The Unexpected Lessons from an RFP Response for a Niche Hardware Company
I recently had the opportunity to work on an RFP response that exposed both the challenges and the possibilities of analytics. The RFP came from a company that produces a very specialized kind of hardware that is not meant for ordinary consumers. They only sell to local and national government agencies. The procurement process is lengthy and tedious. This company has already established itself as an approved vendor and has strong relationships with its clients. This is a very exclusive market that they have already broken into.
The RFP response team I was a part of was intrigued by the request we received. It was for a simple awareness marketing campaign. However, given the nature of the company and its product, we wondered about the rationale behind it. How could an awareness campaign be effective in this type of environment? Wouldn’t a targeted account-based approach work better? From an analytics perspective, I was curious how we could measure the impact of this marketing campaign on their business.
Simple Awareness was the Original Ask
The main goal of the RFP was to increase “awareness” of the company and its new products. This seems like a simple thing to measure. However, the product is only sold to specific buyers who have a long and complex procurement process. They also wanted to know about engagement, both onsite and social.
Here are a few ideas:
Placements and impressions. This is an obvious starting point.
Campaign Actions (site visits, social likes, etc.). None of these will have meaningful impact on a buying decision, but they are nice to see that the campaign is doing something.
Unpaid website traffic (organic search, organic social, referrals, etc.). This helps indicate that you are gaining natural traction outside of your paid efforts.
Brand and product mentions. This is a better way to measure awareness and sentiment. You can use a tool like Google Alerts, Brand Watch or Meltwater to track mentions of your brand and product across the web. We would also look for the sentiment of the mentions, as well as whether there are any competitive comparisons.
"Sales-Adjacent" Marketing was the Actual Need
We were able to meet with the prospect and ask a few questions. We learned about the importance of sales relationships in the buying cycle. In fact, it became very clear that these rep relationships are THE critical element. Given that, it was admitted that there was no real expectation that any campaign would have a direct impact on buying decision making. However, he thought it might help a little bit. But how the heck do you measure "help a little bit"?
If we think about this as a sort of "sales-adjacent" marketing campaign, then we start to understand that the feedback loops we need to track success won't come from marketing data. It has to come from the sales team themselves. We'd need to be able to gather feedback such as:
Do you think the marketing campaign supported your sales efforts?
Would you say it helped you set up meetings with the client?
Did the campaign message resonate with your client?
Were you even aware there was a marketing campaign happening?
All of these questions try to capture the idea of "helpfulness". The company claimed that they were collecting some feedback from the reps already, but in a very informal way. This made me realize there were bigger opportunities here--improving the feedback collection process and making the data actionable.
Real Opportunity #1 -- Process Improvement
The first big opportunity was process improvement--developing a systematic way to collect feedback from the field and internal sales teams.
When we think about collecting qualitative feedback from anyone, including sales reps, the first questions I always ask are:
How are you doing this today--surveys, emails, phone calls, comment cards?
How often are you doing this--regularly or sporadically?
How are you motivating people to participate?
Do you get the same responses every time?
Basically, tell me everything about how you are having these conversations and gathering this feedback already.
Often, I find these are not well planned. Things can be better with some planning and discipline.
Creating a short and easy survey as part of a monthly internal newsletter is one way. Creating quarterly incentivized surveys that go deeper is another way. Scheduling interviews at in person events can be really useful. These methods can be effective, especially if you are in the type of situation that this RFP was addressing. But there needs to be commitment to the idea that internal feedback is valuable and a willingness to take the effort seriously.
Real Opportunity #2 -- Data Activation
The second big opportunity was data activation--using the feedback data to inform future marketing campaigns.
For this, my main questions are:
How are you storing the feedback that you receive?
Are you using the same tool every time to collect the feedback?
Are different teams involved in the data collection?
How much feedback have you collected so far?
Basically, tell me everything about what you do with this feedback once you have it.
Many times, organizations don’t put a much thought into this either.
How the data is stored is key to making it actionable and depends on the infrastructure and tools the company has. If you can find a way to consolidate feedback into a common data store where it can be archived, then you have the first and most important piece in place. After that, with a little data manipulation, you can find ways to distill insights. Text analytics and the ever-improving AI tools can help find patterns, sentiment, and learnable moments.
Once you have a good archive of structured feedback distilled into actionable insights, you can create metrics around this and feed this information into a dashboard. You can create trends over time to track progress. This dashboard can also be used to identify areas where the marketing team should focus their efforts to improve the effectiveness of their sales-adjacent marketing campaigns. Theoretically, improved satisfaction scores should correlate with improved sales numbers, because salespeople are only happy when they win sales.
Overall, I believe that it would have been very possible to find ways to measure success in this "sales-adjacent" marketing campaign. This in turn would have given us the insights we needed to develop even more effective marketing campaigns that help the company achieve its sales goals.
The Real Challenge, Unfortunately
One of the biggest hurdles that this RFP surfaced was the mindset of the client towards analytics. The RFP requester seemed to come from a culture where marketing data was scarce or inconsequential. He was focused only on the assets that needed to be created for the campaign. He seemed to have little interest in the opportunity to prove real value. It seemed like he didn't believe it was even possible. As someone who spends most of my working time thinking about how to collect, use, and analyze data for all kinds of scenarios, it was unusual to meet someone resigned to living in a world so skeptical of measurable impact.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
At first blush, this RFP seemed like a simple challenge with some curious aspects. We learned there was more to it under the surface. Solving the problems would have been a fun and interesting project. However, the real challenge wasn't in the work that needed to be completed; the ultimate challenge was in the mindset of the people involved.
As analytics practitioners, sometimes it feels like a constant uphill battle to get clients to think more broadly and deeply about the opportunities to collect actionable information even from very passive marketing programs like this one. However, the opportunity is real. Even in the 2023, it is still critically important to educate clients about the value of data-driven marketing. Hopefully, by finding ways to make the benefits of using data easy to understand, we can help people become more receptive to improving their ways of working. Unfortunately, you won't win every time.