8 Ways to Save Money When Buying Email Marketing Software

So…you’re investing in a new email marketing software solution and you want to save money. Everyone wants to save money — or at least everyone who is working within a budget.

But only looking at out of pocket costs often leads to decisions that are penny wise, pound foolish. Avoid swapping short-term gain for long-term pain. What if there is a smarter approach? Let’s talk about ways you can save money—without only focusing on price—and make money—by choosing wisely.

1. Choose the right-sized ESP

Before you start with your ESP selection, do a reality check and determine what size ESP you can justify based on your business needs. You might be drawn to a big name, top-tier enterprise ESP because it’s so familiar, and familiar seems safe. But can your needs justify the cost?

Alternatively, if you’re thinking cheaper is better, you might be looking at an ESP that’s too small to either meet your needs now or grow with you. In either case, consider some of the mid-market ESPs. Many midmarket ESPs now have the capabilities needed by enterprise-level email marketers—without the enterprise-level costs.

The SMB ESPThe mid-market ESPThe enterprise-level ESP
Low-cost, usually with a free trial period.

Limited support, limited in capabilities but a good solution for a small business with low email volume and relatively simple needs.

Features and expertise vary, but many can handle large email volume, although delivering at scale can have timing issues.

Can sometimes offer customization that an enterprise-level ESP can’t. Right-sized ESP for many types of organizations. In addition, several mid-market ESPs are specializing to serve niche industries and needs.

Can handle sophisticated, complex data and email integrations, usually with high degree of reporting ability, and cross-channel marketing beyond email alone.
Enterprise ESPs also have multiple productized integrations.

Related article:
We have compared 7 cheap email marketing software tools for SMB so you can have a look what is the price and features.

2. Move beyond the initial price tag

Your price isn’t simply what you’ll pay at the outset when you sign the contract with that solution provider. Your price is also what you might pay in the future when you want more support, or customization, or functionality.

In addition to those costs, you have to take into account time and ease of use and most importantly ROI—and other factors that affect the budget and bottom line if not the initial price tag. And then there is the cost you’ll pay when you can’t do something and you miss out on that potential revenue.

I often hear marketers express frustration because ESP pricing seems to be all over the map, and there isn’t a rhyme or reason to it. I understand the frustration. It’s akin to walking on to the car lot and seeing two cars that look the same from the outside with two different price tags. The issue is, what’s under the hood?

Vendors differ in pricing for many reasons, including what’s under the hood, and you should be paying more attention to the “engine” than the price tag. Sometimes you do want to pay more if it brings a higher ROI.

Reasons you might want to pay more for an email marketing solution:
You want to customize.
You want premium customer support.
You want functionality above and beyond the basics.
You want relational databases.
You want deeper segmentation.
You want more automation/triggers.
You want customized reporting.

You might want to pay more for an ESP because you’ll want customization, or better customer support or for some other reason. In addition, paying more upfront can pay off later when you make incremental improvements to your program—improvements that increase your engagement, deliverability, results and ultimately ROI.

You should be willing to pay more if the ROI justifies it. You can’t do an apples-to-apples comparison if you’re only looking at price. For example, if one vendor is 20% cheaper than another, but the more expensive one offers features that could lead to significantly more sales, then crunch some numbers and see which one will help you generate the highest return.

Yes, strive to save money when choosing your new vendor, but don’t focus on the initial price tag or you could end up paying more money in the long run—or worse, losing out on potential revenue because you don’t have the functionality that could improve your ROI.

Growing ROI on the back end

By thinking about the ROI (Return on Investment) on the back end, you can “save” money by choosing the email marketing solution that packs the most punch per euro / dollar / pound. Which can lead to the conclusion that spending more allows you to make more.

That’s because the right functionality and access to all your data will enable you to achieve a higher ROI. If you look at a solution that’s enabling you to do more—like better targeting, right integration and deeper segmentation—you will be able to improve your ROI.

Too few marketers take this approach when choosing a solution, essentially leaving money on the table as a result.

Start to look beyond the hard (out of pocket) costs to consider costs like the cost of employees and teams outside of marketing like IT. It is a benefit of reducing time spent. If you can automate more, that’s a cost saving for you.

Functionality that lets you to grow your email list and capture the email addresses of people that bounce off websites is another example. You might pay for it, but you’ll be able to do things like capture emails or send cart abandonment emails and drive more ROI as a result.

So tear your eyes away from just the price tag and let’s talk about what really matters. Because it’s less about saving money and more about enabling ROI by:

1) Streamlining the buying process so it takes less time (and therefore money).
2) Choosing the right vendor the first time so you stick with that vendor longer, thereby saving money because you don’t have to go through the selection process all over again.
3) Most importantly, investing in the solution that is going to give you the biggest payback over time.

3. Consider a best-in-breed model over an all-in-one platform

You can also save money by piecing together your own best-in-breed stack rather than buying an all-in-one marketing cloud solution. Buying an all-in-one solution can lock you into a higher price point without giving you the functionality you need, or at least not the best version of that functionality.

