An RFP for a new kind of digital marketing RFP

Chris Bolman is director of growth at Percolate, a content marketing firm.

A marketer at a big brand sets out to make an exciting new technology purchase. Then our ambitious exec gets a call from IT: “Listen, if we’re going to integrate whatever you buy, it needs to be backwards compatible with everything the last CMO bought before he was let go. Oh, and their servers need triple contingency backup too. Firm requirement.”

Then the email comes in from procurement: “we’ll get a better price if this is a request for proposal (RFP). We got good results with a template we used back in 2011. We’ll do a quick search-and-replace and re-circulate it to vendors we’re already working with.”

Six months later nothing’s been purchased, requirements have become hopelessly convoluted by internal politics, and the exciting new tech is about to be disqualified because it doesn’t check certain boxes on a procurement survey written years before it existed.

Sound familiar?

Across the board, software RFPs are destroying innovation in digital, and here are the five reasons why:

RFPs favor legacy relationships, not merit
Many RFPs are sent out to create the illusion of fair competition. The reality, however, is RFPs heavily favor approved vendors with entrenched relationships. Why is that a problem? Because it’s a good bet the company that sold you software five years ago doesn’t make the best tech for the needs you have today.

RFPs don’t include what their authors don’t know
Think procurement is contemplating the future of the mobile enterprise? Or IT intimately understands your paid media workflow needs? Nope, they’d prefer a vendor who will bend over backwards in negotiations on pricing and offers custom support.

RFPs are backward-looking
The typical enterprise software RFP gets a rewrite every five years or so. Why so infrequently? Probably because literally no one enjoys writing RFPs. The outcome, unfortunately, is they don’t anticipate future technology trends. In social media management (SMMS), current RFPs still ask about support for Facebook tab management, despite the fact that Facebook itself is abandoning them. This leads to widespread industry confusion when a popular software vendor like Wildfire shuts down right after successfully winning multiple SMMS RFPs.

RFPs actually discourage competition and innovation
In a perfect world, any technology company could respond to an RFP with a solution that challenges the buyer to rethink their problems. Instead, the reality is tech vendors see them as a waste of time. Often if a vendor doesn’t match up directly to how an RFP is written, they’ll skip it, limiting the buyer’s chance of discovering the right solution.

RFPs give departments that don’t use the tech more buying power
At larger brands and agencies, procurement departments often broker tremendous power throughout an RFP process, frequently making decisions that affect the capabilities and workflows of global teams even though they don’t know — and will never personally use — the technology involved.

For a marketing landscape currently undergoing rapid and profound transformation, the last thing the world’s most iconic brands need is to be locked into buying tech based on antiquated requirements and internal politics. RFPs may be stifling innovation in digital and putting marketers’ jobs at risk, but old industry habits are hard to break.

So where do we go from here?

Let’s start with building a modern marketing technology RFP. As an early first step, we recently worked with a group of procurement experts and brand marketers to develop a new RFP aimed at the technology needs of current and future digital marketers. We’ve open-sourced it to the industry and would love your thoughts and feedback.

You can download the complete content marketing RFP here.

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