Choosing a behavioral email provider: 7 critical questions you didn’t think about.

behavioural_email_marketing_questions

In the last article was all about Choosing the right behavioral email service for your business when planning to invest in behavioral email.

This time we focus on questions to ask a potential supplier. You want to ensure they can meet the initial requirements and on-going needs of your business. So what should you ask a potential behavioral email provider?

1. Do you have any specific case studies on behavioral email?

Getting credentials is not unique to selecting a behavioral email provider. Because it’s still classed in the emerging category, it’s more important than ever to be able to prove the providers you are talking to can do what they claim and that others have had sufficient success with them to publish the results.

Warning: A case study on delivering a broadcast email with award-winning creative does not prove a company can handle the complexities of behavioral segmentation. Ensure any case studies and references you are given actual relate to what you are asking the provider to do! And ask to speak to at least 2 clients that do behavioral email with the email marketing automation provider.

2. Do you have experience in sending behavioral campaigns in my sector?

It’s important to remember, just because a provider has sent millions of retail basket abandonment emails, doesn’t mean they know how to grow campaigns for travel companies, insurance companies, gambling companies etc…

behavioral email abandonned shopping cart emailNearly every ESP, pure play, campaign management system, database provider and probably web analytics vendor can deliver the basic abandonment email. The question is can they evolve beyond that and can they work specifically on things within your sector.

Challenge the provider on what they know and understand about your specific space. Ask for examples on what they suggest will work for your company; ask for evidence on why it will work and how it will work.

3. What is the pricing model of your behavioral email?

Two main costing methods exist; CPA led or fixed price. With a CPA model you get a real sense of paying for what you are getting and it’s normally much easier to justify. The downside of this model is (due to the potential for behavioral emails to grow) it could become extremely expensive.

I’ve heard many stories from retailers that when they launched their basket abandonment emails they were happy with the levels it was generating and the cost attached to it. However, when they trebled the volume, started adding another 20 programs the cost on a CPA stopped working in their favor!

If you’re thinking of taking this route you may want to ask if your provider can offer a hybrid model where you work on CPA, but have the cost capped. This will of course limit you on what you can send.

On the other hand, if you’re going for a fixed price solution, don’t be fooled into believing this will give you more control, instead ensure you know exactly what the cost includes, and what restrictions may apply.

Classic issues include:

  • Creative templates included or not
  • Additional costs for higher volumes of emails sent
  • Excessive charges for adding more segments
  • High day rates for making any changes to creative (and often long lead times!)
  • High testing charges

Clarify how the pricing model works with your provider and then use the response to carefully model the total costs of your ESP over the short and long term.

4. Are there any restrictions on how I can evolve my campaigns?

While costs can be a restriction to how quickly you grow your campaigns, it’s important to understand what other restrictions might slow you down from growing your campaigns. If you are going to get the best from your behavioral email campaigns you will naturally need to evolve them, making them work specifically for your business.

Getting stuck 
One example would be when a provider tells you that they provide templates for you to use, to then find out this is actually the only way you can work. Similarly, if a provider says they can send an email within 10 minutes of an action taking place, check other timing are available and whether you can send different triggers at different times.

You need the flexibility to design your campaign how best fits your customers and not be limited to generic set ups within the provider’s set up. Be aware of any restrictions, and/or the charges for evolving your campaigns.

5. How many programs do your average and largest clients run?

The number of programs you do can grow in two key ways. The first being new program ideas you have not tried, so you might be running an abandonment program, but you then decide to add a browser or nursery program.

The other method is expanding the number of options/ programs within existing programs, so in the example where you have an abandonment program, you might expand this to include repeat abandoners as a separate program or maybe split them out by the value of the abandonment.

Flexibility is needed
Whichever method you use (preferably both!), flexibility in growth requires your provider to have a good grounding in database marketing and their ability to give you access to as much data about what people do on your site as possible. Therefore it’s important they can provide evidence/proof of being able to grow programs, otherwise within a year you’ll be looking elsewhere for a provider that can.

6. Can you handle multiple data sources?

Ensure you understand if/how the provider can handle external data sources. While it’s easy to think web driven data is all you need, a time will probably come when you will want to tie in other sources of data. Just think about all the different reasons why and you’ll build up a list very quickly:

  • 3rd party survey company
  • Call centre data
  • A catalog feed
  • Your own transactional database
  • Stock feed

However, the source is not as important initially as understanding your provider’s ability to handle multiple sources of data and integrate them. This will not be important for all businesses and certainly for some will be a year 2 question, but it’s a good idea to be aware of it now, and understand your provider’s capability in future ventures.

7. Can I customise the creative to ensure elements of it are targeted at the individual?

The question is really about ensuring your provider has the expertise to not just collect a heap of data, but knows how to use it. You want to see an example of this in action. Dynamic content, clever use of mail merges, inserts; there are many ways you can use data to ensure the creative message is as personal and targeted as possible.

Email elements you might want to customize
The key is that your provider has the ability to produce the best creative message possible. As an example, the following are a few things I might want to do with a creative if I’m sending an email to someone browsing a vacation site:

  • Include images of the destination(s) browsed
  • Understand the person’s history and family structure to target images accordingly
  • Include information about vacation extras they have looked at, like car rental
  • Include a video of any hotel they might have viewed

Find out if your provider is able to do this and ask for suitable evidence of how it is done, how the data is collected and how the data is used.

Hopefully the questions above, along with the article  list will give you a good idea of what you should expect from a behavioral email provider and plenty of ways to challenge your potential providers and understand in detail what they really offer; giving you the best chance of selecting the right fit for your company.

I’d love to hear more suggestions on what you should ask a provider, or from those of you using behavioral email, what you’d wished you’d asked, with what you know now.

About Garry Lee


Over the last 10 years I have developed an account management team that offers the service led approach in the web analytics industry at RedEye. I am now responsible for the P&L of the analytics, usability & optimisation and behavioural email sections of the business, managing all costs and revenues, as well as the teams responsible for delivering the service to our clients. Dedicating my time to take the data available and developing new ways improve the understanding of online marketing. You can follow garry here on Twitter.

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  • Pete Austin

    The elephant in the room is “real time”, but the author doesn’t mention it. Even for basic email marketing, such as cart abandonment, browse retargeting or trending products, data has a use-by date.

    If your system requires an overnight load, then the world has moved on and the old data stinks, Shoppers have bought elsewhere long ago, they are browsing for today’s product not yesterday’s, and trending products have already built volume and no longer need a marketing push.

    So, when choosing a system for email marketing, by all means ask the questions that the author suggests, but treat all answers as “no” unless you get all the data in real time, so it’s still fresh.

    • Garry Lee

      Thanks for the response Pete and I certainly know what you mean, the relevancy of the data is often linked to timing. Could definitely have included more on timing and certainly articles I have written previously it’s often a fun topic of discussion.
      I probably wouldn’t go as far as yourself in terms of ‘if it’s not real time ignore it’, but i would say you need to know the options for the different campaigns. It’s about testing what timing works best. From doing this the last 10 years, I’ve certainly seen plenty of examples where the quicker you respond the better, but I’ve also encountered a number of campaign where timing is optimised later, whether that’s an hour later, 4 hours, 10 minutes, it’s all down to basic marketing principles – test, test and test. These differences can be by campaign type but also other factors like sector, audience profile, time of day etc…