Choosing an Email Service Provider

April 23, 2013
No Junk Mail Letterbox

Choosing a new Email Service Provider (ESP) from the multitude of potential tools can be overwhelming. It’s a daunting task to review the capabilities of all of the possible vendors. ESPs are continually evolving and most now offer an array of multi-channel communication tools to manage social media and SMS campaigns in addition to email campaigns. In addition, there is much specialization of feature sets – targeting small/mid-sized businesses, enterprises, or B2B as well as hybrid ESPs designed to serve a broad spectrum of needs.

The Decision Process

When choosing an ESP, it’s critical to consider not just your current email marketing program and needs, but also your future requirements as your program grows. Choosing an ESP based on careful assessment of future needs will allow you to maintain operational efficiency as your business scales.  Be sure to consider all possible touch points that you want to have with your current and potential customers and how email can facilitate a greater level of ongoing engagement.

What Should You Ask?

Here are some questions to get you started on building your requirements list.

  1. What’s my email volume?
    1. How many emails do I send each month?
    2. How many emails do I expect to be sending each month in 6-12 months?
  2. How’s my (list) hygiene?
    1. What are the sources of my email addresses?
    2. Do I currently have or expect deliverability challenges?
    3. Do I get help if I get blacklisted or my emails often go into spam folders?
  3. How do I use data?
    1. What kind of customer data am I currently capturing?
    2. Do I need to capture additional data via surveys?
    3. How can I segment my current customer base today and how would I like to improve this segmentation?
  4. What kind of help do I need?
    1. How technical is my email team? What kind of technical resources do I have in-house?
    2. Do I need assistance during the email production and campaign deployment process?
    3. Do I have an in-house creative team?
    4. Do I have multiple team members taking care of specific tasks during the email production process?
  5. What kind of features do I need?
    1. Can I easily test email elements such as subject lines, templates, landing pages?
    2. Do I need to manage and nurture leads?
    3. What reporting and analysis tools are important in order to achieve my business goals?
    4. Do I need one or more private IP addresses to send marketing and transactional emails from?
    5. Do I need a unified platform for broadcasting consistent messages across multiple communication channels?
    6. Can I automate essential email communications like welcome emails streams and set up triggered email streams based on other events?

How Should You Select an ESP?

Every business has specific needs and the questions above are not an exhaustive list, but should help kick-start the process of selecting the right ESP partner. The tricky part is that once you start asking these questions, most ESPs will typically have answers that make their tools sound perfectly suited to your needs. Our advice: go into the vendor selection process armed with real-world examples of the types of email programs you would like to run in an ideal world and details of how your current ESP has limited your efforts. Ask the vendor how they would accommodate each of these scenarios and have them show you on their platform to make sure you feel comfortable with the process.

Where Should You Start?

We’ve created an Email Service Provider matrix to help guide you in choosing the right ESP. Use our matrix to help guide you in the right direction.  Obviously we could not include all of the providers so we selected some of the top providers in each category to help get you started. Once you’ve established your requirements list, focus on the features that matter most to you and go into the process armed with a clear idea what you’d like to be able to accomplish based on your resources, knowledge and goals.  We’re always happy to help you choose – just send us an email.

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