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Ah, the RFP: an acronym so well-known in email marketing that it barely needs an introduction.

To be sure, we're talking about a request for proposal—the document that marketers write and distribute to potential vendors that essentially invites them to audition for their business.

RFPs have long been a staple of selecting an email service provider (ESP). Every company needs one; yet, every company's needs vary. And there are a ton of ESPs, and they are most definitely not all the same.

That's true now more than ever as savvy digital marketers integrate email throughout their martech stack and customer data—not only for online interactions but also in physical locations. Throw in personalization, render-on-open, audience segmentation, and a wealth of other tactics that email superstars are using.

So why are you still sending out that generic RFP that's long on assumptions and short on your actual goals?

You might consider RFPs to be routine or even boring, but that mindset leads to missed opportunities. Your RFP is a crucial step in identifying not just any email provider but a great email provider—one that can help you deliver outsized results. But many marketers are taking a run-of-the-mill approach—which leads to run-of-the-mill proposals that probably aren't going to help them hit their goals.

Here are three actionable tips you can use to make your next RFP shine.

1. Focus on what you need to do with email today

Many marketers write RFPs that are way too general. Be specific: What do you need to do right now with your email program?

Your RFP shouldn't "think aloud" about what you might do or what tools you think you need. Nor should it make assumptions about technology or an ESP's capabilities.

Rather, your job is to state, as specifically as possible, what you need to be able to do. It's the ESP's job to tell you how it can help you achieve that.

Watch out for overly general or outdated language, or language that restricts vendors in how they respond. That's especially true in the questions you ask: Avoid writing them in a manner that assumes too much about a vendor's capabilities, or assumes all vendors do the same thing.

Be detailed about what you want without making assumptions about what you think is possible. The more details, the more likely to get an optimal match. And that should be one of your primary aims in this process.

2. Don't recycle your previous RFP

Let's face it: Writing an RFP isn't the most exciting part of a marketer's job. You'd rather tackling other things on your to-do list, which means it might be tempting to dust off an older RFP from a previous process—say, from five years ago—and reuse it. It might even seem efficient.

It's a bad idea.

The martech landscape changes frequently and quickly. If you're using an old RFP, you're going to get matched up with old tech and miss out on capabilities and companies that might be a gamechanger for your program.

Moreover, your needs have almost certainly changed since the last time you conducted an RFP process. If they hadn't, you wouldn't be doing a new one.

Re-evaluate your needs from scratch and build your RFP from the ground up. It's worth it. (That's especially true if you weren't thrilled with the results of your last process—a recycled or one-size-fits-all RFP might be why.)

If you're tempted to reuse a previous RFP to save time, consider hiring short-term help instead. Many consultants in the ESP space know the industry, the providers, and the process. Better to get help writing an RFP that really reflects your needs today than to recycle an RFP from yesterday.

3. Reach beyond the big players

Nobody gets fired for hiring one of the biggest, best-known ESPs. Go pull one off the shelf, turn it on, and you're done. Even if it doesn't work out, no one's going to blame you—you went with the "safe" name that everyone's heard of.

That's a hard mentality to shake.

The industry is always evolving, though. Considering only the big names means you're missing out on lots of potentially great options.

Dig deeper and do some research. Ask marketing peers in other organizations. Try the Email Geeks Slack and other industry chats and communities. If you're using a consultant to assist with the RFP, ask that person to broaden your horizons.

Depending on the particulars of your company and its goals, there might even be a niche provider that aligns ideally with your business.

You can certainly still include and consider the household names—go for it! But cast a wider net and keep an open mind. The ESP landscape is more diverse and interesting than you might first think. Narrowing the field too much at the RFP stage might mean you miss out on a company (or three) that will amaze you.

That's ultimately the goal of a good RFP, too: gathering the best information you can about your options so that you can make a smart choice that delivers maximum results.

More Resources on RFP Tips

Shopping for an Email Service Provider? Six Tips for Optimizing the RFP Process

Developing an RFP? Seven Tips for Getting the Responses You Want

How to Write and Respond to RFPs: Some Best-Practices

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

image of Will Devlin

Will Devlin is the VP of marketing at MessageGears, a customer engagement platform.

LinkedIn: Will Devlin

Twitter: @wdevlin