TMS Enterprise Landscape by ForresterTag Management Systems (TMS) are here to stay, but what is it that really makes them worthwhile to an organization?  What should you look for when going through the request for proposal (RFP) process and why?  What questions should you be answering to determine if a TMS is truly needed by your organization at this time?

From an overview perspective, a TMS can be worthwhile to an organization for several reasons:

  1. Efficiency in Managing Vendor Tagging – Marketing asks for lots of tags, but many times they end up being part of the general IT queue, which can mean delays of weeks to months for a new vendor tag to go live.  Having a TMS with the proper processes built around it will alleviate this gridlock and offer more marketing flexibility, for testing both vendors and additional opportunities with existing vendors or services.
  2. Site Speed Improvements – This is probably one of the largest reasons we hear people looking at adding a TMS to their infrastructure; however, this should be considered secondary to any internal efficiency benefits, especially given that most tags have now been updated to be synchronous.
  3. 3rd Party Cookie Opt-Out Compliance – This became the big deal and what brought companies like Tag Man to the US and prompted additional growth for companies like Ensighten.  The EU had voted in stronger digital privacy regulations, and this prompted at least two proposals in the US that mirrored the EU regulations.
  4. Multi-Channel Data Consolidation – This has become the basis for more than one multi-channel attribution modeling solution.  Being able to see the various channel paths and their sequencing is a key ingredient to building robust attribution models that can truly show where to expand investments and where not to.  The data seen by a TMS can be used to feed your own internal model or power a vendor supplied attribution model such as those used by companies like Visual IQ.
  5. Rules-Based Tag Firing Protocols – As marketers, we like to determine when and where we fire certain tags, as well as the rules that determine which tags should fire for the vendor attribution.   This can have direct cost benefits to an organization’s bottom line; there is nothing worse than paying multiple fees for the same transaction and a TMS can provide the flexibility to create rules determining when to suppress a tag from firing based on the sequence of a user’s interaction with multiple channels.

Now that we know some of the primary benefits to look for and how to evaluate whether or not a TMS is right for your organization, what should you really be looking at when going through an RFP for a tag management system?

  1. Technological Compatibility – I’ve actually been bitten by this one (much to my chagrin) and so I am listing this one as the top evaluation point.  Sometimes the way a TMS is coded to work can cause the need to create workarounds for things like script collisions.  Without a detailed evaluation of how the TMS code works, you can end up with a bloated integration adding days, weeks or even months to the go-live date.  So, make sure you have the right technical teammates as part of your vendor evaluation team during the RFP, and that they are getting the detailed information they need from the potential vendor.  DO NOT select a vendor without this key evaluation step.
  2. Vendor Training – When digging into the specifics with potential vendors, make sure they provide a detailed training plan for your team members who that will have the day-to-day management of the TMS.  The training becomes crucial for driving the efficiency benefits that a TMS provides and allows for the proper creation of the various supporting processes you need internally.  Ideally, your organization should be able to deploy tags in at least half the time it took using your normal process.
  3. Vendor Support – This is a huge value for any vendor, but even more important considering the amount of technical integration that a TMS may require.  Keep in mind that – due to personnel changes – your organization will look different from year to year.  Make sure the vendor will support you during these transitions as well as provide day-to-day support regarding tag set-up questions and assistance.
  4. Process Building – As it is often a necessity to quickly get tags live, in many cases with little to no IT involvement (i.e., marketing vendor testing), what safety processes should be built into the go-live process?  A good TMS vendor should already have models they can recommend based on experience with successful clients.  Review these with the whole team (marketing and IT) in order to make sure you have a process that works for your organization.  This should involve some testing levels for a tag to go live to safeguard against any issues with other tags or, worse yet, issues with the website in general.
  5. Vendor Infrastructure – This cannot be understated.  Any vendor solution is only as good as the vendor’s infrastructure when supporting the areas in which you do business.  Ask questions up front to avoid surprises.  What are their typical up times?  Do they do detailed performance monitoring, not only globally, but also at the individual client level?  Can that monitoring be synced up with your internal site monitoring tools?  How much caching do they do?  What do they use as their content distribution network (CDN), and are the node structures of the CDN right for your organization?  Dig deep here, and leverage the expertise available in your IT department to get solid answers and evaluations of those answers.
  6. What is the Organization’s Employee Turnover? – This is the most commonly overlooked question for any RFP.  A vendor that can keep their employees and has a reputation of internal promotion and detailed training is crucial to any vendor-client relationship.  This is a big enough deal that many clients will want to build a clause into the contract requiring notification of team changes.

When it comes to evaluating a TMS, what should the priorities be from a primary and secondary benefit analysis in terms of determining the “Yes we need it” vs. the “Not really something we absolutely need right now” decision?  Well, when it comes to a TMS, here is what I consider the top priority questions to answer:

  1. Will this solution speed up my time to market for vendor tagging?
  2. Do I have the internal structure to take advantage of the potential process efficiency gains?
  3. Am I in (or planning to) enter markets that require me to comply with 3rd party cookie opt-out functionality (e.g., the EU)?
  4. What are my benchmark request times, and will the proposed TMS beat them?
  5. Am I finding myself paying multiple CPAs on individual orders due to a lack of defined tag firing rules?
  6. Does my organization have plans to build a true, multi-channel attribution modeling system, and can the TMS provide the cookie stack consolidation necessary to contribute to it?

There are many things to evaluate in any search for a new vendor, and the evaluation of a TMS can involve even more details due to the technical and data aspects that that will make this acquisition valuable to your organization.  If you are a holiday-centric ecommerce company, then start the evaluation sooner rather than later and never feel forced into making a decision.  Make sure you have all of your evaluation team’s questions answered (marketing, IT and analytics) before selecting a vendor.  Above all, let the RFP process be one of discovery, because your most crucial question – “Do we really need this TMS now?” – might not be a solid “yes” or might point you in the direction of another vendor.  Your due diligence can mean the difference between greater efficiency and profitability or an expensive lesson for your organization.



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