The ESP Conundrum: First, Heal Thyself

On Tuesday I was invited to participate on a panel at the ClickZ Email Marketing Conference on the topic of outsourcing email sending vs. keeping that chore in-house. It was a very interesting conversation that surfaced some surprising discoveries.

The main takeaways were that many marketers …

  • Are not confident they know how to select an email service provider — even if they have one.
  • Are unaware of what to expect from their ESP.
  • Don’t analyze their program and their business needs and goals before analyzing ESPs.
  • Think they are too small to use an ESP.

If you have been debating about whether to move to an ESP or whether to choose a new ESP, I strongly encourage you to start with a thorough program analysis. Most marketers think that the vendor must fit their offering to suit the client. But, in fact, it’s far better for the marketer to find an ESP that already fits with the client’s program needs. Instead of emailing your RFP/RFI to every ESP on the planet, look at your own operations and see which vendor can best fit with your operations.

Not sure how to start? Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the primary goal of my email program (driving sales, building relationships, finding new markets)?
  2. Where is my program strongest? Where is it weakest?
  3. What are the three best ideas we had to shelve this year because we couldn’t execute it technically?
  4. Are we sending highly segmented, targeted messages to small audiences within our database or are we just batching and blasting? If the latter, why?
  5. If I could re-invent my email program from scratch, what would it look like?
  6. What level of support do I need to make my email program better than it is today?
  7. What resources (including technical and creative) do I have internally? Are they adequate to meet my needs? If not, where do I need additional help?
  8. Do I have my marketing vision mapped out and need someone to execute it or am I looking for a partner to build the plan with me?

Answering these eight questions will put you further on the road to finding the right sending infrastructure (and the needed services that come with it) than reviewing scores of RFPs ever will.

In future posts I will cover further details on the outsource vs. in-house debate and offer more information for choosing a great vendor and developing a great relationship with the one you choose.

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