How to Write an Effective Marketing Automation RFP


To respond or not to respond is always the question. Some marketing automation platforms have taken the position that they will not respond to RFPs during the sales process because it is not the best use of their time. However, I believe that RFPs can be highly informative and useful during the procurement process as long as they are written with intention. As RFP season begins to wrap up, I took stock in the different RFPs that crossed my desk. I reviewed countless RFPs this quarter, some good, some bad, some 125 pages long and I realized that many brands have no idea how to write an RFP for a marketing automation platform, so a generic procurement RFP template is wordsmithed to reflect marketing automation language. Below are some surefire tips to make sure that a salesperson does not fall asleep reading your RFP.

Be Upfront…Upfront.

The first thing in your RFP is to state why you are requesting proposals. Give an overview of your business and what you are trying to solve for in your industry. Explain clearly both the current state of your marketing automation campaigns, as well as your desired future state. Address any KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Explain how mature of a user your team is in regards to marketing automations (i.e. is this your first foray into marketing automation or are you currently using sophisticated techniques, but need more features than what your current platform offers). When possible give three to five use cases to give the responder more insight into how you will be using the platform and what your priorities are. Give detailed instructions on what you would like to see from the response, but avoid requesting someone to jump through hoops that you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself. If you wouldn’t ride a purple unicorn under a full moon by 5PM EST, do not ask your responders to do the same. By addressing any prerequisites upfront (i.e. offering support in Mandarin is mandatory), you allow the responder to determine if what they are offering is a good fit before going through the work of responding. Being upfront and open about your needs creates efficiencies and will save you time and money during the entire process.

Give a timeline of activities.

Giving a structured timeline sets expectations for all parties during the process, and keeps everyone honest. Your salesperson is going to live and die by the timeline of activities that you provide and will need to do a juggling act to manage items internally. Include items like when the RFP was sent to selective bidders, when bidders confirm they agree with your terms/their interest, when additional questions are due, when you will respond to additional questions, when RFP responses are due, schedule of demos and in-person meetings. In addition, make your turn-around times reasonable for everyone. Take into account who will be responding to your RFP. At the Enteprise level, it will usually be multiple people who will collaborate on the response, so asking for responses on a 35 page RFP with a week turnaround is an unreasonable request.

Thrive in Structure, Drown in Chaos

The way an RFP is structured says a lot about what it will be like to work with the requester. Giving an organized structure to the RFP allows for the responder to look at your business in aggregate, as well as understand priorities within individual topics. As mentioned before, there may be multiple people weighing in on the response, so structuring the RFP so that different departments can easily weigh in makes the entire process more efficient for everyone. It also gives you the ability to give your internal stakeholders the answers to the specific items that they are interested in clarifying in an organized way. Order your topics in a way that makes the RFP flow such as

  1. Campaign Creation
  2. Lead Scoring
  3. Email Deployment
  4. Landing Pages
  5. Forms
  6. List Segmentation
  7. Analytics
  8. Contacts
  9. Mobile Capabilities
  10. Social Media
  11. CRM Integration
  12. Security
  13. Tracking
  14. Infrastructure
  15. Data Compliance

Within each section, ask relevant questions to your business needs in addition to generic questions. For example, under analytics you could ask them to describe what type of reports are automatically included, but then in another question make the effort to drill down on specific questions regarding Heat Map reporting or Dashboards because you have found that those are important to meeting your organization’s needs. After you included all of your questions, include an extra area for additional information. This gives the responder the opportunity to cover items that may not have been asked on the RFP, but are relevant to your use cases. Lastly, please include table of contents (with page numbers!) to makes everyone’s life easier, including yours, in the long run.

What Not To Ask

A sore point in RFPs is asking for customer references. While a prospective responder wants to showcase their best case studies and clients that will be using the platform similarly to you, it is premature to ask for client references in an RFP. Client references should be given once you are further in the purchasing process. It is inappropriate to ask for client references upfront.  

Asking for competitive information is also inappropriate. While you may ask “What features or functionality distinguishes you from your competitors”, avoid asking questions that pit one platform against the other. Working with a marketing automation platform should be a partnership where the platform is helping you meet a business need. The RFP should focus on what will be accomplished, not foster a snarkfest about competitors.

Avoid getting too specific in your questions on items that aren’t relevant to the response. Questions like “What is the name and job title of the person who heads up deliverability?” and “What is the Customer Service Phone Number in North America” are way too specific for an RFP and completely irrelevant to the response process. In addition, think through the questions that you are asking. If ADA compliance is important to you, ask about ADA compliance in general, do not ask how could a blind person could access and utilize the platform (that was a real question). Unless you truly need an audio-controlled marketing automation platform, it makes the response process unnecessarily cumbersome and leaves a lot of people scratching their heads as to how that could actually be accomplished.

Other Items to Consider

Ask for a roadmap. Many platforms are happy to elaborate on their future plans to give you an idea of scalability and what your future state could be. Ask about integration with other software like budgeting and planning, paid media, BI Tools and Surveys. Understanding how the platform will affect your overall tech stack is incredibly beneficial and can save you money in the long run. Ask about other products in the platform’s portfolio that could be relevant to your use case. Many of the marketing clouds have complimentary products in-house or ISV partners that could help with your use case, so make sure to ask about those. Think about your workflow and how many users will be accessing the platform. Are permissioning and approval levels important to you? If so, ask in the RFP how that is managed.

While it’s important to features and functionality in an RFP, you want to make sure that the platform that you choose will meet your needs. Writing an RFP that a salesperson wants to read allows you the opportunity to get your needs across in a structured way, but also shows that you are a true partner in the process. It gives clarity to the procurement process, but it also helps everyone solve for your business needs in the most efficient way.