Choosing the best Email Service Provider (ESP) for your organization can be a challenging task. It seems like there are 100s of ESPs out there and each one has more to offer than the next.
Since email has four times higher ROI than any other marketing format, choosing the right ESP can make a big difference.
Also, ESPs today are not what they were 10 years ago or even 5 years ago. As email, technology and the needs of businesses evolve, so do the ESPs. In the past, the main purpose of an ESP was to send email. Today’s ESPs enable a holistic view of each customer, orchestrate customer journeys and drive cross-channel campaigns. Along with incredible detail of analytics and a level of personalization that could only be imaged in the past, ESPs are the bedrock of most marketing campaigns.
How to go about the search for the best Email Service Provider?
Firstly, hiring an ESP is an investment, and so, you need to understand what you’re trying to get out of it. Most companies use an ESP for two years so you want to make sure that your ESP is evolving along side the needs of your organization.
To ensure that you’re making the right decision in regards to your ESP, ensure to follow these simple tips:
- Have a customer support executive or a sales person walk you through the platform
- Get feedback from previous customers – ask them what worked and what didn’t
- Have this guide in hand so you’ll have questions ready
Lastly, since most ESPs are able to fulfill the basic requirements of sending emails, try to find a unique differentiator in the ESP you’re looking at.
Since ESPs are getting more and more complicated, keeping all the possible questions in mind is nearly impossible. So, we laid it all out here for you so that you can go into that demo prepared with questions to ask.
Start with determining the size of the ESP:
Size of ESP
To narrow your search for the perfect ESP, you should determine the size of ESP that your organization needs. ESPs can be categorized into three segments: SMB, mid-market and enterprise-level.
The SMB ESP
This ESP usually comes with a free trial and a low-cost perfect for small businesses. However, there is limited capabilities and usually no technical support. You don’t really need to go through this post if you are a small or medium business.
The Mid-market ESP
The mid-market ESP category is rapidly evolving creating powerful technology platforms that offer a plethora of solutions. Although the expertise and features vary, most mid-market ESPs can handle a very large volume of emails. Mid-market ESPs are usually very accommodating to the needs for a bigger client – sometimes offering customization and features that even enterprise-level ESPs can’t. Also, mid-market ESPs tend to specialize in certain niches.
The Enterprise-Level ESP
The top of the line ESPs can handle integration of complex data with high level of deliverability. This ESP gives you capabilities across multiple channels of marketing with a sophisticated degree of reporting to provide you with a 360-degree view of the customer.
The Platform itself
Room for Growth – Scalability & Product Roadmap
As mentioned before, most organization out grow their ESPs after two years. If your organization is on an upward trajectory, you’ll want to make sure that your ESP will be able to accommodate your growth at least two years from now. Here are some questions that you can ask to ensure your ESP will grow with you:
- How scalable is your platform?
- What’s the size of your typical client?
- Have any clients scaled with your ESP?
- What features are you planning to develop over time?
- Will the new features be included or will they be extra?
- If we have a need for a new feature will you be able to accommodate?
Is it user-friendly?
The power of an ESP is directly correlated to its usability. If the ESP is not user-friendly, your staff will only go as far as using only the basic features. Determining the usability of a platform will come from having a thorough demo and also testing the platform.
- Here are some things to test or ask:
- Is the platform optimized for mobile and responsive design?
- How long is the learning curve?
- Does email design come with templates and is there modular design options?
- Is the interface well organized and intuitive?
One of the main benefits of investing in an enterprise level ESP is the support that comes with it. However, not all customer support is created equal. The first step is to determine the type of support you need by auditing your available manpower and level of expertise. Asking the right questions will ensure that you have the support you need when you need it.
- Is there a ticketing system?
- Is there online help, such as a chat or a knowledge base?
- During which hours are calls answered? Is there access to 24-hour support?
Another part of technical support is training. You’ll want access to training to decrease the learning curve, to get started with the ESP. Here are some questions you’ll want to ask in regards to training your staff:
- Do new feature releases include training?
- Is there a cost for the initial training? Is the training available online and live?
Personalization, Segmentation and Automation
The buzzword of 2018 is customer experience, and your ESP should give you all the tools you need to give your customers a tailored experience. Personalization means leveraging all the data available to deliver customer-specific content. This is where segmentation comes in – the more segmentation capabilities at your disposal, the more personalized experience you can provide. And without automation, it’s nearly impossible to deliver content to all the list segments at the right time. Lastly, putting all those tools to use shouldn’t rocket-science – the simpler the platform, the better.
