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What to watch for when choosing an Email marketing provider

Author's avatar By Dave Chaffey 30 Aug, 2011
Essential Essential topic

Our interview with Jordie van Rijn of Email Vendor Selection

When I’m running training courses on email marketing, there are almost always marketers on the course who are dissatisfied with their current email provider or are just looking to move up from using Outlook to send emails.

I’m always happy to give recommendations on email services and encourage others on the course to share suppliers they’re happy with. The problem with just basing your decision on recommendations is, of course, that every business has different needs according to their size and how they want to use Email marketing. So the question becomes “how do we decide on the right email service provider for us?” As independent email marketing consultant and founder of the Email Vendor Selection, I thought Jordie van Rijn would be an excellent person to help answer this question.

Jordie specializes in email marketing and event-driven campaigns and his company Emailmonday has advised brands like AEGON, Unilever, Roche and Heineken. See Jordie’s Email Vendor Selection for more advice on selecting email tools and vendors.

Key features for efficient email marketing

Q.Most marketers are super-busy, so the typical marketing team of one doesn’t have any time to spare. What features should they look for in an ESP (email service provider) that will make them most productive and still creating a good quality e-newsletter?

Time is one of the most precious things for a marketer, and you want to spend it well. On activities that influence results. I advise looking at the whole email marketing process to make it more efficient, not only tooling. From strategy, concept, selection, creation, testing, sending, reporting, optimization and back again. Where is the time really wasted?
Email tools can have functions that make life more easy (or at least efficient). Here are a some big time slicers:

  • Automated subscriber data imports and exports
  • Use of flexible templates
  • A/B split testing module
  • Rendering testing
  • Workflow and approval system
  • A solid (maybe customized) reporting dashboard
  • E-mail click heatmap (so you can instantly see the links and clicks on them)

ESPs go about the basic production processes in different ways, some offer more options and have a good intuitive user interface. Others are just plain confusing, or not time efficient at all. Take a second and third look after a demo if you really want to get a feel for it.

ESP Features important for medium and larger businesses

Q2. What features become more important for medium and large business when they look for an ESP?

It all boils down to the specific email marketing needs. In general; with scale of larger businesses it becomes more interesting to employ advanced email tactics. So of course, you need a tool that can handle large volumes and databases with ease, but also drive event driven campaigns, and integrate with the rest of the marketers’ toolset. In B2B you are not talking about scale in terms of volume, but also in terms of value per customer.

One of the most important “features” though is reliability. I have written about the reliability of email vendors before and people sent me some great anecdotes. 🙂 The software should always work, no hiccups or quirks. And the phone should always be picked up by the ESP, as an example for capable and active support.

Which aspects of choosing an ESP are often overlooked?

Q3. In your opinion, what are the most important aspects of selecting an ESP that are most often overlooked?

The right ESP can be the difference between success and irritation. It takes preparation and knowledge of email marketing to be able to choose the right solution.

Some of the most overlooked aspects are:

  • Include your organisation in the process. Ask for input from different departments, influencers and decision makers when formulating requirements. It makes the whole thing go a lot smoother and prevents unwanted surprises down the line.
  • Selection is the process at the client side, but sales is the process on the vendor side. Not all ESP promises are true or kept. Not all RFP answers are true. ESPs will generally be very helpful, and are often nice people. But they won’t help you make the right decision. So try to independently verify claims made in an RFP or a pitch
  • It is often smart to find someone who can guide you through the selection process. Someone with knowledge of the email marketing marketplace. That can be a direct colleague and there are also some great independent consultants out there that are willing to help. Experience is key, a great guide has worked with multiple Email Tools himself, and did a few selections before. It will save you heaps of time and worries and probably even money.

Which social media integration features are important?

Q4. Most ESPs have now introduced social media related features. What should marketers look for here?

Don’t go overboard on the Social wish list if you haven’t started using social media yet. Many of the social media features look very exciting, but mostly they are about measurement and deployment over multiple channels. Probably all the social functions you want can also be done in combination with other tools and / or easily added.

Final tips

Q5. What are your final tips for a marketer in need?

Get an email strategy in place. You need to know what you want from your email marketing now and the coming period before you can make a smart decision. Reserve enough time to do a descent selection without being rushed into anything and find someone that can guide you through the selection process. Then take a deep breath and you will be perfectly fine.

Do let us know if there are other factors you think are important whether your a marketer using email systems, an email marketing consultant or you provide ESPs. Or ask Jordie to expand on some of the requirements he mentions.

Auhtor's avatar

By Dave Chaffey

Digital strategist Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of marketing publisher and learning platform Smart Insights. Dave is editor of the 100+ templates, ebooks and courses in the digital marketing resource library created by our team of 25+ digital marketing experts. Our resources are used by our Premium members in more than 100 countries to Plan, Manage and Optimize their digital marketing. Free members can access our free sample templates here. Dave is a keynote speaker, trainer and consultant who is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Digital Marketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. To learn about my books, see my personal site Digital marketing books by Dr. Dave Chaffey. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing. Please connect on LinkedIn to receive updates or ask me a question.

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