Thought Leadership

Six Questions You Should Ask before Choosing an Email Service Provider

Questions to determine overall fit with your organization’s business objectives and more

Ed Kuderna
Managing Director, Yesmail

The process of selecting and migrating to a new Email Service Provider (ESP) entails diligent preparation and comprehensive evaluation of each candidate, their capabilities, and the overall fit with your organization’s business objectives, technology requirements, and last but not least, culture. Below are six key questions you should ask your prospective new ESP:”

#1. What are the core, list/data management, customization, and integration functionalities of your email marketing platform?

Having the right functionalities is arguably the cornerstone for selecting the right ESP. With hundreds of features to choose from, however, it’s often challenging for marketers to identify the ones that matter most. That’s why we’ve broken out the broad Functionality umbrella into 4 components, essential for the success of most marketing programs.

Core Functionalities: those include testing capabilities, flexibility of email creation, ability to deploy automated & triggered campaigns, as well as multichannel campaign execution. These functionalities are the building blocks of your marketing campaigns, starting with email and extending to social media and display ads, all within a single platform. 

List/Data Management: it is important that an ESP can offer flexible data management options including the ability to serve as the database of record or tightly coordinate with the database of record. The ability to collect and store different types of data, such as email, purchase, browse behavior as well as data on subscriber tenure, lifecycle stage, and demographics, is essential for a sophisticated marketing program. Marketers’ ability to access this data at any point in order to develop relevant interactions, with the right database segment, at the right time, is equally important. 

Customization: the ability to develop custom framework that conforms to the unique program requirements and goals of each client is instrumental for a great partnership and is indicative of the adaptability of the ESP’s engineering resources and technology framework.

Integration: this component of an ESP’s functionality is extremely important for marketers who run multi-faceted, data-driven programs that require their email platform to run in unison with another technology solution. An ESP’s capability to develop seamless integration between its platform and another solution is a great indicator of the flexibility of their technology.

#2. What reporting capabilities does your email platform offer?

Marketing without measurement is a shot in the dark, so having the right reporting tools is essential for assessing the success of your overall program and its components. Program success is often measured by metrics beyond standard inboxing, open, and click rates. That’s why it’s critical to choose an ESP that has the tools to determine audience composition (openers, clickers, purchasers, dormant, domain subscription), database activity (currently active, recently active, lapsed, inactive), database tenure (new-to-database, recently joined, tenured, etc.), after-the-click tracking (email-generated purchases on various devices & platforms), device preference, and email viewership (mobile, desktop, hybrid). Program adjustments based on these metrics can greatly enhance targeting, increase revenue, and maximize program ROI.

#3. What’s the structure of your deliverability services and does it have each of the following components: Technology, People, and Process?

Many marketers forget that deliverability is a people business, and not exclusively a technology business. Technology, of course, is a key component enabling marketers to detect issues and, even more importantly, prevent them through pre-flight testing, ISP inbox testing, and rendering testing. Technology, however, has little impact when it comes to planning and issue resolution – that’s when dedicated deliverability experts step in and communicate with each internet service provider (ISP). Deliverability staff should play an instrumental role in helping you plan new programs and testing existing ones. They should also be available to work through blocking issues to immediately address and remedy the problem. Throwing technology at a deliverability issue without having a strong network of people who manage ISP and blacklist relationships in real-time, is rarely an effective approach. It’s symptomatic of a flawed process.

#4. What’s your account management and customer support structure?

The ability to cater to and support each client’s unique setup and team structure is fundamental for a successful partnership. Being able to choose the type of account management structure that fits your organization best is a ‘must’. From full service account management that enhances and implements every program component, through hybrid account structure that utilizes a retainer of account management hours, to self service account structure that requires dedicated internal resources, marketers should be able to pick what works best for them and easily change their service model should they need to. Similarly, having access to technical support 24/7 is an important consideration when evaluating ESPs. If there are questions or issues that require immediate attention during non-business hours, your account team should provide a solid support structure and ensure a safety net for the success of your program.

#5. What complementary services are available to help you understand your customers and build meaningful experiences to help you deepen your relationship?

In the past couple of years, marketers have continuously identified organizational silos as one of the biggest challenges to successful marketing programs. An ESPs’ ability to provide additional services as part of an all-encompassing marketing solution is one effective way to tackle this challenge. The metrics collected by your ESP can be a great foundation for developing informed creative, strategic recommendations, data-driven insights, and implementing data enhancement spanning different channels and improving overall marketing effectiveness. The ability to maintain an in-house, cohesive and cross-functional team with broad marketing expertise is necessary to achieving that.

#6. How do your ESPs’ corporate values align with those of your organization?

Like with any partnership, it all comes down to trust. Picking an ESP that shares your corporate values and places emphasis on a positive company culture means you have entrusted the right people with the future of your program and the relationships with your clients and prospects. While the cultural and value fit between two companies can be hard to discern right away, you can easily spot them during the RFP process – does the ESP pose questions about your biggest challenges, your goals, the pattern of interaction with your customers, and the way you want to be perceived in the market? Or are they mostly focused on defining technical requirements and replicating your existing program instead of bringing it to the next level?

Author Bio

Ed Kuderna

As managing director, Ed is responsible for delivering on Yes Lifecycle Marketing's promise to our clients by providing strategic insight, in-depth product knowledge and operational support for its cross-channel marketing & analytics platform, Yesmail360i. Prior to joining Yes Lifecycle Marketing, Ed was with Aprimo as Director of Multichannel Campaign Management Practice and Director of the Centers of Marketing Excellence. He also held Professional Service leadership positions at DoubleClick, Protagona and Allstate Insurance Company.
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