Let’s assume, and this could be a huge assumption, that you have thoroughly completed the steps of a DAM initiative that should precede platform selection. This includes defining the goals and objectives of your initiative, assessing all user groups that will be affected as well as all asset repositories, what processes you plan to improve, what foundational areas like taxonomies, metadata and standards need work, and fully documenting both the current state and desired future state, and defining how success of the initiative will be measured. If you have completed all of that, and have executive buy-in from all key stakeholders, you are ready to move to platform selection. As this critical part of the process will likely impact the overall success of DAM within you organization for some time to come, it is important to look at each of three key parts of the process – initial vendor review, designated vendor evaluation, and selected vendor contract negotiation. There are good lessons to consider from those who have been through this before.
There are now literally over 7000 marketing technology platforms on the market, according to Chiefmartec, and legitimately close to a hundred and fifty of those are DAM or MRM (Marketing Resource Management) related platforms or tools. Your organization cannot possibly review them all. To help narrow the selection, you must rely on analysts’ reports that cover the DAM space, the advice of colleagues and/or consultants, or both, and your own precise documented requirements. Your organization’s requirements should be categorized into those that are essential or must haves, and those that would be nice to have or are optional or for consideration in later phases of the initiative. Be sure to include those requirements that are ancillary or supplemental to the DAM platform as many platforms these days deliver so much more than simply DAM functionality. All of these comprise your requirements, regardless of the self-proclaimed category into which a vendor places its offering. Create documentation of your findings upon initial review, accomplished through online demos or requested walk-throughs by qualified specialists at each vendor. This should get you to your short list of those that are strongly being considered. And, be nice and tell those that fell short of requirements that they are no longer being considered. They may not like to hear it, but they will generally stop hounding you for follow-up and will appreciate being able to better manage their sales pipeline. If they really believe they should stay in the mix, they should be able to tell you specifically why.
The shortlist of possible vendors should be no more than five. Any more than that is tough for proper due diligence during the next step, and some may even reject your request for thorough vetting if they are not on a very short list. Three or less is better for all concerned. At this step, you want the vendors to care enough to really listen to your needs and respond with specifically how they can meet each of them. You want to be on a couple of good ‘dates’ with each to ask the hard questions about your requirements, the organizational issues you are hoping to mitigate, and how the vendor will specifically help you achieve your specific goals and objectives. How the vendor responds to your request is also important. Are they providing sharp minds that can answer the tough questions, or relegating you to a support specialist? How badly do they actually want your business, and what are they willing to do to obtain it? This may include custom configuration or other changes to accommodate unique needs you have that are not necessarily handled automatically by the ‘out-of-the-box’ version.
This step can be handled through a formal RFP, but this is not recommended. While most of the big DAM players will respond to a formal RFP, these are often poorly written and contain so many requests for unique capabilities that no one platform can provide it all. Someone has to author the RFP as well! RFPs take a lot of time to prepare, and you have to structure them in a way that you will truly be objectively comparing apples to apples with replies. If you do leverage an RFP for formal vendor evaluation, keep it on the shorter side and still meet with selected vendors one-on-one to get a good sense of their expertise and commitment to working with you. You are going to be partners for quite a while and you want to know and feel comfortable with the team with which you will be working. It’s also possible that one or more vendors’ formal responses will be very close to each other and you need to be able to select a single provider that is the best choice overall. Put them through the paces. Test sample assets upload. Play in their sandbox and ask more questions until you have more than sufficient information with which to make an informed decision.
There are also a few vendor attributes that may not be a formal part of your platform requirements but should be considered as part of vendor evaluation. Give these a bit of thought as you engage those on your short list:
How good is their API or SDK for supporting additional integrations that are not a part of their solution?
Does the vendor provide implementation support, or must you work with an outside consultant or third-party integrator? If they do offer support, how extensive is it, and how frequent will they meet with you to review progress and mitigate issues? Do they offer a dedicated team, or are you working with whoever is available on a given day?
What types of education and training do they offer for both DAM admins as well as end users?
How ‘close’ are they? I’m speaking of literal or virtual proximity, for ad hoc support and questions as they surface. You may also find that you prefer a vendor whose native language is the same as your own.
Finally, you will have selected the vendor to be your partner and, after informing the others that you have done so, you can negotiate the initial contract agreement. At this stage, there are likely to be additional areas to consider that may not have been formally a part of your evaluation. These can include the following, some of which can be real ‘gotchas’ if you are not careful:
Configuration parameters – for what region(s) is the platform being configured? Worldwide, or specific geos?
User experience personalization and custom theming – what can be modified, and at what phase of the implementation? By whom? This may be limited to the home page, or may include personalization features unique to your organization, or even unique to specific user groups or individuals.
Limitations for assets – any file types, sizes, or other parameters that are not permitted? Make sure all types that your organization uses are covered, of course (this should have happened during evaluation if you know all file types by then).
Volume of the DAM repository memory storage needed – and incremental costs to expand volume over time - it will happen.
Subscription fees for different types of users – generally these are tiered and you should anticipate growth as part of negotiation, possibly as part of vendor selection. (On a recent engagement, one client of ours did not initially consider 5,000 sales staff who would also benefit from access to a subset of assets, resulting in a huge upcharge if they were added. These folks were initially denied access, thereby limiting the effectiveness of the DAM for a particular audience that would really benefit from quick, accurate access to the latest and best assets for use in support of sales.)
Integration support – for ‘simple’ areas like SSO (single sign-on) or more complex systems.
Format for specific DAM infrastructure deliverables – like how the taxonomy needs to be structured and annotated, for example, or in what format workflows need to be provided.
Fees for add-on modules available but not part of initial implementation. You may be able to negotiate fixed fees now that are good for a certain period of time.
How issue escalation is managed by the vendor.
Tasks and responsibilities of each party – making certain that, for every stage of the implementation indicated in the agreement, that the specific responsibilities, tasks, and deliverables of both the vendor and your organization are clearly delineated. There is no need to have any ‘but I thought that meant...’ conversations over interpretation of a specific clause of the agreement. If you are not sure, have it spelled out in more detail. One example - how asset clean-up is conducted before import, and what is needed for proper import.
When you get to the end of this vendor selection process, you should be both comfortable that the chosen DAM platform provider will meet the overwhelming majority of your organization’s requirements, and that you feel confident moving forward with them as your partner, that they have your back as the journey unfolds. If this initial engagement is set up to succeed, in increases the odds of having a long fruitful marriage between partners.
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