13 Industry Experts Reveal Their Secret ESP Selection Tips

When it comes to selection and implementation of Email marketing software, it isn’t easy to gain experience. Most marketers can count the selections they will ever do during their career on one hand, without fingers.

We asked 13 experts in the field of email and marketing automation the best ESP selection tips you wouldn’t normally hear.

What is your least known tip for email marketing software selection and implementation?

Right size your investment and your platform

After nearly 15 years working with marketers and email technology (small, medium and enterprise), I am now of the view that when selecting an ESP you need to right size your platform choice.

Often have I looked back at customers over the years and thought “You never really got it together enough to use our power features like complex data triggering and dynamic content!” Even with support, services and all the good intentions of the provider and marketer, too many marketers over extend into platforms they don’t need and end up spending 5-10x on costs today…and then don’t use more than 25% of the features or benefits.

On the flip side, I am daily amazed at what I see people doing with very cost effective email providers and smart, easy integrations to other systems. So my tip is to take advantage of what is now being called ‘the democratization of enterprise technology” and get yourself into the right size (and price) for what you are doing for the next year or so. So much of what you need at great content creation, data connections and even marketing automation, can be found for much more affordable prices.

Of course you need to research, review and make sure the software is reputable and successful at a base level – but push it and stretch it and either save that money…or use it for some of the most critical parts of your marketing program like experienced people in your business strategy, lifecycle planning and/or data areas.

Simon ‘O Day is entrepreneurial company builder and formerly head of Partnerships at Emma, VP at Responsys Asia Pasific

Only take the right data and subscribers to a new ESP

Marketers wanting to improve their ROI from email marketing campaigns often decide to change the ESP for one that has a better deliverability, range of built-in tools and reputation. Frequently however, many of them forget that when moving their email lists they should skip the subscribers that have already opted out, marked their messages as spam or generated a bounce.

Contacting such audiences using a new ESP may damage their brand image, reputation and future email marketing campaigns. Not to mention the fact that the new ESP may block their mailing capabilities due to high spam complaints.
Daniel Brzezinski is CMO and VP of Marketing & Product Development at GetResponse.

ESP migration experience is worth gold

The least-known tip I would like to pass along to marketers has to do with ESP migration. And it’s this: A consultant who has been through a successful ESP migration is worth his or her weight in gold! We see so many clients struggle through ESP migrations because they’re unaware and unprepared.

An experienced consultant or agency can save a business a huge amount of ESP migration time and money, plus ensure that everything is set up right the first time. And the faster you’re up and running with your new ESP, the sooner you can start reaping the benefits of that switch, making the cost of that consultant truly priceless.

Marco Marini is CEO of ClickMail Marketing and veteran email marketing expert w/ 20+ years of experience.

Focus on talent development

I’m not sure if it’s the least known, but the most important is to focus on talent development. Marketing teams really benefit from having someone on the team who can wear the “marketing technologist” hat — and help show non-technical marketers how to leverage more of the capabilities of these tools. Embracing agile management approaches can also be highly beneficial to tapping the most from what technology has to offer.

Scott Brinker is co-founder & CTO at ion interactive and the Chief Marketing Technologist at chiefmartec.com

Think global scale, enjoy local support

Look for an ESP that is located in the same country as your organization. It dramatically improves communication speed. ESPs in other time zones can be very inconvenient when want to switch rapidly and get things done. For example time zones and differences in (bank)holidays means you might have to wait longer for responses than necessary. This is frustrating when you need operational advice or have questions concerning your email marketing. While orientating on an ESP, it’s advisable to go to a seminar or similar on email marketing where you can meet the ESP. This is also much easier when the ESP is located in the same country as you are. This way you can get a good sense of the organization behind the ESP and their expertise.

Charlotte Scheiberlich is content manager at Hellodialog and has a Masters degree in Persuasive Communication.

Email is a source of content and content is a source of email

Predictive analytics will take on a huge role in the coming years. I think we will see functionality that allows a given brand/sender to deliver content via email based on past behaviors. Email is a source of content and content is a source of email. Every company has amazing content that lives and dies in personal inboxes… Get that on your blog! Conversely, any marketing product involving email or automation requires LOTS of content.

Instead of creating new emails for nurture tracks or drip campaigns, repurpose existing content when relevant. Most companies have lots of historical content that can be used. Regardless of the tool, reduce the friction by eliminating silos and harness any sources of content to plug in wherever possible.

Nick Bell is Senior Director and Modern Marketing Expert at Oracle Marketing Cloud

Look at data modelling instead of powerpoints

Look beyond the pretty presentation and look at how data is being modelled, visualised and is adaptable for you. Most marketers focus on fancy functionalities, but forget that data is key.
Data and data visualisation is becoming key. Most ESPs have a simple way of looking at data. However their clients need a more robust way of defining segments for creating a real-time experience with their audiences. Integration with CRM is crucial in the future.

