How to select the ESP with the best email segmentation module

Choosing an Email provider is not an easy task. There are hundreds of email marketing tools and apart from few exceptions, they all seem to look quite the same.

A journey through the email software world usually starts with sketching the list of features you need for running email marketing campaigns. If segmentation is somewhere at the top of the list you prepared, here is a guide on how to select the best one.

When email marketing segmentation is an important issue

Realizing your needs is the first and the most important step. Marketers use segmentation in different ways, depending on their business model and type of email marketing program. Write down what you expect from a segmentation module. Here are few cases of the use of the segmentation feature, where it also plays a crucial role in the organization.

Large datasets you want to use

If your company gathered a lot of customer information like order history, browsing history, preferences, personal data, payment status or even more, then it’s just a matter of knowing how to make use of it.

There are two components to success in this case: data organization and of course segmentation. First you’ll need to check if the ESP allows to store complex data sets. For example in relational data tables. Then, you should ensure that this data is accessible via segmentation. Having these tools synced is crucial, otherwise sending well-crafted content to a very specific group of your subscribers might not be possible.

There is no marketing automation without segmentation

You may also find marketing automation a part of the solution to your business needs. There is something about marketing automation that you need to know too – there is no automation without segmentation.

Marketers go for automation because they want to deliver relevant content just at the right moment. High relevancy is achieved by making the content personal, which usually requires dynamic content too. But dynamic content itself is not enough for email marketing automation. It’s simply not possible to code a message that would adjust to all possible scenarios in the customer lifecycle.

The customer lifecycle should be governed by segments that select the right recipients at each stage. Together with dynamic content, they ensure that everyone gets the right content at the right time.

Analytics and reporting

If you frequently need to get deep down into data to find names, not numbers, take a close look at the segmentation module capabilities. It should make all data available for your detailed analysis and allow to export names, activity dates, personal information, etc. Consider it the next time you are manually adding a list of clients who ordered products from given category to your monthly report.

What makes a good email segmentation module?

The most difficult part is over. At this point, you know what kind of service you’re looking for, but you’re still stuck with few vendors on the list. Review these aspects of segmentation before you pick the right ESP.

1. Speed of the segmentation function

The first thing you should question is the time needed for a segment to generate. It costs resources on the ESPs end to process data to display a list of matching subscribers. This means that the speed of this process will be different between vendors. ESPs usually don’t mention how fast their segmentation works, but a good one gives you search results in less than a minute.

Next time you’ll be guided through a system during a demo session, ask the presenter for a simple segmentation like this:

simple email segmentation

To get a benchmark for speed ask for another, more complex segment, just like this one:

complex email segmentation

In a case of a good segmentation module, the time it takes for generating a list of matching subscribers should take less than a minute, regardless of how complex the segment definition is.

2. Dynamic use of dates and calculations

Automatic messages require dynamic segments, which to adjust to time restrictions. For example, segment selecting people who opened the message on a mobile device yesterday needs to stay valid every day, with no need to recreate it. Dynamic segments should also allow you to perform calculations, like creating a segment that selects people whose average order value in the last month was higher than $100.

3. No need for a technical knowledge, yet flexible if you have

The process of browsing database to find email address usually involves SQL queries that run in the background. SQL (Structured Query Language) is a programming language designed for managing data stored in databases. Intricate segmentation scenarios should not demand SQL knowledge from the user. Building segments should be easy enough, so a user with no IT background can use it.

It doesn’t mean, however, that more advanced features of segmentation module shouldn’t be available. Look for a segmentation module with a smooth interface, but powerful additions, like an interface to create and run custom SQL queries, that can be used whenever needed. The ability to create custom queries comes in handy in very specific segmentation scenarios that can’t be solved with predefined segment definition options. Going directly to segment’s source code gives you the ability to tailor your segmentation logics precisely for a particular campaign.

ESPs usually design their segmentation modules as a drag and drop or visual segmentation. Both ways can be user-friendly and provide you with all necessary features.

4. Drag and Drop or visual Segmentation?

A simple interface is an asset for the segmentation module. Drag and drop design is just one way of making it easy. Such solution makes it possible to pick elements like i.e. names, domain family or subscriber activities and to add them to the segment definition. Visual segmentation, on the other hand, usually allows to pick restrictions from a list.

Some ESPs put considerable attention to the usability of their solutions and the way they designed their segmentation interface can be different. Regardless if it’s drag and drop or visual segmentation, the most important is what segments you can create, not how they are created.

Segmentation checklist for choosing an ESP

The points below will help you to find the ESP that has the best segmentation module for your needs. So, whenever talking to an ESP check if:

  • you’ve set clear expectations and know how you’ll use segmentation
  • you can access and make use of all your data with the segmentation module
  • segmentation is advanced enough to support all your automation scenarios
  • you’re able to export precisely queried subscribers and their data
  • segments generate in less than a minute
  • segments are dynamic and you can calculate from the segmentation
  • the segmentation module is equipped with easy to use interface

Modern email marketing requires the ability to adjust to every business scenario using swiftly running segmentation. There are no two businesses with the same internal operations, so it’s up to you to decide which ESP offers the best segmentation for your needs.

A journey of selecting email software begins with a list of features you need for running email marketing campaigns. Then, from the list of matching vendors you select the ones with reasonable pricing. From the list of matching vendors, you select the ones with reasonable pricing. You end up with a couple or few email providers that look to be a good fit.

After you realize what your organization looks for regarding segmentation, it’s just a matter of looking at the segmentation feature under great scrutiny. Keep the tips above in mind will help you select the best vendor and keep your money in your pocket.

About Marcin Chruszcz

Marcin Chruszcz is an Email Marketing Specialist at ExpertSender. As an expert in email and deliverability. Marcin brings years of experience managing email programs for top clients. ExpertSender is an ESP for medium-sized and enterprise-grade companies. With offices located in the US, EU, Russia and China it deploys 15 billion email messages on behalf of its clients every year.

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