We’re dealing with an odd gap in the email service provider (ESP) industry these days because buyers are reluctant to open up about what they really need.
I often hear anecdotal stories about buyers who withhold important information during the ESP selection only to make their already bad situation worse.
It is understandable why buyers are guarded: The process of buying email marketing software seems broken and companies usually don’t trust the sales process or the salespeople as a result.
Below are some tips you can use to empower yourself as a buyer ,to overcome distrust, open up about your challenges, and find the ESP solution that can meet your needs. But first we need to understand why the ESP buying process is broken.
Why the Email Marketing Software buying process seems to be broken
Most working in B2B will agree that the marketing software buying process is broken, certainly in email marketing software. Google the phrase “the buying process is broken” and you’ll see plenty of reasons why this is.
The following in particular are problems when buying email marketing and automation tools.
- First, the buying process is broken because marketers at companies are not experts at picking an ESP, and it’s human nature to hide a lack of knowledge (whether aware of it or not).As a result, these marketers are easy victims for the promise of bells and whistles and other shiny, sexy features they will end up paying for yet never use. Nor do they have the confidence to ask the right questions, as they try to hide their inexperience.
- The second reason stems from buyer concerns about being taken advantage of if they reveal too much. The buyer fears that being transparent about needs will weaken their position at the negotiating table, that they will undermine their ability to say “no” during what they anticipate to be a pressure cooker sales process. But this doesn’t have to be true, as you’ll see with the tips laid out later on.
- Third, the buying process often has a big gap because of a lack of trust. According to one study, buyers consider only 18 percent of salespeople they have met to be trustworthy and respected. Buyers of software have been duped in the past and now they’re wary.They’ve been through the discovery process, been made promises, and purchased software based on those promises—only to be disappointed in the end result when promises aren’t delivered on. If the buyer can’t trust the seller, why would the buyer want to be open about their needs?
- Fourth, buyers are wary because we have a lack of transparency in pricing in the ESP industry. Marketers many times think they are getting more for their money than they really are. Then it turns out the extra functionality they need costs extra, or they need technical help or customization and discover that’s going to cost them money they didn’t budget for.
When you look at all of the reasons why the buying process is broken, it’s no wonder we have such a disconnect between buyers and sellers in the ESP space.
How to overcome the broken buying process and choose the best ESP
With the high cost of investing in an ESP plus the time it takes to research, implement and learn a new one, we should all of us have a vested interest in bridging the gap between buyer and seller. Why not fix this broken process and ensure more success for everyone? If the sales folks aren’t willing to bring this about, the onus is on the buyers to do what they can to make the right ESP choice—despite this situation.
To figure out how to help buyers combat this broken process, I drew upon my own experiences plus those of Cameron Kane, CEO at iPost.
As someone who has been working in the marketing technology space for almost as long as I have, Cameron has been part of the email marketing software selection process many times. Based on those experiences, below is Cameron’s list of seven tips for ESP buyers, to help you be more confident and transparent during the buying process—so you get what you really need.
1. Be crystal clear on wants vs. needs
Make a list of features you have to have, would like to have, and really don’t need. 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.
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.
2. Get everyone to the table
The sales team at iPost strives to meet with everyone involved. If the ESP you’re talking to isn’t making that same effort, then take the initiative and be the one to bring everyone to the table.
That includes the business sponsor, the tactical users, and the VP who will be signing off on the sale. Know how to put together your ESP selection team. Even if three different departments will be using the ESP, get all three involved. “We want to talk to all the tactical users during the discovery phase,” says Cameron. “It’s the only way we can understand their workflows and pain points.”
The salesperson has to understand the use cases and to hear from everyone who touches the ESP platform in order to map the solution back to the pain points. What do the users like about the current ESP? Dislike? Want to change? This is essential information that must be shared with the ESP if you want to end up with an email marketing company that meets your needs.
3. Understand that people will resist change
Internally, accept that people prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t. Sure, they’re struggling to accomplish much-needed tasks using the current ESP, but at least they know what they’re dealing with.
When you start talking about switching ESPs, users are likely to get nervous and imagine a steep learning curve and lowered productivity until they master yet another interface. The internal sales job is to get the buy-in when selecting the new ESP.
In this case, you must help them to see that the change will be for the better. Switching ESPs is all about what to expect and to deliver. If your team is involved in the discovery phase, and they get to talk to the ESP sales team about their issues and pains, they just might believe you!
4. Insist on use cases
A canned demo is a cookie-cutter approach to showing off the software, not a way to demonstrate how the software can address your particular problems. Canned ESP demos are always a bad idea. You should not settle for one. Ever.
Ask the salesperson to tackle at least three use cases for you. If more than one department is involved, have use cases for each department. Ask for small, specific use cases and tell the salesperson straight up, “This is really what I need to see.”
Be very specific in your use cases. For example ask: “How do I build a four-part email series, but when the status of a user changes, automatically pull them from the drip campaign?”
Yes, you will have to invest time to describe and see the use cases, but you will learn whether or not that ESP can address your particular needs, and your users will have more confidence in the change if they can see a demo relevant to their pain points.
5. Don’t let a sales engineer do the demo!
“Why do ESPs insist on sending in experts to do product demonstrations?! We see this time and time again,” says Cameron.
Think about it: The folks who will be using the platform are not experts in a particular ESP, and they probably won’t ever be power users of any email platform. But who does the ESP send in to do the demo during the sales process? You would expect it to be the salesperson the buyers have been talking to all along, but no, they send in a sales engineer. Talk about a power user!
Imagine if you were buying a car and you’re there at the dealership talking with the salesperson and you decide you want to test drive the car—and the salesperson calls in a NASCAR driver to do the test drive for you. Would that make any sense at all? Of course not, but that’s what happens during the ESP sales process all the time. If the salesperson can’t do the demo, that should be a huge red flag for you!
6. Drop the RFP
If you take steps to at least optimize the email marketing RFP process, you will likely realize that it’s simply not necessary—not if you focus on more efficient ways of creating a short list and being crystal clear on your wants vs. your needs. Foregoing the official RFP will save you time and help you get to a shortlist faster, with a more specific requirements list.
7. Ask the right questions and be extraordinarily open
Do your homework to compile your shortlist while skipping the RFP, and you’ll be able to ask pointed, relevant questions of the salesperson because you’ll know what you need and what’s possible. Then only be willing to ask those questions. Have a look at the blog I wrote before: 21 Questions to Evaluate Even The Best Email Service Providers And See If They Are “the One”.
Then when it’s your turn and you’re the one answering questions, Cameron recommends you be “extraordinarily open” during the discovery process, although that doesn’t mean you have to spell out your exact budget or tell a salesperson which other ESPs you’re talking to.
Your assumption might be that you’re weakening your position if you say too much, but we believe the opposite to be true. If you’re crystal clear on your wants vs. your needs and the use cases you insist on seeing, you will empower yourself to have a stronger position at the negotiating table, not a weaker one. You will have told the salesperson what you need and if you’re not getting it, you can say “no” without worry—and walk away.