Comparing ESPs? Forget Apples to Apples—Do This Instead

Comparing email service providers can be a little bit like shopping for a new car when you don’t have a certain make and model in mind. Buying a “car” can mean buying anything from a huge SUV to a sporty convertible to a tiny Fiat. They all get you places, and use an engine and four wheels to do so. But beyond that, you’d hardly try and do a comparison between an SUV and a little compact, right? It would be like comparing apples to oranges.

And so it can be with an email service provider comparison too. You’re not looking at a bunch of apples, but rather a whole fruit basket, and ever more so as ESPs start to specialize in order to differentiate themselves to own a piece of the market.

So don’t even try to do an apples-to-apples comparison when doing an email service provider comparison because it won’t work. Instead of focusing on that kind of side-by-side ESP matchup, you should be looking internally at what you really need, then looking for ESPs that can meet that need. Doing so will streamline your RFP process—or possibly even do away with it. It will save you time and hassle and get you a better fit when you do make your selection.

Start with the right mindset before comparing any vendor

Start with the right mindset before comparing anything

Figure out what matters to your organisation

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of looking internally first, before ever looking at email service providers. It is just too darn easy to get caught up in bells, whistles and shiny things because that’s all exciting compared to the pedestrian tasks you need to be able to do. But it’s those everyday dull duties that provide the backbone for your email marketing program.

And doing an RFP so early in the process means there’s a good chance you’ll be doing a time-consuming and costly RFP that only creates more work for you upfront, not less.

So let’s table that RFP for now, okay? Instead, let’s focus on figuring out what you really need from your email service provider. Let’s make a requirements list that takes into account all of the following questions:

  • What are your needs now?
  • What are your needs one year later? Two years later?
  • What are your make or break items, those things you absolutely, positively have to have no matter what?
  • What is your projected growth rate for your email marketing program in scale and/or complexity?
  • What major initiatives are planned at your organization that could potentially impact or involve your ESP choice?

Figure out what matters to others

Conversations around your needs should also involve others at your organization if they will be impacted by your ESP choice. You can’t choose a new ESP and expect everyone to be on board with it if they didn’t get a chance to weigh in on the functionality they needed beforehand. (For help with getting this information, see tips for getting internal buy-in when choosing a new email service provider.)

Create your RFP based on these needs

And now you’re ready to take a stab at your RFP based on all of the information you’ve pulled together about what you need–not on what ESPs have to offer. This is where (and how) you avoid to the fallacy of the apples to apples. Done right, your RFP should be streamlining this whole process and keeping you focused on only those email service providers that are potentially a good fit for your organization (your apples).

An RFP done right is not a bad thing

Many marketers shudder at the thought of having to pull together an RFP at the start of the process when selecting a new email service provider. But it shouldn’t be at the start of the process, if we’re trying to be time- and cost-effective. All of the research, homework and internal conversations should be. And really, this kind of upfront exploring and discussing of needs could help you to skip the RFP process altogether and go straight to a shortlist, or at least a refined RFP that will be specific enough to narrow down your choices for you.

Now you can compare apples to apples

With this kind of refined RFP or shortlist, you can do an email service comparison confident that you’re looking at apples next to apples, and not kiwis next to mangoes.

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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