By Dave Ventresca, president, Maghound Enterprises Inc.
An industry evolution in recent years shows that our audience strategy and marketing tactics are driven by an ever-growing number of emerging technologies. As the role of the marketing department continues to transform, circulators are increasingly tasked with overseeing technology-intensive activities, such as Web site design, e-mail deployment, ad targeting, predictive analytics, order processing, mobile application development and many others. Identifying a reliable, savvy and cost-effective technology partner is frequently one of the most critical decisions that will need to be made during this often-perplexing process.
While nearly everyone will easily admit that a good technology partner can help your team attain success — and that a poor partner can cripple a promotional campaign — that admission does not make the vendor selection process any easier. Staffers with a background in circulation or media do not always have enough hands-on technology experience to make well-informed decisions. Our Maghound project had the advantage of being incubated within Time Inc., which enabled access to a rich array of resources. The Maghound marketing team benefited greatly from the tremendous expertise of our internal I.T. Department, which helped us realize our strategic vision for the service.
To fully produce our project, we needed to complement our internal applications development acumen with knowledgeable e-commerce resources. We created a robust RFP with a well-defined list of requirements and interviewed 11 different technology and service providers before signing a contract with one. Along the way, our team learned a tremendous amount about selecting and integrating a third-party technology partner.
One thing we learned that can help your team when searching for external resources is the importance of clearly defining the scope of your project and profiling the specific type of services that you need. Technology vendors vary dramatically in size, experience, expense, market specialization and fee structure flexibility. Depending on the size and complexity of your project, you might prefer one vendor to provide end-to-end services or a collection of smaller “point solution” providers.
You should also invest the time to create a comprehensive RFP, covering: potential scale, business requirements, vendor selection criteria and deal terms. Be sure to challenge all candidates to provide case studies, details of their preferred approach and recommendations for your project.
Remember that you’re paying for both a vendor’s technology assets and human resources. You should make sure that the vendor has personnel who can understand your business needs and marketing requirements and translate those into detailed technology specifications — a function that is vital to success.
Try to interview all the major players who will be involved in the execution of your program before signing a contract. If you expect a long-term engagement, investigate guarantees or replacement plans if their key players need to move off the project before completion, and don’t hire a vendor who will outsource much of their work without meeting the other resources who will be actively working on your project.
Finally, be sure to check current and/or past client references from each leading candidate; probe references for past concerns or problem areas.
These suggestions should help you secure the resources needed for your specific project, without overlooking critical elements or overpaying for deliverables.