. I found that frustrating because it meant repeating my needs to two or three different people before getting a demo.
One vendor I called several times to discuss how to go to the next stage. When I finally got him on the phone, I was told that “we were in our month end closing and I was busy.” So this guy just told me that new business wasn’t important enough for him to even let me know he needed time. Unsurprisingly, that MAP vendor went out of business years ago.
On the other hand, two firms were remarkably different.
Vendor X’s salesperson fumbled the initial call because he was working at home and had a huge pipe break. So when his plumber arrived, he had to go. Not auspicious.
But he called me back and spoke more. He was eager to come in person for a demo, which he did. Then he called me a few times to discuss generally how I personally would benefit from getting the implementation right. He offered guidance on how to work with Marketing Automation and how to time the implementation for maximum effect. When I made it clear that we were on a limited budget until next April, he helped me understand how I could meet my internal needs using his service and adjusting the timing of certain things.
He also offered to have his CMO speak with my CMO, and his CTO sent me a signed book on using Marketing Automation.
In other words, he seemed to care about educating me and making sure I was comfortable with their firm. He was on the short list before he even returned my RFP questionnaire.
The second company was different. I wasn’t sure I liked their name. I wasn’t sure I liked what I saw on the first pass. I thought they had ignored an earlier request for information. But their name came up in a conversation, so I called them again and was SQLd! By the end of the day, I had a real sales person on the phone, although I was disappointed it took the entire day. He sounded eager to please. I asked him for more details, for a demo, and to fill out my RFP.
He was also, however, clear with me that his time that week was limited and that I was asking a lot of him. But he never said No to me. I had a demo the next day and the details by the end of the week. He showed me tools that were lacking in other services, but were included with his system.
So he moved closer to my short list simply because he sounded like he wanted to make it happen.
What is the lesson from this?
It is that the most responsive sales people will get the business or get closer to the money than someone who ignores the buyer.
Business and Pricing Model
One area where buyers, especially in Marketing, get upset is pricing. Buyers are upset not with the price, but what they thought was included with the price. Understand the pricing model of your vendors before you sign a contract!
It is amusing that many marketers don’t explore this enough because it is often our job to build pricing models and explain them to Sales and to our prospects.
Always ask up front, and early, “What’s your pricing model look like?”
We all know salespeople are reluctant to talk about price on the first call. Do not be afraid to bring it up early because you don’t want to waste time with vendors who:
- Refuse to talk price.
- Have confusing or unfair pricing models.
- Are so outside your budget that no amount of “value” will ever make the deal happen.
Remember that there are solutions for all budget levels and your Needs Assessment should tell you what type of vendor you will evaluate to the call list. For example, if you run small roadshows of 50 people where there aren’t paid tickets, and you just need XYZ features, you will find some nice solutions out there at a fairly low price point. But if you actually want to run an entire User Conference with Booths, Exhibitors, Speakers, etc…there are enterprise level solutions that solve all that at a totally different price point.
One reason I chose Marketo originally was they made it clear they would grow their product with us as our ability to use it grew.
Some vendors price in a way that may not work for the way you want to work. Perhaps your budget is limited and you need to know the price won’t change as you use it. Perhaps you are growing fast and want to be charged in a clear way, but are happy to pay more as you grow. If your vendor cannot fit into your pricing needs, you may not want to go with them.
Pricing Model considerations:
- All inclusive monthly fees.
- Add Ons – what’s really included?
- Pay per Unit
- Minimum Fees
- Annual payment discounts
- Cancellation ability
Next time we’ll talk more about vendor pricing options and why some vendors don’t get it.