How many Email Service Providers should we invite?

how many esps to invite

“How many Email Service Providers (ESPs) should we invite to pitch?”. It is a simple question that pops up every time a marketer is selecting an email service provider or vendor.

It is an issue because the marketer wants the best Email service provider but doesn’t want to take too long selecting one. So how many Email service providers should you invite to pitch?

On the side of the Email service provider it is an issue too. They would like to be in a selection with only a small number of competitors. An email marketing pitch with (too) many others diminishes the chance of them winning the account.

Browsing, searching, selecting email service providers

First off, it is important to see what we would call a pitch. Marketers have high expectations of email marketing service providers when it comes to pitches. And it takes a lot of effort from both sides to go through an RFP, demos and presentations. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t browse around and search first.

How long should your ESP long list be?

The total number of email service providers is over 350. So just only looking through the whole list is already a huge task. You can already narrow it down a lot by starting your long list based on the type of email marketing solution that is best for you. As a rule of the thumb. If your long list has more than 20 Email Service providers, it isn’t a long list, it’s a bulk list and you haven’t been selective at all. Keep it to maximum of 12.

Narrowing the view, when the email selection gets more serious

how many email vendors selected
Going from a long to a short list of email marketing vendors requires a better and clearer definion of what you want. Note that we aren’t up to the pitching yet, the short list should only contain candidates that are real candidates to invite. Now that is the difference.

Your short list should contain a maximum of anywhere from 3 to 8 esps. Note that this is the maximum, having less is perfectly alright. If it can be narrowed down further before really getting into a ‘selecting mode’, narrow it down. Be sure to write down your arguments when NOT selecting an Email service provider at this point, you might find that the insight into your requirements change over time. In that case it is good to know why you eliminated certain Email tools.

The email marketing pitching begins, sort of

Based on the complexity, scope and size you would like to investigate further and talk to some of the email service providers. You might want to go out and see online demo’s and their website to be able to see if the vendors really can fulfil the requirements and supply the service you were looking for. Some might not cut it, and can safely be removed from the shortlist.

A high quality group of Email service providers selected

Now with the shortlist in your hand, do you have any favourites? Think about how confident you are, this also depends on the experience with both email marketing and the selection process. Ask 3 or 4 email vendors to present their case and pitch.

Less confident, looking for a more creative solution or have a more complex or high stake situation? In that case you might want to look into 4-7 email suppliers to pitch on your project. If you want to deviate from the numbers given in this article, trust me, it isn’t necessary to invite more. Make sure that the vetting part is done right and you have a high quality selection of ESPs in your pitch that will match the profile you were looking for.

In the end, always follow this simple trut when inviting ESPs to your pitch:
Invite as little as you can and as many as you need.

About Jordie van Rijn

Jordie van Rijn is an independent email marketing consultant and Analyst. He is the Founder of Email Vendor Selection and specializes in smart email marketing, optimisation and RFP / vendor selection. Named on of "50 Online Marketing Influencers to Watch in 2016 " by Entrepreneur magazine.