When you’re in the market for a CDP vendor, comparing features checklists just isn’t enough. Here’s a guide to help you unearth the type of information that will make a true difference in your experience and ultimate outcome.
Ask how features work, not whether they’re present.
Properly answering this question requires thoughtful, client-friendly description of how the product is built and how the user interface is structured. Answers often include screenshots and, ultimately, require a live or video demonstration. Your goal is to understand how much work is involved in executing a particular task, what user skills are needed to be effective, and what’s needed to adjust to inevitable changes such as new inputs or a need for different outputs.
Ask to see an updated product roadmap.
Product development roadmaps offer a good idea of what the vendor is prioritizing, and also gives a clearer picture of what’s currently missing or problematic in the product. Ask how the vendor decides what is included in the roadmap. Ask if, and how, the vendor collaborates with clients in getting feedback on current and future features. You’re looking at how this organization behaves in partnership with its clients.
Ask for case histories.
Reference clients are almost always satisfied with the vendor, but they can still offer insight into how the vendor approaches relationships. Ask for references that are similar to you in terms of industry, resources, and requirements. If a vendor can’t provide one, look more closely at how well equipped this vendor is to handle your specific needs. If possible, ask to speak with a client who had an initial problem that the vendor overcame. This will give a particularly good sense of how the vendor manages problems when they do arise.
Ask the vendor’s strategy for reaching your goals.
Your RFP should include background information about your business and systems, integration and processing volumes and goals for this project, including success metrics. If it doesn’t, a smart vendor will ask for these items! Either way, the vendor’s RFP response should include a description of how they would approach helping your business. This should cover both technical aspects such as system deployment and integration, as well as strategic and operational support. This is a chance for vendors to demonstrate expertise and show how they want to work with you. It lets you assess the scope of the vendor’s capabilities, how well your needs are understood and whether this vendor is likely to be able to meet those needs.
Ask about vendor staffing.
Find out how the vendor is organized, what roles will be included on the team that services your account, and about the qualifications of team members. The vendor won’t necessarily be able to say exactly which individuals will work on your account but should still be able to describe typical members. The more services the vendor proposes in addition to software, the more important it is to know who will deliver them.
Ask about the vendor’s expectations of your staffing.
One way to understand what the vendor expects to do is to discern what they expect you to do for yourself. Find out the roles they expect to see on a deployment team and among users after deployment. Ask how they would supplement your team if you don’t have the right resources available.
Ask about costs.
This is really two questions. The first is the pricing model: are prices based on number of customer records, number of system users, data volume, transactions, system modules, staffing levels, or something else? The second question is about the estimated cost for your system. Getting an accurate estimate will require you to provide specific details, so be sure to find out in advance what information the vendor needs and be open to a scoping session if required. At some point, you’ll want a firm estimate of costs for a three- or five-year period, as well as an estimate of what happens to costs if your business grows, shrinks, or changes in some other way. Be sure any cost estimate extends beyond software fees to include implementation and ongoing services, training, and support. Ask the vendor to specify what’s not included. For example, is your own staff expected to build any data loading connectors?
Will a consultant be needed?
Consultants can add tremendous value to a selection project. Whether you need one depends on whether they can provide a specific benefit to help the project succeed. Your staff members may lack familiarity with software in general, or the type of system being acquired, or be unfamiliar with vendor selection criteria. Your staff may simply lack the extra time it would take to work on the project. It may also be that your team needs the authority provided by an outside resource to gain credibility.
Who should manage the process?
There’s no one department best qualified to manage a vendor selection project. Staff from marketing technology, operations, information technology, and data teams are all likely candidates. Procurement departments can play an important supporting role but rarely have the necessary business understanding. The project manager needs to be both familiar with vendor selection, and the type of software being selected. They need the time to properly run the project, and have the appropriate organizational buy-in and credibility. In the absence of these important resources, hiring a consultant may make sense.
Want to learn more about how you can best quickly assess CDP vendors to find the right fit for you? Download our comprehensive guide today.