When Is a Mid-Market Email Service Provider the Right Fit?

There are those ESPs that always seem to be in the limelight…you know, those bigger-than-life companies with marketing budgets that can fund user conferences resembling rock concerts and technology stacks beyond compare.
But does that mean biggest is best? Not at all. In fact, a mid-market ESP can be the right-sized ESP for many organizations.

What is a mid-market email service provider?

A mid-market email service provider is admittedly the hardest to define because of the variety of companies within that space. You’ll find that not only the features offered vary widely, but so does the level of expertise and the degree of customer service. In general, however, a mid-market ESP can handle large email volume, so that’s not an issue when choosing between mid market and top tier.

Don’t assume that the smaller size or lesser-known brand automatically mean these vendors are limited in their ability to meet your needs. The capabilities of these email service providers might surprise you once you start digging into them. With all the recent acquisitions in the space, many of these mid-market ESPs are positioning themselves as enterprise-level solutions and signing up enterprise-level customers as they fill in the gap.

In general, a mid-market email service provider will be capable of helping you with sophisticated email marketing programs. They will typically have a couple of big brands on board, despite not being a big brand themselves.

Price is NOT a reason to choose a mid-market ESP

This variety, however, means you need to have a really good handle on your requirements —but that should be a given before comparing ESPs anyway.

In fact, you might be drawn to a top-tier ESP because of the bells and whistles and brand recognition. Be wary of that. It’s your requirements that should drive your decision first and foremost. These include your current requirements as well as your projected future ones.

On the other hand, nor should you be looking at a mid-market ESP because you think it will be cheaper. I’m not saying you will or won’t save money going with a mid-market vendor. I am saying price shouldn’t be the driver. Getting your requirements met is the driver, and ensuring you’ll achieve your intended ROI is a close second. That means the size of the ESP matters less than their ability to deliver what you need—and admittedly for a price that won’t significantly impact your ROI. It’s a balance between being focused on ROI and how you achieve it vs. saving money with a cheaper solution.

Or you might be tempted to go with the popular platform because you feel as if there’s a certain security in doing so–going with the proven player–but there could be another platform that has an interface you like even more, or that offers better customer support—and many mid-market solutions are just as stable and capable as the better-known brands.

Keep your eye on what your needs are and find the best fit, rather than think the biggest is the best. The big companies are successful for a reason, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into being the best fit for every single customer—or you.

Mid-market ESPs are sometimes better able to meet big business needs

Even if some of your needs are enterprise-level, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need an enterprise-level ESP, because the mid-market ESPs continue to evolve in capabilities and offer solutions able to meet some of the needs of enterprise-sized clientele.

In fact, sometimes the mid-market email service provider is actually a better fit for the bigger company because they can be more agile and responsive to business needs. For example, a smaller ESP might be more willing and able to offer customization of their platform than a top-tier ESP that is locked into a technology roadmap, or that has a backlog of projects that means the needed customization can’t happen within the necessary timeframe. And remember: The size of your email program doesn’t have to dictate the size of your ESP.

Mid-market ESPs are specializing…

The increasing specialization of email service providers is also something to consider as a reason to choose a mid-market ESP. Many of these ESPs are no longer trying to be everything to everybody. Instead, they are finding niches that can give them a competitive edge. For example, Bronto has focused on retail, and dotMailer on Magento ecommerce integration. These email service providers are wisely setting themselves apart with vertical niche expertise—and that can greatly benefit you.

…and offering out-of-the-box integrations

This specialization also leads to easier integrations. Although a custom integration that’s only done for one client can be a pricey endeavor, an integration needed by many clients served by a niche ESP justifies making these integrations plug-and-play.

Choosing among mid-market ESPs can be a challenge

Despite the many benefits of a mid-market ESP, the variety mentioned earlier can make it a challenge to find the right one. This is the most crowded field of ESPs out there, and this is where you’ll find email service providers with features all over the map.

This is also where doing your homework upfront will make a huge difference. Having an accurate and reasonable requirements list combined with the self-discipline to adhere to it will help you quickly narrow down your list to just those mid-market ESPs that might make a good fit.

Signs you need a top-tier ESP

There are times, however, when a smaller ESP won’t do. After all, your right size is not based on your company size. Rather, it’s based on the size and complexity of your email marketing program. Yours might be a mid-sized company, but with a massive send volume, complex segmentation, and a need for visual email analytics. In that case, it could well be that the ESP for you is the enterprise-level one.

You also need to take into account projected (or potential) growth. If you’re anticipating rapid growth in the next two years or so, consider moving up to the next size ESP so you don’t quickly outgrow your email partner and potentially stifle that growth.

That said, just because they don’t enjoy the same brand recognition (yet) doesn’t mean you should discount the mid-market players. Many of the more successful ones continue to enhance their systems and to look, act and feel more like enterprise solutions.

The gap between top tier and mid market is getting smaller every day. Ultimately you should be comparing your needs to solutions anyway, even if it means starting with a larger list of Email Service Provider to choose from. You might be surprised at whom you end up choosing, but choose wisely and well, and you’ll be glad you included the mid-market ESPs in your search.

About Marco Marini

Marco Marini is the CEO of ClickMail Marketing, a vendor-agnostic reseller of email marketing solutions. Marco is an acknowledged expert in e-marketing with over 15 years of experience in the field. Before taking over as CEO at ClickMail, he was the VP of Marketing & Operations. Marco has also held key marketing positions with CyberSource, eHealthInsurance, DoveBid and IBM Canada.

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