How to Seamlessly Onboard With Your New ESP

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Finding yourself in a situation that you need to switch to a new ESP is not uncommon for marketers. The way you and your new Email Service Provider approach onboarding will impact your entire sending program.

So make sure to plan and execute the migration process right.

Every email marketer must onboard properly first, or you won’t be able to use the system for your benefit and meet your email goals. An optimized onboarding process might even provide a chance for critical improvements. It is a win-win situation for both new clients and vendors where avoiding reputation-damaging activities which can cause lower deliverability is crucial.

Professional assistance from real, human beings cannot be overestimated when transitioning between vendors. This is a time where you should seek the expertise of an email consultant or the vendor. It’s a good sign if your new ESP has a dedicated team to help you get started.

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As Alex Turnbull from Groove rightly says: “The onboarding period is, for a business, perhaps the most critical time in a SaaS customer’s life.” And those vendors who get it right have a far higher customer retention value.

Why are you changing your ESP?

The number one reason companies decide to change ESPs is down to inadequate customer support. Increasing numbers of decision-makers are looking for vendors that can offer cost-effective integrated solutions and at the same time provide high levels of customer support. Being able to make use of the experience of the vendor is an additional benefit and an asset in a competitive email environment.

Other reasons for changing email providers vary. It can be costs, functionalities, lack of particular integrations, sometimes deliverability issues. Excluding your own reasons, the first question you should ask yourself before the migration begins is: when is the best time to start?

When is the best time to transition between ESPs?

Email marketing is the most effective digital communication channel. It drives traffic and eventually a constant stream of money to businesses. It’s no surprise marketers immediately get a huge headache when they think of migration. This is especially the case for high-volume senders, who have huge lists and run ongoing email marketing and automation programs.

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According to data from FreshMail’s clients, the majority of them decided to onboard into the system from a different ESP during the following months:
● January – March
● June – August

There is no magic date that anyone can point to when it comes to best time to switch email vendors. The perfect time to transition depends on the industry a company operates in, but it is safe to say that you should avoid migration during high sales season, like the Holiday season in Nov-Dec in retail. Different types of business have different typical peaks and troughs in sales activities. Before you decide on the timing of switching, analyse your email statistics and find the time when it seems to be the calmest.

How long does ESP migration take?

To completely onboard a new email service provider can take as long as 30 to 90 days. You have to take this into account. It is good to have some overlap when transitioning from one ESP to another. It will allow you to end your contract smoothly, make sure the new platform is 100% operational and won’t break your important email and sending programs.

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What should a good ESP help you with during onboarding?

Onboarding is the process of getting new clients up to speed so a vendor and client can work together effectively. During this time, both the client and the ESP gain the necessary knowledge, understanding, and tools to build and maintain a good relationship.

Service matters. Well-established Email Service Providers understand the challenges their clients have. We champion the idea of putting customer service at your ESP first, in choosing them. An ESP should offer new clients a dedicated Deliverability Team to seamlessly transition between email solutions.

Not every employee at your email service provider will have in-depth knowledge of what IP’s are being used, or how to avoid spam filters. Therefore having a Deliverability Team working with you is paramount.

Deliverability and technical help

Transitioning between ESPs affects your associated IP-based reputation with the various inbox providers of your subscribers, and so maintaining the deliverability rate will be your main focus.

A proactive and consultative approach should cover all things technical and strategic. So always talk about deliverability with your new ESP. If you switched based on deliverability, make sure your new ESP helps you identify the cause of the problem and either advise you on better email practices, sometimes offering you a dedicated IP address or a shared is the best choice. You can also expect help with:
● Setting up authentication: SPF records (not essential but highly recommended), DKIM configuration, DMARC if necessary.
● Handling your data structure and providing seamless migration
● Re-setting webform integrations
● Re-setting external integrations
● Tool training and customer support

An action plan for seamless onboarding your new ESP

Whether you’ll be working with someone from your ESP side or not, these are the crucial actions you have to take during the migration process.

1. Set the deadlines and milestones for migration

Make a project plan. First evaluate your current email strategy. Identify what works well and what you have to correct. Clarify your goals, set out a plan and push for your targets.

2. Clean and prepare your email lists

Download all hard bounces, spam complaints and unsubscribes from your lists stored in your previous email provider. This will greatly influence your deliverability with the new ESP. Make sure not to upload these email addresses to your account on your selected new provider. Contacting such subscribers using a new ESP will damage your email marketing campaigns, as well as your send reputation.

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Identify the most active segment of subscribers dividing them into groups that will subsequently be added to the new platform and your marketing communication. Confirm that your lists are permission-based and abide by all email regulations.

3. Prepare the email marketing settings

Before you transfer your email database make sure all your processes and email business rules are already implemented into the new system. Make a list of all the data that needs to be transferred, including:
* users and permissions,
* segments and selections,
* triggered email campaign rules,
* external integrations,
* lists of opt-in forms, templates and images, etc.

4. Warm up the new IP address

New IP addresses should be warmed up before one starts sending. It can usually take a few weeks. Your new provider should be able to help you with the process, but it will definitely mean you need to know every single campaign that’s going out.

What is the best practice to aid this transition and ideally avoid taking an inevitable hit in email deliverability rates? Definitely stay away from uploading your complete email database into the new system in one time!

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To make sure to protect your deliverability, first identify and export the top 30% most active subscribers from your lists and import it to the new one. Create and send the first campaign and ask subscribers to add your new sender address to their contact list informing them that you’ve made some changes.

Do the same with the second 30% the list (original total) in the next 2 weeks, making sure to send a campaign (ideally two). After another 2 weeks move the final section over and send a campaign.

This method allows your new infrastructure to be recognised by your subscribers inbox providers as one that sends out highly engaged emails. It will mitigate any damage to your associated reputation created by the change in sending infrastructure. It drastically reduces the chance your new IPs and sending domains will be flagged as suspicious as they are not usually associated with your email campaigns.

According to Laura Atkins, it is likely and normal to see a change in deliverability or engagement metrics as you move on to a new platform. Sometimes because they measure and report them somewhat differently.

Important risks and costs of changing ESPs

Each undelivered email is a missed business opportunity. And the biggest concern for you is if a new platform causes a drop in your deliverability. Honesty is the best policy so you should not hesitate and ask your potential vendors about risks related to the platform infrastructure, including black-listed senders and domains or historical underperformance in certain inbox domains.

Switching vendors generates costs but it’s for a good reason. Make sure to include in your plans potential costs of integration processes, costs related to time and training or costs related to potential data loss during transfer.

A properly conducted onboarding process should allow you to clean the list, maintaining well-segmented database and most importantly, experience a boost in domain reputation.

Maria Wachal

About Maria Wachal


A graduate of the Warsaw School of Economics Maria has a strong background in marketing and the experience to match. Her passion for the industry and willingness to impart her knowledge has made her a respected member of FreshMail’s team. Now as FreshMail's International Marketing Manager, she is working with a top team to help grow an established email marketing platform into an even greater success.

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