What to expect from your ESP

Choosing an ESP is more difficult if you don’t know what to expect from them. Maybe you are thinking about in-house or outsource solutions, and you have some specific issues that are troubling you.
So what can a client expect from their newfound email service provider (ESP)? Here’s is a short list of things you should be getting.

Emailtool Support

When there are problems with your emailtool or you have questions about use, it should be normal that you can call on your account representatives at the ESP or in-house IT manager. But more than once these are responsible for more clients than they can handle and stressed for time. Think about that, because if you opted for a self-service support quality can suffer, as opposed to what you can expect if you go for a full-service email service provider.

Reporting and tracking of your email campaigns

You need to know how your e-mail marketing efforts are paying out. It doesn’t matter if you use an in-house system or an ESP. The metrics for opens, clicks and bouncers are the bare minimum to measure results in e-mail marketing. There is no excuse for not getting them.

If you get an report with advice from your (full service) ESP, these might take a bit longer to compile. But also ask for direct access to the statistics. It’s standard procedure to provide real-time tracking of these metrics. Don’t accept anything less.

And don’t accept bogus arguments for not providing this information. These metrics have nothing to do with privacy concerns and if it was a big issue you can always protect peoples privacy by reporting aggregated data. Any email service provider that doesn’t provide any tracking and reporting is dodging its responsibilities and doing a serious disservice to the client sending the e-mail messages.

Bounce Management

Your ESP should have Bounce Management: someone reviewing the bounce messages and seeing if there are deliverability problems. The bounces are becoming more important. There are different types of soft bounces, including messages from spam filters. Here are some general starting points for bounce management:

  • If an E-mail addresses returns a hard bounce it should be directly removed from the list.
  • If an e-mail address returns a soft bounce multiple times (three to five sends), it should be removed.

Sending e-mail to addresses that bounce is wasted money. Also it can make you look like a spammer and hurt your send reputation, because these never clean their lists. So make sure both soft bounces and hard bounces are removed.


The account manager at your email service provider should know about standards, best practices, and regulations related to e-mail. In the old days this was a benefit of going with an ESP over an in-house solution. But as prices have declined and people demand low rates, it seems as if training has suffered and some ESPs fail to offer expertise about these things.

Sometimes the ESPs themselves lack the (in depth) knowledge about CAN-SPAM, COPPA and other regulations. They should have someone who can advise about the collection of personal information and privacy online, because this is what growing an e-mail list is all about.

What to do next

Be sure to get these expectations fulfilled with your current ESP. If not, take it a step up in your organization and ring the bell at higher management level. Should they still not fit your needs, consider switching ESPs.

Image by Loving Earth (cc)

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, online marketing strategy, software selection, campaign management, optimisation and RFP / vendor selection. He tested, reviewed, and wrote about 100+ business software including email marketing services, CRMs, ecommerce platforms, and online course creators. Published in-depth email marketing guides for financial service, ecommerce, travel, restaurant, and fashion industries.
Named one of "50 Online Marketing Influencers to Watch" by Entrepreneur magazine. Companies like Scania, KLM, Unilever, AEGON, CZ, FNV, NRC Media have asked me for advice.

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