Here are some questions to ensure you have the tools to create a seamless customer experience for your customers.
- Does the ESP allow dynamic content for personalized messages?
- Does the platform allow automated emails and drip campaigns?
- Are customer journeys easy to set up and modify?
- Is there a drag-and-drop interface to set up the workflow for automated emails?
Segmentation is critical to split your list into similar groups based on behavior, demographics and other parameters.
- What type of segmentation capabilities does your ESP provide?
- Is list segmentation easily configured via drag-and-drop?
Lastly, most enterprise-level ESPs should have predictive capabilities, make sure to enquire about those:
- What type of machine learning does the ESP use to deliver content?
- Does the platform allow advanced segmentation for persona tracking and predictive analysis?
Mobile and Social Media Marketing
In today’s age it’s nearly instrumental for an ESP to accommodate social media integration and mobile marketing.
Although social media marketing channels aren’t as profitable as email, many organizations are heavily invested in building those channels out. As a result, the greater the integration between your ESP and social media channels, the easier it’ll be to market to both of those channels.
Social Media Marketing
Here are some questions that will ensure your ESP is ready for social media:
- Can you share posts on social media from the platform?
- Is there tracking of social media engagement that begins with an email?
- Which social media platforms are integrated with the platform?
In today’s mobile-centric world, there are more people checking email on their phones than making phone calls. So needless to say, your ESP should be optimized for mobile email marketing. Here are some questions to make sure your ESP is optimized for mobile marketing:
- Does the ESP allow for responsive design?
- Can you automatically generate mobile versions from HTML emails?
- Does the ESP support SMS/MMS marketing?
- Is there tracking and reporting for SMS marketing
- Is it possible to segment SMS lists?
In your search for the best ESP, analytics should hold a priority. It’s paramount for marketers to be able to quickly and efficiently make sense of all the data available to them. The ESP should be able to present the data in a way that helps marketers make informed decisions. To ensure that the ESP you’re looking to choose has sufficient analytic capabilities here are some questions you should ask:
- Is it possible to set up custom reports?
- Is it possible to export data with other tools such as Google Analytics or a CRM?
- What kind of email reporting does the ESP provide?
- Is there any third-party analytics integrations?
Data, API & Security
Data-driven marketers understand the power of data. As a result, the ESP should have the capabilities to harness all the data available – your email stats, social media, online transactions, CRM system and even web analytics. This integration of data is critical to generate the dynamic content necessary for optimal customer experience.
One of the ways that marketers make sense of the data is through Relational Databases. However, not all ESPs provide full relational database capabilities. Relational Databases allow you to keep data in different tables and then “relate” them to customers for use in targeted campaigns.
The main question you need to ask is:
- Does your platform support true relational databases?
Application Programming Interface (API)
Data integration means connecting all the various systems such as web analytics, CRM platforms, content management systems and eCommerce platforms in one place. For custom integrations you’ll need access to the ESP’s API. There are various types of APIs so you’ll need to ensure that your technical team will be able to easily leverage that that ESP’s API.
Here are the questions that you can ask to ensure that your team is capable of handling the ESP’s API:
- Is there any support from the ESP with integration?
- In what programming language is the API written in?
- Is there access to written documentation?
- Are there testing environments to work with?
If we’re talking about Data, we have to talk about security. Your company’s most valuable asset is your customer data. Before handing this data to an ESP, you better make sure that the ESP is following all the regulations to ensure the safety of your data. There are two ways that you can keep your data secured: encryption and tokenization. Encryption safely stores data within the ESP’s database but in an encrypted form. Tokenization allows you to keep your data within your own database while the ESP holds the database of “tokens” relating the actual data. When it’s time to use the data, an API call with the token is submitted to use the correlating data from the client.
Here are some questions that you can ask the vendor to ensure that they’re respecting the safety of your data.
- Has there ever been a data breach and how was it handled?
- What types of security tools are in place to prevent a breach?
- Is there monitoring and alerts?
- Is there any encryption of data?
- Does the platform allow for tokenized sending?
I hope that this guide will prepare you for choosing the best email service provider for your organization. In your next chat with a sales rep or during a demo, make sure to have this guide on hand so you’ll have the questions ready to go. If this guide has been helpful for you, take a minute to check out Maropost for Marketing and book a demo.
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