 All-in-one platform Best-in-breed stack
FeaturesLots of features but not necessarily the of the highest quality or the easiest to use.vs.The features you get are exactly what you need, and of the highest quality and ease of use.
PriceYou pay for everything upfront, even for features you don’t need or won’t use.vs.You only pay for the functionality you’re ready to use.
FlexibilityHard to change your marketing stack—you get what you get.vs.Easy to change out one piece of your marketing stack or add new functionality to it.

By choosing a best-in-breed approach instead, you have the flexibility to focus on what matters most and spend your budget accordingly. Plus you can make changes later without having to undo your whole marketing stack.

4. Look for an ESP with built-in integrations

Speaking of best-in-breed, that doesn’t mean you’ll have to shop around and figure out the third-party vendors on your own. Many email marketing solutions and marketing automation providers have already partnered with other MarTech providers, so you can get built-in integrations without investing in an all-in-one solution.

If a vendor doesn’t have an integration with a particular MarTech provider you do want, don’t ask for their roadmap (because roadmaps change). Instead ask for the best type of workaround or costs of a custom integration.

5. Know upfront what kind of service you’re paying for

Anecdotally, most organizations switch ESPs because they are unhappy with the customer service or account management. Switching ESPs costs money. No, you don’t pay a charge for doing so, but the process is time-consuming and time is money.

Therefore, I say you should know upfront what kind of customer service, technical help, etc. you’ll get for the price on your contract. Also be sure you know upfront what kind of customer service and support you need. You can do this by reviewing your relationship with your existing (and soon to be prior) vendor. What types of support did you want and not get? What types of support were included in your contract and beneficial to you?

Determine if your organization will rely on self-service, collaborative services, or will be using a full service email marketing agency because the degree of support you need will come into play. Also determine what kind of training you can expect at the outset and ongoing.

Advanced email marketing featuresNeedDon’t need
Drag/drop segmentation   
Drag/drop journeys   
Custom analytics  
Recommendation engine  
Cart and browse abandonment  
Data management and integration  
Lead scoring  

Beyond customer support or technical help, consider what other services you might want to use. Agency-type services such as strategy, design, deployment, coding and integration can help you optimize your email marketing program, especially if your department is understaffed or less experienced.

6. Be crystal clear on the functionality you want

While you need to be clear on the types of service and support you want, you need to be just as clear on the functionality. It’s surprisingly easy to be distracted by the shiny things (see #7 below) and spend money on features you’ll never use, either because you didn’t really need them in the first place or they’re simply too complicated for your team to master.

Make a list of features you absolutely have to have, those you would like to have, and those you really don’t need but you think are nice features. Then stick to this list! Otherwise, you’re like to spend money on extra features that don’t contribute to your ROI, or that no one uses because they really weren’t needed in the first place. While doing so, focus on those on those features that might cost more but will make you more money too!
Being clear on your actual email marketing requirements also helps you to stick to your guns when a salesperson starts showing you the bells and whistles that will take you down the shiny things path. There are some advanced email marketing features you might need, but know upfront what they are.

7. Avoid the shiny things

Although I have written extensively on the topic of shiny things before, it is worth repeating here because we are talking about saving money and maximizing ROI. And spending money on shiny things will not save you money. Shiny things are those cool and sexy features that suck marketers in but never get used—even though they get paid for. When you start getting into the advanced features like those mentioned above, you start getting into the danger zone of shiny things.

How do you know if something is a shiny thing? Try the email marketing shiny things scorecard.

8. Forego the RFP

If you really want to save money during this process, skip the RFP. You can build a short list instead, without the time, money and hassle of an RFP. This doesn’t knock money off your purchase price, but it saves you money nonetheless by saving you precious time.

Even if you do the RFP, if you take steps to at least optimize the email marketing RFP process, you’ll probably conclude it’s not necessary if you can focus on creating a short list and being crystal clear on your wants vs. your needs.

4 Steps to Building a Shortlist and Avoiding an RFP

  1. Limit your shortlist to 3 to 5 potential vendors.
  2. Create a well-defined list of requirements, staying laser-focused on the capabilities you need now and in the near future (including those that will enable you to increase your ROI).
  3. Get to know the vendors through research and conversations with others.
  4. Avoid canned demos and insist on a proof-of-concept demo instead.

Choosing a new email marketing solution won’t be a quick fix to what ails you as an email marketer, especially if you’re focused on price alone. Focus on capabilities instead, and take the time to figure out the features that will help you make more money, not spend less.

Then follow this advice to make a well-informed decision—and maybe one you can live with for the long-term, which will save you plenty of money too!

About Marco Marini

With 25 years in business, Marco is a walking encyclopedia of all things email: best practices, technologies, trends, and more. Marco is currently the COO of iPost, an email platform built for marketers by marketers. iPost an easy, flexible, dynamic marketing automation solution for email and mobile marketing. He has also held key marketing positions with CyberSource, ClickMail, eHealthInsurance, DoveBid and IBM Canada.

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