8 crucial points for growing into the ideal email marketing solution

Back in 2012 when Forrester evaluated email marketing solutions the industry was full of integrating email into the omnichannel customer journey and marketing cloud platforms. In the 2014 Forrester Wave Email Marketing Vendors Report, they point out that integrated communications are ever important, new for this year is their conclusion that, and I quote, “email marketers can capture de novo opportunity if they innovate around email itself’

What do email marketers find important?

Email marketers mention account management, support and ease of use as important. The increased importance of data is also underwritten by the increased requirements towards data security and database support.

What should you look for when selecting an email marketing vendor that fits your needs? All of the expanding opportunities make selecting the right tools, or combination of tools, more daunting than ever.

There’s dozens of options, ranging from entry-level tools, to enterprise motherships ‘in the marketing cloud’. Remember that all ESP’s are perfectly capable of sending and delivering a proper, responsive, email. What’s very different is how you get the job done with various tools.

The following aspects offer a foundation to find the right tooling for your requirements. In order to transparently compare different ESP, you should ask yourself the following questions:

1: What goals do I have for my email marketing?

First of all, it is important to decide on your short-term and mid-term goals. A few simple questions might point you in the right direction. Is it enough to send a weekly email newsletter or are you looking for more automated campaigns? What makes a campaign a success and what are your email marketing KPI’s? You could start with a basic set of performance indicators and make them more specific as you grow into your email marketing program.

Examples of KPI’s of your email marketing program are:
1. # Active subscribers
2. Open%
3. Click%
4. # Web visits
5. # Unsubscribes
6. Engagement score
7. Conversions
8. Sales cycle time

2: Do I create a best-of-breed suite or do I go for all-in-one?

There’s no software that does everything that you need and most likely a solution like that will never be available. However, some tools are more complete than others. Mostly, the decision of finding an all-in-one solution or creating your own bespoke set of tools is about your specific requirements.

Do you really need to have the best-in-class for every specific area? Then creating your own marketing suite could be the right decision for you. But be aware that this also means that you are going to have to maintain and develop the integration of tools. The synchronization of customer data might become a bottleneck for your solution as well, especially as you will enrich profile data over time.

Grow into your email marketing solution organically

Perhaps you don’t need a best-of-breed combination of an email marketing solution, marketing automation platform, form builder, survey tool, database management tool, e-couponing tool, segmenting tool and an integration tool in house.

In most cases a few features are an absolute requirement to cover the most important processes, like e.g. a drag-and-drop editor, flexible data model, email segmenting and personalisation features or flexibility to build your own templates and forms.

It might very well be possible that you find these required features in one tool.

If you’re new to email marketing or marketing automation, I could advise you to grow into your solution organically. You can be very academic about finding the ideal email marketing solution, but might find this solution not flexible enough to adapt to new insights as your experience grows.

You could also go for a combination of software, for example a powerful marketing software which covers most of your requirements, supplemented with integrations to other solutions like a webanalytics platform, survey tool or recommendation engine.

3: Is a database important or do address lists suffice?

When you take a close look at most email marketing solutions you would see that most addresses are contained in lists. These lists are more like a spreadsheet than an actual database. Is it ok to add all content manually or do you prefer the content to be added automatically from various sources? And what about segmentations, is it enough to segment on personal details only, or do you need segmenting options on behavioral data, order history and campaign results too?

Address lists are great in two situations:
1: If a single customer view is not relevant for you
2: If you import data, send an email and export the results to a separate data warehouse.

If this does not apply to you, then I would advise you to look for an ideal email marketing solution that has been developed from a data perspective and offers a multi-dimensional database model, meaning: all data of an individual is stored in one profile, neatly divided over different tabs like products viewed, abandoned baskets, pages visited, campaign results (opens, clicks, bounces), surveys, etc.

