The perfect preparation for an ESP reference call

You could say the battle is not won on the battlefield. Selecting email marketing automation software or an ESP doesn’t have to be a battle, but it does require preparation. So how do you properly prepare for an ESP reference call?

The first step to choosing the right email marketing automation software or ESP is to talk to others who have worked with your intended supplier.

However, make sure your reference is a company with needs similar to yours. Once you find the right company, speak to the right person(s) in that company. (That doesn’t mean asking around for an ESP on LinkedIn.) The most important part of preparation for your reference call is knowing what you want to know.

1. Plan the call

Reserve enough time for the call and ask your reference to do the same. Yes, planning a call is much better than cold calling. If possible, speak to your reference in person. But we all know time is in short supply, especially at the executive level. Often those who give a reference consider it as doing you a favor, so look at it from their point of view. It’s the WIFM mentality. Be clear what the call will be about, but also position your call as an opportunity to network.

2. Be informed

The reference call is designed to give you client insight on a particular vendor. Period. It is not intended to discuss your needs and wants. (You should be prepared – see #1 above.) While it might be tempting, don’t ask the reference for advice on basic functions and features. At this point, you should already have shortened your potential list of email marketing software suppliers and are, to a certain extent, informed about the pros and cons of each.

3. Check within your organization

If you are part of a team that does vendor selection, make a list of requirements/questions together as a group. If there isn’t a team, ask your colleagues to provide input. Not only does this result in a more robust list, it promotes buy-in from your organization and all stakeholders.

Once you determine your list of requirements, use it. Set up a form so you can actually check off the requirements that each vendor satisfies. It’s important to check with your reference to make sure the requirements promised were actually delivered.

4. Acknowledge your own doubts

We all have them during a vendor selection process. Doubts. It’s natural to be uncertain about the supplier, its solution and your company’s future needs. Make a list or spreadsheet of these doubts; this will help you form additional questions. It also will help you hone in on the key points you want to include in the SLA later.

5. Use a structured reference sheet

Be sure to make notes during the reference call and, if possible, record the call. (For legal reasons, be sure to notify your reference if doing so.) It helps to have a structured reference sheet available with your key questions, leaving room to write responses. A structured reference sheet can help compare answers if you have multiple references. It will also allow you to easily recall the answers, issues and additional information given during each call.

So before you make a reference call, make sure you are well prepared.

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, online marketing strategy, software selection, campaign management, optimisation and RFP / vendor selection. He tested, reviewed, and wrote about 100+ business software including email marketing services, CRMs, ecommerce platforms, and online course creators. Published in-depth email marketing guides for financial service, ecommerce, travel, restaurant, and fashion industries.
Named one of "50 Online Marketing Influencers to Watch" by Entrepreneur magazine. Companies like Scania, KLM, Unilever, AEGON, CZ, FNV, NRC Media have asked me for advice.

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