How to Create a Marketing Automation RFP

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The year was 1991 and marching through a busy office full of cubicles and pagers would never entail overhearing the words “marketing automation RFP.” This was, of course, because there was no marketing automation software to speak of. It was all done by hand. Then 1992 came along, and Unica — the world’s first piece of marketing automation software — was released. An entire industry seemingly changed overnight.

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marketing automation rfp

That was almost 30 years ago. Back then, according to HubSpot, the MA market was worth $225 million. Now it’s slated to be worth $25.1 billion in 2023. Marketing automation software is a must-have for businesses of any size, but there’s still a cloud of mystery around procuring not just Marketing automation software, but the right kind of software. So we’re here to demystify the process of creating a marketing automation RFP, so you can get your hands on the right kind of software. Start by filling out our requirements template, and then keep reading on to learn the ins, outs, and secrets of creating a killer automation RFP.

What Is a Marketing Automation RFP?

Axe the “marketing automation” part of your question — an RFP is just a business term that can apply to any kind of software or service. It stands for “request for proposal” and is a business process in which the buyer (you) searches for something, evaluates competing vendors, and then ultimately selects a software or service to suit their needs.

But an RFP, especially a marketing RFP, isn’t just a straightforward sheet of paper for you to fill out. It’s a multi-stepped, fairly intricate (yet entirely necessary) part of the software procurement process — and not just for acquiring marketing software. A good RFP will account for your budget, your industry-specific goals, organizational needs, time constraints, software needs and more. It goes without saying that an RFP is no casual undertaking, but the dividends they pay out will be massive.

Marketing automation RFPs don’t look that much different than a regular RFP, though there are a few key differences in how you’re going to prepare your RFP

  1. Your requirements are going to be different for your unique business needs — consider these carefully. For additional help, check out our requirements template.
  2. Consider what your marketing needs will be and what your key performance indicators (KPIs) are.

Ready to get started and create that RFP? Good. Your first step is the request for information (RFI).

Beginning the RFI

Think of the RFI as kind of like speed dating. What you should do first is look through a curated list of software vendors, and maybe consult some helpful blog posts about marketing automation buys. As you’re doing all of this, start compiling a list of vendors that catch your eye. Maybe they’re as flashy as Pardot, or as highly scored as SalesFusion — Whatever your pick, just make sure the features fall in line with your business requirements. Then, with this list of vendors, you’re ready to send out the RFI.

A phone next to a laptop showing Pardot, Salesforce's marketing automation software

Pardot from Salesforce is a popular marketing automation software | Source:

Just like in speed dating, you’re going to send out a message with a little information about yourself — your company name, chief business, and maybe some history you’re proud of.

Experts usually recommend outlining the following in your first marketing automation RFP:

  • Your business goals
  • The current state of your marketing automation software situation
  • Your future automation plans
  • Some key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Your team’s experience level with marketing automation

This is supposed to be a high-level overview  and a good way for you to approach vendors and say “So, tell me about yourself.” The questions in an RFI are general and a few emails can be exchanged before you’re ready to shortlist a vendor. Just like in speed dating, you spend a few minutes with a person and find out a little more about them and then make a decision. The dive into what makes that person (in this case, their software) tick doesn’t come until much later, and only then can you make more informed choices.

Ask for the vendors to supply some information of their own. We find it best to provide a few specific use-cases (three to five) you envision for your company, and then asking the vendor to try and provide solutions to your use-cases. One thing to consider: Don’t make the vendor jump through too many hoops to do this. RFIs are fairly simple for a reason, and if you don’t plan on catching a dragon at midnight, don’t ask your potential vendor candidate to do the same.

If you’ve completed the RFI and still find yourself unsure about your selection of vendors, then it’s possible your introductions or questions were too vague to start with. Make sure your RFI is specific enough so that marketing automation software vendors can understand your needs as a business.

Don’t be afraid to ask in a follow-up email about the history of the vendor’s product, it’s core (emphasis on core features), and where it is in its development timeline. These are all important questions to ask and will help make the next steps a lot easier.

Get our Marketing Automation Software Requirements Template

Create a Formal Document Where Your Marketing Automation Software Requirements Can Live

While responding to vendors, take some time to compile your marketing automation software requirements into a formal document. Your requirements can be varied, but will usually come from your list of software needs you created before you started the RFI. Next on the list should come your needs as a structured enterprise and business (things like who will use the software, what it will cost, training, etc.). Don’t be afraid to get critical during this stage of the MA RFP. Work on figuring out things like:

  • Your ideal timeline for software deployment
  • How you’re going to utilize marketing automation software as a whole
  • How it fits into the rest of your IT environment
  • The benefits you hope to see from your choice of marketing automation software
  • How those benefits can help you meet your business goals

This document should be comprehensive and will contain an intro to your organization, your goals and your requirements. Ultimately, what you want to produce is a reference sheet of sorts, to help guide you through the rest of the process of writing your marketing automation RFP.

The Big Moment: Sending Out the RFP

Drumroll, please (you may tap on your desk if you’d like). With vendors selected from the RFI and a formal list of needs where your requirements can live, it’s time to write and send the RFP.