4: Do I need auto-responders or automation?

autoresponders_or_automation
If a campaign has a fixed beginning and end, auto responders are a great way of sending triggered mails. For example a welcome campaign after subscribing to a newsletter.
The downside of working with auto-responders is that they do not allow the automation of a full customer journey based on behavior and scoring.

If you’re automating a customer life cycle, you need to distribute relevant content in a more subtle and layered way. An example is a retention campaign for anyone who hasn’t made any purchases in the last 6 months, or re-engagement campaigns to recipients who have not opened your 3 last emailings.

If your tool offers a single customer view, you can automate your customer life cycle from the first moment a visitor identifies himself on your website or on a social media platform. With lead scoring, behavior triggered campaigns and subtle personalization you are able to be timely and relevant in all of your communications.

5: Should I integrate my ESP with my CRM or website?

Manually uploading data to your marketing software is fine if you send a monthly newsletter but is unsuitable for more relevant and timely messaging. Finding a way to automatically import data is the best approach, mid-to-long-term.

With integrations you enrich profile data and create a single customer view. Luckily enough, there’s a lot of software with integrations to numerous CMS, CRM and e-commerce platforms. Alternatively, most ESP’s offer an API to create bespoke integrations.

6: How much flexibility do I need?

This depends mostly on your experience and objectives. If you’re new to database management and HTML e.g., you’re probably best of with a tool that does it for you. But, bear in mind that ease-of-use comes at a price. Less flexibility means less features and less ways of creating bespoke campaigns.

Restrictions could be for example the number of fields in your database, limits on imports, the inability to import info@ addresses or create templates, forms or the lack of integrations and lack of automation features. It could also be that you’re dependant of the software developer to create custom work for you, at its own price.

Do you find all of these limitations a bit patronizing? Then a more professional solution that allows you to create your own data model, develop your responsive templates and web forms just the way that you like them in-house would be the solution for you. How important is self-service for you? Do you require the support of third-party specialists or can you manage with your own team? If you’re an international organization, you may want to look for an interface and support in multiple languages.

7: How important is ESP support?

support

In the 2014 Forrester evaluation of Email Marketing Vendors, they pointed out that the right support and guidance have become increasingly important. The right assistance can make the difference between a mediocre and a game-changing campaign.

Are you completely independent, knowledgeable about market developments and planning to create your marketing program completely by yourself or would you feel more comfortable with support, training, sharing of experiences with peers? In the former case an ESP that can offer that support would be the advisable choice.

Free software comes without support and requires a high means of independency, skills and determination. With email marketing, as with most disciplines, details can make the difference. Access to software experts or general email marketing specialists can help you to send your results through the roof and save a lot of time. Finding those details requires experience and information. It might prove to be profitable to ask your ESP some questions about their support, response times and pro-active sharing of best-practices and experiences. For international organizations, multi-lingual support could be invaluable.

8: How much am I going to spend?

If procured correctly, email is the most cost-effective channel with the highest ROI. But costs come in many sizes and forms. Remember that investing in software is always something for the long term. You dedicate your time and budget to the implementation and training of your staff. Extra features, services and training are not part of the base fee for most software, and should be taken into account when calculating your total spend. Before signing up for a software make sure to take a close look at your specific investment for:
1. License
2. Users
3. Email pricing
4. Training
5. Implementation
6. Bespoke work (if any)
7. Support

Closing notes

Selecting marketing software can be tough. By asking the right questions about features, flexibility, pricing and support selecting software becomes easier. You should be satisfied with the software, services and the return of investment of your campaigns. It is advisable to negotiate flexible terms, especially for the initial period. Make sure that your provider and you are able to get some deliverables in place.

Walter van der Scheer

About Walter van der Scheer


Over the past decade Walter van der Scheer has guided marketing professionals from all over the world with the selection of email marketing software, making him one of the most experienced consultants in this field. If it were up to Walter, irrelevant and non-targeted emails would have been extinct long ago. Follow Walter on Twitter (@wvanderscheer) and Google+.

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