Hans Smellinckx is Director of Marcom Factory & Marketing Manager Artoos as well as chairman of taskforce email marketing of the IAB.

All ESPs are shit – in a way…

Your challenge is to pick the solution that is the least shit, try to break it. All ESPs, and all software platforms in general for that matter, are shit. Your challenge is to pick the solution that is the least shit.

What I mean is every software platform has bugs, UI hiccups, and technical limitations. This is not a bad thing – this is just a fact. So if you’re selecting new technology, don’t buy into the sales pitches that a solution is perfect. Instead, try and break it. The one that takes the most effort to break is the one you should go with.

The best way to break an ESP is to use an ESP. You can sometimes get a free trial, but I’d prefer to sign a paid trial lasting a couple months. Have a couple going at once, and map out exactly what you want to do. Focus on the “right now” first – replicating and optimising what you’re already doing – since that’s the main moneymaker currently, and messing that up would be bad. Then, try a couple of increments that you’ve got planned out.

Don’t do it yourself – have one of the more junior team members (an actual user) do it. The one which takes them the least amount of time is the winner. Sure, this process takes a bit longer and is more work. But, you’re going to be married to this ESP for the foreseeable future… so a bit of pain up front will avoid a lot of pain down the road.

Parry Malm is a famously digital anarchist. Building brands and helping them… well, make more money at Howling Mad

Look for input from your peers

When looking for new software solutions, sharing is the new searching. Ask fellow marketers to share their experiences with their marketing software. What are their requirements and anxieties, do they, or don’t they compare to your own situation?

You will often get very honest responses and tips you can directly use just by asking. Places that facilitate this, online- or offline, are the right places to search and find best advice.

Joost Nienhuis, previously CEO of Tripolis Solutions

Marketing platforms won’t automate everything

I have several tips but I’ll keep it to two. The main tip is defining requirements before looking at vendors. It’s really easy to get distracted by wonderful capabilities of marketing software. It’s a wasted effort if you buy a system that is too hard to work with, doesn’t integrate with existing platforms, or can’t scale. Second, marketers need to do better with their content planning. Marketers underestimate the importance of having content assets to fuel demand generation and customer engagement programs. Marketing platforms won’t automate content generation for you!

Brian Hansford is an award-winning director of Client Services and Marketing Automation Practice at HeinzMarketing

Ex-customer employees are a good place to start

Use LinkedIn and other avenues to uncover if consultants and people in similar roles at an ESP/MA provider used to work for a client of the marketing software provider. It should tell you that there is a good culture at the company, that the software is really strong and that the company treats its clients well. The idea being if a marketing provider had weaknesses in those areas, that would be easily uncovered in the client/vendor relationship, client-side marketers would choose employment elsewhere.

Loren McDonald is Vice President, Industry Relations at Silverpop, an IBM Company, Industry thought leader and won 2011 Marketer of the Year award (eec).

Relentlessly pursue the truth with honest user experience

Finding the right ESP or software product is no time to make friends with vendors, get the straight dope from users. Software doesn’t do any good if you don’t like using it or the results from doing so. Seek out user groups on LinkedIn and ask people what they like, what they don’t, would they change anything, etc. But, the key is to ask people that actually use the product.

Sales people will give you a shiny presentation on any product and ESP out there, but that doesn’t tell you if it’s right for your company. Secondarily, as others have mentioned, ask users how they like their account teams. If you don’t get exceptional service when you need it, then what’s the point of that shiny program that you can’t use properly? Be ruthless in your quest for true answers and you will be very pleased with your final decision.

Samantha Iodice is an independent email consultant and Chief Geek at samanthaiodice.com, as well as Advisory Board member at PowerInbox.

Understand if the cost to switch is worth the distraction

You must remember that email marketing professionals either choose this speciality and stick or they move on and it’s a step in building their expertise. With that said, there is a reason why there is so much ESP flip flopping amongst marketers and it usually aligns with one of three key reasons.

  1. Dissatisfaction with their vendor, in other words not getting what you bought.
  2. Shift in leadership, a new boss with a new comfort level with another vendor.
  3. Or cost compression, driven by need to reduce cost or get more out of their budget.

What I’ve found is that the vast majority do it because of fit vs. capabilities. Powerpoint demo’s don’t produce marketing results.

The tip I’d give is, understand if the cost to switch Email marketing systems is worth the distraction and upward mobility of your program. Are you doing it for the right reason and if the answer is yes, be smart about how you do it and don’t buy anything you haven’t tried first. You’ll know in month if it’s worth it. Sometimes it’s just worth it for the spike in new energy a vendor will provide early in the relationship.

David Baker is Chief Operating Officer at Cordial.

Jordie van Rijn

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, optimisation and RFP / vendor selection. Named one of "50 Online Marketing Influencers to Watch " by Entrepreneur magazine.

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