How to Find a Trustworthy Vendor for ESP Customization

If you’re doing enterprise email marketing or email that is in some other way complex–maybe highly segmented for example–you might find that your ESP can’t quite do everything you need.

Your next step then is an ESP customization, but such an endeavor is not for the lighthearted!

Many organizations can’t take on an ESP customizationproject internally due to a lack of resources. That means you’ll be looking for an email technology vendor to do the customization for you. And that means you need to be prepared to make a good choice. Read on for some advice on the kinds of questions to ask—and of whom—in your search for the right ESP.

An increasing need for ESP customizations

I predict that ESP customizations will become more common as marketers continue to evolve their strategies into ever more sophisticated ones, serving up the one-to-one email marketing that drives higher engagement and ROI. Even with the possibility of apps marketplaces springing up on ESP websites, customizations will be needed because each business will have their own unique roadmap to implement.

Despite all of the bells and whistles and cool features of enterprise-level ESPs, you still can’t build a highly sophisticated email program using a generic platform. You’ll likely need to customize it in some way to make it more powerful, but it’s only more powerful if it’s done right and that’s why it’s so important to choose a reputable, proven vendor.

It could be your ESP can do the customization for you, but in my experience, most, and especially successful ESPs usually have a backlog of projects, so that’s only an option if you can wait. If you have the luxury of time, having your ESP do it might be the best choice, because they more than any vendor will know their platform and how to customize it for your needs.

If you can’t wait for the customization, however, it’s time to start your search for a vendor.

When email vendors don’t deliver, you fail

As the CEO of ClickMail, I’ve seen a lot of customizations. We ’re not an ESP, but we often do customizations for our clients on their ESP and related systems. And we’ve been there to pick up the pieces when customizations on the email service providers went awry because a vendor wasn’t up to the job despite their assurances otherwise. We’ve seen the budget over-runs, the frustrated marketers, and the headaches and ulcers that result when an ESP customization fails.

Because you know what a fail gets you? Back to the start. You don’t get to walk away from a failed customization. You need that customization. That’s why it’s critical to find the right (and best for you) vendor from the very beginning.

Ask, ask, ask away

The way to find a good vendor is to ask good questions…lots of good questions. And don’t just ask the vendor. Ask reference clients too, and the ESP. Start with a short list of potential vendors, and then start digging using the advice below to guide your conversations. (If you’re not sure how to start a short list of potential vendors, ask an email technology consultant or your ESP for recommendations.)

Talking to vendors

When talking to potential vendors, you want to know about their previous experience with customizing a particular ESP for other clients. Ask what kinds of customizations they’ve done and for whom (clients), and for which email service providers.

Get the details of each customization (within reason) to give you and/or your IT team an accurate handle on their capabilities. Ask if they were on time and on budget, and if they met the client’s specifications. Also ask if the staff is the same as before. If a vendor did an ESP customization quite similar to what you need, but the staff turned over and is completely new, you need to know.

Talking to clients

Once you have all of this information, ask for the names and contact information of the clients and follow up with them, asking the same kinds of questions: What did the vendor do? Were the specifications met? Did the vendor stay on budget and schedule? Did any issues arise after the project and, if so, how did the vendor handle them? How communicative was the vendor, as far as keeping the client abreast of progress? Were there any surprises either in the deliverables or the budget?

Talking to the ESP

Finally, talk to the ESP. What was their experience in working with the vendor? Did the vendor play the role they’re claiming in the customization? Which other email technology vendors have they worked with in the past, and what was their experience in comparison?

Asking plenty of questions should help you find the vendor that can do the customization you need to make your enterprise email marketing the powerhouse you’re striving for.

Image by Todd Martin (cc)

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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