Want a world-class ESP? Expect these (tough) vetting questions

There is always movement on the email marketing software market. Marketers look for vendors with the best mix of policy, price, features and performance. At the same time, Email Service Providers are keen to take on customers that fit their current portfolio.

This creates an environment for dialog. The ESP can sift out abusive mailers and prospects can learn more about potential new ESP. A common term for this dialog is vetting. This article covers a range of questions vendors are likely going to ask during this process.

The ESP vetting process

Reputable ESPs use strict vetting procedures that reveal the prospect’s true intentions and strategy. Whenever some bad actors slip through, ESP will detect at the latest them after sending the first campaign.

The first precaution ESPs take is looking at company’s details and history. It is always a risk for the ESP to accept a company with doubtful public information, misleading name or unknown principals. A reliable sender should be connected to a well-established corporate entity.

The initial contact request usually leads to jumping on a phone call or setting up an online meeting. At this point, both parties are free to get to know each other. However, it starts with a pre-send vetting questions coming from the ESP.

Expect to hear the following pre-boarding questions:

Why are you looking for a different vendor?

Before any ESP accepts you on board along with its other clients, they will want to know who your previous vendor was and why you are looking for a new one. Better pricing, more features, higher performance are all good reasons to seek for a new ESP. Poor deliverability is not a good reason, as it usually means that there is a problem with sender’s list hygiene or mailing practices.

How many messages and how often are you going to send?

Stable campaign volumes and regular sending patterns tend to produce fewer deliverability issues. ESP will be interested if you have managed to set clear expectations with your subscribers about the frequency of your campaigns. So prepare yourself to answer questions on campaign’s frequency and estimated monthly volume.

When was the last time you sent a message to your entire list?

Sometimes engagement goes down whenever the campaign’s frequency gets higher. Sending them not frequently enough might be even worse, as subscribers forget the brand name.
Subscribers who have not been mailed for a while, generate a large number of unsubscribe requests and complaints. Moreover, inactive email addresses can turn into recycled spam traps and hitting them is even worse than receiving a complaint. This is something ESPs are trying to avoid to protect the deliverability of their clients.

What will you be sending?

Content with multi-level marketing or pornography is usually a no go for most ESPs. To make sure the emails’ content matches the company’s profile. A vendor might ask a prospect to provide samples messages that have been sent so far. The marketer should describe what types of messages are going to be sent. Transactional messages and messages promoting your brand and product are surely going to be welcome. Third party offers in your content will be accepted, if the ESP ensures you are working with legitimate partners.

Have you processed complaints, bounces and unsubscribe requests?

Mistakes in data collection and management processes are the most common reasons for failure in email marketing. If previous vendor was not processing complaints, bounces and unsubscribe requests properly, it might lead to deliverability problems during the probationary period with the new ESP. In such case, mailing to entire list will most likely generate a lot of complaints. ESPs want to make sure nothing like that will ever happen, so be prepared to provide answers on your former provider’s data management techniques.

How can people join your mailing list?

As the entire industry agrees on the necessity for data management, data collection is where different rules apply. Before you move to a new ESP, check if the characteristics of your database are compliant with vendor’s policy. You should inform your potential ESP how users can subscribe to your list and whether you use single opt-in, confirmed opt-in or any other subscription mode. Additionally, ESP can ask about your Privacy Policy, which should be available at each point where people can sign up to your list.

Purchased lists are a no go for the majority of ESPs in the world. Some vendors will be hesitant to accept clients with, for example, only single opt-in users registered through a sweepstake.

Which domains and IPs have you used before?

Another question a newcomer can expect from ESP’s end is about domains and IP channels currently used for sending emails. Domain registration details should always be publicly available. Hiding domains registration details is a common tactic used by abusive senders. One of the key factors influencing ISPs decision to place the email in the inbox or in the spam folder is IP reputation. If previously used IPs have been blocked, ESP will request for clarification on why it happened.

Have you ever faced serious deliverability issues?

If you have faced a deliverability problem ESP’s representative will ask you for details of such situations. Not only to figure out where domains and IPs were blacklisted, but also to help you identify and troubleshoot the reason behind this problem.

What are your average statistics?

Every ESP will try to make your migration process profitable by helping you getting better results. A quick look at your previous data will serve as a reference point for improvement, but also can give a strong signal about how successful your previous email marketing efforts have been.

Post-send checkup

After ESP accepts prospect on board and the first campaign is sent, it is time to look at the client’s initial results. An ESP would look at the key metrics they track: complaints, opens, clicks, bounces, unsubscribe rates, spam trap hits, etc. Any deviation from the average results generated by similar clients draws ESPs attention and calls for further investigation.

Approaching a new Email Service Provider

Moving to a new ESP requires a clear vision of the goals a company wants to achieve. Understanding your requirements to take your email marketing campaigns to the next level is the key here. It is also essential to prepare oneself for the first call with the new ESP to speed up the onboarding process.

Get it done beforehand helps to identify what kind of ESP you should look for. This is also a great way to recap your current email marketing practices.

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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