Evaluating your platform? Five tips to streamline the process.

We've been through this process dozens of times; here are several ways brands can avoid common pitfalls.

Over the years, Olson 1to1 has had the opportunity to field hundreds of inquiries from brands considering a migration to a new loyalty platform. While each of these inquiries are unique in their own right, it is fairly common for companies like ours to run into organizations that are starting this process and are challenged by the naturally complex position of loyalty internally. With wide-reaching impact and stakeholders in virtually every department, a loyalty technology implementation can be one of the most complex enterprise sourcing exercises a large organization can undertake.

Through our experience, we have witnessed a number of obstacles that organizations frequently struggle to avoid. Ultimately, these issues can lead to unclear responses from potential vendors, misalignment on the potential scope of the project, and potentially significant delays in the sourcing process (which of course leads to delays in the project/program launch) or worst of all, picking the wrong partner. But we have also seen a number of organizations move through the process adroitly, on time and with limited effort. Ultimately, the well-run vendor assessment process should lead to the best possible decision for the organization in a reasonable amount of time.

As a brand considers a new loyalty platform, many decisions will be made about the future of the program. Some of these will be to carry elements of the existing program forward in the new program, while others will be new features or benefits. All of this will need to be captured and documented for the assessment process, and documenting and explaining the full extent of the program’s technical, operational and functional reach can be a daunting task. Often, existing documentation is incomplete or faulty. Organizational hurdles that the previous implementation cleared may have been long forgotten. And stakeholders, especially those in operations, may resist changes to their day-to-day tasks.

Below, Olson 1to1 shares our perspective on five things to consider when assessing new loyalty technology partners. We hope you find these helpful if you are considering a new technology solution—we know how big of an undertaking it is.

1. Drive internal stakeholder alignment.

It is a vitally important first step to gather a broad group of key stakeholders early and discuss their receptiveness to a platform switch. Typically, the core members of this group include representatives from marketing, technology and operations. But it is also important to remember that your customers are stakeholders too. Customer research should be used as part of your decisioning framework.

Assuming your stakeholder groups are supportive of exploring new options, it is also important to invite them to take part in the search and selection process. Building internal consensus can be frustrating, but a broad group of voices and viewpoints will help to ensure a limited number of surprises once a decision has been made and an implementation is underway. Broad stakeholder alignment can also help to “grease the wheels” in the event of an issue; things could go wrong or get delayed for various reasons (perfect launches are a rarity), so it is good to have allies.

2. Consider the primary motivations to make a move and share these with the vendors you are assessing.

Once you have collected broad stakeholder input, consolidate this information and determine what the broader organization’s motives are with regard to moving to a new solution (or staying with current one). Is your decision going to be driven by a lack of satisfaction with your current relationship, by capabilities, by a lack of flexibility, ability to scale or adapt or cost? A combination of the above? Resolving these issues should be your North Star; any additional benefits a new partner and platform can provide are extra perks. They are important to consider, but should not influence your decision if core issues are not being addressed. Another key is sharing these issues with the vendors you are assessing, because doing so will allow them to best present how they could alleviate these issues, which is a win-win. Finally, the incumbent provider may not have realized the depths of the issues you are currently experiencing and could take steps to mitigate them.

3. Consider if a new partner would be better positioned to succeed where the existing technology solution is struggling.

It is possible that the issues you are experiencing with the existing solution are driven more by internal issues than by shortcomings of the incumbent vendor or solution. This step should be the go/no-go decision point in the vendor assessment. After some introspection, if your team has made it through the first two steps and honestly feels that a new vendor would also fail, then perhaps it is worth considering putting the search on pause and trying to work things out with the existing solution.

4. If moving forward, compile and provide clear, detailed and comprehensive system requirements for vendors to scope against.

This is paramount, and for some organizations, easier said than done. The goal of a well-run vendor assessment should be to arrive at accurate, complete, apples-to-apples overviews of product capabilities, experience and costs. In order to arrive at this, it is key for all vendors to be working from a common set of detailed requirements and a shared understanding of what systems the customer data currently lives in and technology integration points. In the loyalty space, every solution has its unique nuances and capabilities and it can be difficult for a client to understand these differences. Working from a common understanding of requirements, data and systems can help to cull these differences down and allow vendors to highlight true, relevant differentiation. While you should ask for features or capabilities that may stretch the capabilities of the vendors you are including, including potential features that are simply early ideas (and that are often difficult to explain at that) can be detrimental to your goal of an apples-to-apples estimate. A vendor guessing at your intentions helps no one.

Compiling these requirements can be a significant effort and it may be worthwhile to consider engaging an external vendor to conduct a discovery and migration planning project. Loyalty marketing firms have significant experience with these types of projects and can expedite and simplify the effort required. The money you spend on this effort will more than pay for itself because it helps you avoid scope misalignment and potential project delays down the road. Once this project is complete, it is okay to ask for other vendors to scope to these requirements and proposed timing.

5. Once you have proposals in hand or have been presented to, keep in mind that if it sounds too good (or bad) to be true, it probably is.

You have arrived at decision time. Should you migrate to a new solution? Should you give your incumbent another shot? It is important at this stage to consider that when information from a vendor seems way off the mark, it’s always possible that something got lost in translation. Huge disparities in pricing should be considered a red flag—it’s not necessarily a huge win for your brand by going with the less expensive option. When you see this, be cautious and ask questions at both ends of the pricing spectrum. It is also important ask vendors which of your requirements would be features that already exist in the product, which are in development, and which will be paid enhancements. Another red flag? Vendors who plan to use your money to build a large number of new features. They should be considered carefully.

By making sure you ask the right questions and supply your vendors with their right information, your new platform implementation will stand the greatest chance of achieving the “on time, on budget” nirvana down the road.