Why The Best ESP Might Not Be an ESP

The best email service provider for your business might not be an ESP. It might that be an agency, consultant or VAR (Value Added Reseller) can serve you better. Such a third party can act as a reseller, so you’re still using email marketing software, but you’re not buying directly from (or dealing directly with) an ESP.

Why go this route? Because it just might be cheaper, faster and better compared to buying directly from the ESP. Here’s why…

You get the best of both worlds

When you use an ESP through a third party, you still get all the powerful features that ESP platform offers. However, you also benefit from dealing with the smaller size agency that can offer personalized service in a way a large ESP can’t. Which leads me to the next reason…

You might get better customer service

Anecdotally, organizations switch email service providers every two or three years due, in large part, to poor customer service. And really, ESPs aren’t in the business of customer service: They are in the business of software. For many ESPs, offering services is just a necessary evil. They try to offer the service you’ll need, but it’s simply not their core business.

So what if you didn’t have to put up with poor customer service? You don’t, when you skip the ESP and go with the third party. Working with a smaller agency means you could get better service, and also more personal.

Fewer people on staff means you’re more likely to talk to the same person each time you call with an issue. Think how much time you’ll save if you get to talk to someone who already knows you, your email marketing program, and any issues that you’re dealing with, rather than having to explain everything all over again.

You get access to a bigger ESP’s platform

While you’ll have to meet a minimum to work with a bigger ESP–as in minimum pricing or send volume–you shouldn’t have such a minimum when working with a reseller. The reseller already has enough size because they are reselling the use of the ESP platform to several clients: They can justify the cost and volume. That gives you access to a top-tier ESP without requiring that you pay the top-tier price or email at that kind of scale.

Your email marketing program might be smaller, but that doesn’t mean you won’t want to take advantage of the power offered by a large ESP’s platform. Buying through a third party lets you to do just that.

You get industry expertise

ESPs are very good at what they do…but that also means they must stay focused on what they do: the development and constant improvement of their platforms.
On the other hand, an agency, consultant or other kind of reseller has the time (and the need) to be experts in the field, keeping up with constantly changing technologies and trends.

When you choose the third party access to the ESP rather than buying directly from the ESP, you have access to a degree of expertise you’d otherwise have to pay for separately—increasing your costs, but also complicating matters because the outside consultant won’t be an integral part of your email marketing program from the start. Start with the consultant first, and they will.

You get smoother, faster, easier implementations

Does anyone look forward to an ESP migration? I doubt it. Migrations can be time-consuming hassles and seriously slow down your email marketing momentum until you’re fully up and running on the new platform. When you go through a third party instead, however, a lot of the migration work will be done for you. In addition, it will be done by people who have done multiple migrations and implementations, making them much faster at it than you’ll ever want to be.

You get those customizations finally

When you buy directly from a top-tier ESP then find you need customization, you could be in for a very long wait. When you buy through a reseller, however, your needs are a higher priority because you a) have fewer clients competing for limited resources, and b) the reseller is not consumed with the management of the platform the way an ESP’s team is. It might not be the agency that does the customization, but the agency can help make it happen—on a much faster schedule than an ESP can.

You can skip the RFP process

When you choose to work with a third-party vendor rather than buy directly from an ESP, you save yourself time and hassle because you can skip the cumbersome RFP process. Imagine all those hours spent putting the RFP together, combing through responses, coming up with a short list, meeting with ESP salespeople. Now imagine getting all of those hours back and being able to devote them to generating email ROI instead. Do you still want to do an RFP?

You might get to do a trial run

Some third-party vendors such as agencies and consultants will let you take an ESP for a test drive to make sure it’s a good fit. Although ESP interfaces are in general easy and intuitive to use, you’ll still benefit from an actual hands-on trial run…not a demo version. An agency or consultant can offer that trial run.

Tips for choosing that third-party vendor

If all of these benefits have you convinced that you might be better off with a consultant, agency or VAR, the next question is, how do you choose one? Just as ESPs differ, so do the vendors.
If you’ve already chosen an ESP, ask which certifications the vendor has related to that ESP. Also ask for specific examples showing how that VAR or agency made a difference for a client.
Review the Service Level Agreement (SLA) and, of course, ask for references. Find out if the vendor has a different way in to the ESP platform than you would have as a client.

If you haven’t yet chosen an ESP, look for a reseller that can help you choose one. Does that reseller represent ESPs in the right size for your organization (i.e. top tier, SMB, mid market). Do they resell more than one ESP? You want a vendor that will set you up with the best fit for you, not them. Do they publish guides or whitepapers to help with ESP selection? Is the pricing lower than you’d pay buying directly from the ESP? Will you have a dedicated account manager?

Consider the skill set of the reseller, whether you have an ESP picked out or not. Although your situation might require a different list of capabilities, in general you’ll want proof of expertise in:
o Strategy
o Deliverability
o Deployment
o List management
o Customization and integration
o Design
o Testing
o Segmentation
o Personalization
o Dynamic content
o Automation
o Analytics
o Compliance

In addition, you might have particular needs in areas such as SMS or international email marketing. Obviously, you’ll want to ask about those capabilities as well.
When it comes to ESPs, you have a lot of choices, although only a few are likely to be a good fit. Increase your likelihood of success by considering working with a reseller instead.

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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