The Maze Group is a highly technical strategic consultancy and investment group, working with leading consumer companies to increase valuation through digital transformation and data-driven marketing.
Read on for their guest contribution on what questions you should be asking during an email service provider (ESP) evaluation to prepare your business for the future.
As the current climate demonstrates, you need to be ready to pivot and make changes to your online strategy seemingly at a moment’s notice. Those that prepare for these situations and have the flexibility needed with their data, technology and strategy are winning right now.
To maintain a competitive advantage, you need to future-proof your marketing technology stack to ensure that you have the capabilities needed not just for today, but also for tomorrow and beyond.
The purpose of this article is to educate you on what questions you can ask in order to prepare yourself for the future.
1. Does the ESP integrate with customer data platforms?
When building your ideal marketing tech stack, the importance of data flexibility is at an all-time high. Your ESP should not only have seamless integrations with e-commerce providers and analytics tools but also out-of-the-box connections with today’s leading customer data platforms (CDPs), such as Segment or mParticle.
When selecting an ESP, understanding its integrations at a granular level allows you to set yourself up for success down the road. The data getting passed into and from your ESP allows for future segmentation and personalization.
Having this mapped out from day 1 allows you to build a tech stack that is flexible enough for the unknown. Maybe your brand plans to launch a new product or sub-brand in the not-so-distant future and you want to cross-leverage data across your portfolio.
One way to future-proof is to understand the touchpoints between platforms. If you pick an ESP without an understanding of CDP integrations, you could find yourself pigeon-holed into subpar personalization thanks to cumbersome data silos.
2. Does the ESP support multiple channels?
Having just email doesn’t cut it in e-commerce anymore. It’s vital that your ESP not only sends email, but also supports mobile push, SMS, direct mail, and even paid media, like Facebook Custom Audiences.
With our clients, we have seen customer acquisition costs drop by 50% simply by sending postcards in the early stages of churn risk vs. sending Facebook ads at the same point in the journey. It’s important that you can have the capability to drive similar tests to see when and how you should communicate with your customers.
We see far too many retailers who have their email teams operate in a vacuum. You should be communicating with your customers on multiple platforms once they sign up, and that journey should be managed in your ESP.
This allows for a full-funnel approach, so you can create highly segmented and channel-agnostic user journeys. The flexibility to test sending a postcard after your second welcome email instead of a third ineffective email can prove to pay dividends when scaling your channel-agnostic marketing strategy.
3. How available is Customer Support, and how active will they be during your implementation?
It is essential that you work with a team that can serve as more than just a vendor, but rather as a resource and trusted partner during your ESP implementation.
Key preparations, such as your data migration and IP warming, are often overlooked, and in extreme cases can cause massive hits to your business during the transition.
Having your ESP’s Customer Support team actively involved in the migration process ensures that you avoid those pitfalls. Are they coming to you with strategic recommendations, or are you simply stuck in a queue with a 72-hour wait time anytime you have a question?
When selecting your ESP, consider their Customer Support as an extension of your own team to serve as product experts who can help ensure you’re ahead of the curve.
4. Does your engineering team actually like using the ESP?
In our experience, many developers frankly don’t like most legacy ESPs available in the market, because they feel limited with what these technologies can do with APIs and despise the finicky nature of email coding.
During a proof of concept, having your engineers get access to a sandbox and understand the API documentation during the vetting process is a must. Ideally, the developers on your team should learn the ins-and-outs of your marketing tech stack, how data passes and what data is passed.
We find that oftentimes engineering teams can get left out of the ESP selection process, but we advise not to make this mistake. They will likely be the most critical of the available options and provide valuable technical feedback.
Engineering teams often hold the keys to a company’s tech stack and its roadmap, so make sure you have their buy-in. Their familiarity with the platform will pay dividends in future-proofing your selection.
5. What role does AI play in the ESP’s current and future offering?
Let’s face it, most ESPs say they have AI functionality but when it comes down to it, we are still scratching the surface of what AI is and will be in the ESP space. Your ESP should have the basics down—it should have predictive insights to understand when users maybe should be coming back to purchase again.
The technology is also out there for leveraging AI to do things like send-time and frequency optimization. When you are potentially running hundreds of personalized flows, the ability to automate messaging timing and cadence is a huge time-and-energy saver.
But like all technology, what we see today and what we see in five years will advance more than email has in the last 20 years. Partnering with an ESP who has answered yes to the above 4 questions will likely land you with a yes on number 5.
Future-Proof Your MarTech Stack With the Right ESP
The MarTech ecosystem is changing by the day, but these questions should help you future-proof for those changes.
If you would like to discuss any of these questions in more detail, feel free to reach out to me at Chip@themazegroup.com. I would love to talk through your ESP evaluation and see if there’s anything The Maze Group can do to help.