Here is where you really drill down into what your wants and needs are. If you’re still not sure, take a step back from the RFP, and go try out RequirementsHub, our own in-house piece of software specifically made to help businesses narrow down their software requirements.

A screenshot of RequirementsHub

RequirementsHub can help your business decide on its software needs.

If you’ve already used our requirements template, or you’ve got a list of requirements and wants for your marketing automation RFP, then you can move on to the next step: developing a list of pointed questions.

Ask questions about product demos, first and foremost. Don’t shortlist a vendor if they’re not willing to provide a demo for you. You should also ask for the vendor’s experiences in dealing with firms of your size and scope. Remember, you haven’t made a final decision yet, so it’s a good time to ask hard questions. Additionally, get contacts from the vendor. If you can, get their IT and product manager’s contacts. This way, if you do select their marketing automation software, you’re going to have a close-to-the-action touchpoint to use.

Get our Marketing Automation Software Requirements Template

If you haven’t already, include your IT team in the creation of the list of requirements. Though they might sometimes be reclusive, get them on board, as they’re the ones who will be managing and installing the marketing automation software for you. They should ask questions about system compatibility, system maintenance, updates, planned features and more. IT questions such as these are perhaps the single most important questions your team could ask.

If a piece of marketing automation software isn’t going to be compliant with the rest of your systems, then you’re going to immediately have to switch to something else. Don’t allow yourself to be wooed by the guiles of fancy software features or an impressive dashboard. More than that, you don’t want to waste your time or your vendor’s time. Marketing Automation RFPs are a surprisingly collaborative event between vendor and buyer.

To aid in the creation of the RFP you’re about to send, ask pointed questions in your messages. Here’s a list of things, published by Marketo (and a few of our own metrics), that are important to marketing automation software:

  • KPI goals
  • Reporting capabilities (which goes hand-in-hand with having a piece of automated software)
  • Lead tracking and nurturing
  • Automated prospect emailing
  • Basic landing page analytics and optimization
  • Drip marketing capabilities
  • Lead scoring

At this point, be sure to include as much information as possible about your organization, while trying not to bombard the vendor with too much superfluous information. The more of your business’s needs and history you can share, the better the vendor will be able to help you.

Now comes the most important part of the marketing automation RFP process: the vendor proposal!

After a satisfactory exchange of information, and  all of your requirements are figured out (if you’ve made it this far without assessing your requirements by yourself or with our helpful template, then you should go back and start the process over again), the vendor should then share with you their comprehensive solution for your business.

At this stage, don’t be afraid to be a little more flexible with your wants. Your needs should be fairly rock-solid, given that they’re literal requirements, but your wants are some features you may or may not need and are not essential to your marketing automation needs.

Review the Responses From the Marketing Automation RFP

Tired yet? Well, you’re not quite done. There are a few other steps involved, but you’re near the finish line! What’s next is to review responses from vendors, which can be a lengthy process in of itself. After all, these are multi-week (even month-long) endeavors that will require you to analyze each of the vendor’s responses against a checklist of your own requirements.

Luckily, we offer a tool that can auto-compute vendor responses as they arrive, freeing up more of your time. RequirementsHub auto-computes vendor responses in real time. Alongside the RequirementsHub and your own internal process, we offer a free comparison report for marketing automation software.

Sending the Request for Quotation

Also known as an RFQ, the request for quotation is sent after you’ve significantly narrowed down your potential list of vendors from your RFI questioning. It’s basically like saying, “Good talk, now tell me what your solution costs and how long it’s going to take for me to get it.”

Be as specific as possible during the RFQ. Communicate your exact and specific needs during this phase. Also, be receptive to what the developer needs from you because now you’re down to brass tacks.

If all goes well, the vendor is going to come back to you with their price estimate, a timeline of implementation and more. For marketing automation RFPs, there’s a good chance the vendor will also return with contract length, a clause that outlines their support plan, and a timeline for their software’s installation.

If you’re working within a strict budget (and who isn’t these days?), this part of the process is highly valuable. With a price quote and installation timelines on the table, you can finally see the real price of your ideal software.

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A Recap on Creating a Marketing Automation RFP

In most cases, you’ll start with the RFI — quick, broad questions. As you work on exchanging information and narrowing down a list, your questions should become more pointed and narrow. Ask about the vendor’s past experiences, ask about their history, if they can meet your KPIs, etc. You’re trying to evaluate as many candidates as possible in a short time.

The compilation and shortlisting part of the RFP Is long and significantly drawn out. You should be asking the tough questions here, and ask enough of them so as to narrow your candidate pool down to around five vendors. Then you send out the RFQ, where you get price quotes, installation timelines and finalize any last-minute details. But if you’re still looking for a vendor, don’t be afraid to check out our comparison report.

Though it may seem like quite the process, a marketing automation RFP is an essential part of procuring good software and augmenting your business. Given that software contracts can often stretch into the tens of thousands of dollars, your business can’t afford not to carry out a proper RFP for buying marketing automation software.

Jason KellerHow to Create a Marketing Automation RFP

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