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Slay the Urban Legends of ESP Selection

Maybe you’ve outgrown your current solution, you’re looking for more advanced functionality or you’re unhappy with the service or stability of your current platform. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to start your search for a new ESP and contemplate a switch—especially when your current provider is simply no longer a good fit. When shopping for email marketing software, should you believe everything you hear? When the time comes to investigate each platform, it’s best to proceed with caution.

Over the years I have helped dozens and dozens of companies to find their new email service soulmate and have heard plenty of “Urban Legends,” so let’s bust the myths around ESP selection.

“Cheaper” Is Not Always Cheaper

We all want a good deal, but one of the main pitfalls of ESP pricing is falling into the “what’s the cheapest ESP trap.” You do this by choosing what looks to be the cheapest ESP, only to later find out “cheaper” was quite an expensive choice.

The next seemingly cheap approach, but often expensive choice is attempting to build something yourself. While every ESP has its strong and weak points, an in-house, custom-built solution always includes additional headaches and maintenance.

A smart approach is to first prioritize the features and functions you really need most. As a best practice, seek out the ideal fit, before looking closer at pricing. A true apples-to-apples comparison might be hard because of differing pricing models and feature sets, but you don’t need to actually compare the solutions in minute detail.

Put your top selections side by side and ask if the feature functionality you need is present in each offered package. The question of “What’s the best ESP available?”, isn’t answered that easily, and certainly not by looking solely at price. Remember that support and ease of use can save a lot of in-house time—reducing the logistical burdens of production and deployment will empower your organization to execute much more efficiently. Marketers want to market!

Plan the ESP Selection and Implementation

You’ve made your decision and it’s time to look for a new ESP. Once this egg is laid, every company I have worked with wants to start the selection process and launch a new ESP as quickly as possible. In my experience, marketers often underestimate how long this takes — especially when going at it alone.

As you’re getting started, take heed of Hofstadter’s law: “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.” In short, plan on completion running long.

Asking for an example implementation plan from the new ESP can be a real lifesaver. If you’ve selected a service-oriented email provider, they might have a more detailed planning schedule, which is likely to more accurately align your previous expectations.

Generally speaking, integrations can take more time than they seem to at first. You might hear that everything can be done through API’s in real-time, but it turns out this is not always guaranteed, especially when dealing with large volumes of data.

Factor in potential delays on your side, because these pinch points are most likely to hold up the implementation process—setbacks like waiting on other departments, technical settings, internal sign-offs and…vacations. Hold your new provider to their deadlines, but I recommend communicating lower internal expectations to avoid running out of time and putting your organization in a bind.

Shiny Things vs. Useful Things

Ooh…Shiny! ESP selection time is a time to be completely honest about your marketing program—now is the time to prioritize the ‘must have,’ ‘nice to have,’ and non-applicable features from the rest. I recommend including room for growth even if you won’t be using new functionality straight out of the gate. However, it’s best to plan to utilize these kinds of features somewhere within the coming 2 years; without a plan to incorporate them into your processes, you likely won’t use them at all.

During provider selection, it is very easy to get distracted by shiny, new features, widgets and marketing buzzwords. The vendor you select should have an eye toward continual innovation and continue developing their product roadmap.

Now you must ask yourself: does your newly found ESP actually pass the “shiny things test?”

Make sure your vendors are selling more than just hype (Source: Gartner)

In their hype cycle, Gartner categorizes up and coming technologies and tactics alongside their Expectations (Y-axis) and maturity over Time (X-axis). Currently, Artificial Intelligence is on its way up inside email and automation circles, so be wary of hype-ish promises and instead evaluate each of them as practical additions to your marketing capabilities.

In email marketing and automation, the 80-20 rule of the thumb reigns supreme. 80% of the users will only use 20% of the features (intensively). Make sure you base your selection on the features you will actually use!

Brace for Impact

Changing vendors can impact your deliverability to various degrees. If you are working with shared IPs or an IP range gone bad, making a switch may improve your deliverability score. Note that quite often, changing IP addresses or vendors results in a (temporary) deliverability hit.

But changing ESP’s isn’t a long-term solution to your own deeper-seated structural problems. If you were already on a dedicated IP and working with a reputable ESP, but still were encountering deliverability problems, the issue likely isn’t stemming from your provider. If the problems lie within your lists or sending practices, those issues will come back in an instant. In this case, there’s no need to switch—fix those problems first.

Email, Interrupted

When you are switching ESPs, there will be a delivery interruption during the switch. Plan ahead to ensure your contract with your previous ESP is not yet discontinued so you can still deliver emails during the transition. If you’ve built a solid onboarding plan, you can gradually start migrating your database segments and outbound campaigns. With the right plan in place, switching can be quite smooth.

If you will be sending with shared IPs on the new ESP, there is no need to do IP warming. That is because the IP-pool you are entering is already warmed up. Additionally, some vendors offer warm IP addresses that will become your new dedicated IP. This is a safe fall-back measure to look for if your business relies heavily on email marketing. If all goes well, planning it out well results in very few send interruptions.

Tying It Together

There are a lot of factors that go into selecting the right ESP and migration strategy for your organization. Research carefully and take your time prior to selection. It’s best to fully comprehend your short- and long-term email strategies, desired goals, and business requirements before looking into the market. Learn to navigate around the “Shiny Object Syndrome” or a too heavy emphasis on price over function. Once chosen, plan your migration together with the new ESP and get the party started.

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