How to Choose the Right Email Service Provider (ESP) Published April 25, 2018 Choosing an email service provider might not be as easy as you think. For a start, there are hundreds – 429 different email service providers to be exact! And unsurprisingly each one will tell you they’re the best. They’ll wow you with their features, tell you why they’re better and might even offer you contradictory advice. It all adds to the sense of utter confusion and bewilderment. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a way to sort the wheat from the chaff to decide on a provider that’s the best possible choice. And believe it or not, we won’t claim you should automatically choose us! Why? Well, the truth is that choosing a new email service provider is all about you. It’s about your needs, your budget and your business. To help you along we’ve put together a few helpful questions to ask yourself. The answers will help you narrow down your choices and decide on an email service provider that’s right for you. 1. What’s my email strategy? First of all, it’s important to look at your strategy and whether the software you’re looking at supports it. Are you sending emails to increase sales, customer lifetime value, the efficiency of your team or footfall in your stores? Once you have clear goals in mind then you can measure the effect email has on them. You can also find an email service provider who will help you connect up the dots and measure success. And look at the industries the email service provider has worked in before. Can they provide you with industry-specific case studies and advice as well as tried and tested solutions? This is important as your email service provider will play a key role in helping develop your strategy. 2. How do I use email? Do you send promotional emails, surveys, customer service responses, operational messages and transactional mail? It’s always useful to map out all the different ways you currently use email to achieve your goals. Ideally, you want a platform that will allow you to automate sends as well as quickly creating one-off campaigns. And remember you need a way of easily creating, editing and sending a variety of emails when the pressure is on! Mapping out all the ways you use email will truly open your eyes. You’ll discover new opportunities, efficiencies and ways of connecting up your business. It might even save you time and money in the future! 3. Who will be using the email platform? Once you understand how your business uses email then look at who in your business is using it. These are the people who’ll be logging in to the platform to send messages or checking the results. Is it easy for everyone to use? Will it be used by non-technical marketers, viewed by management or will customer service teams be looking at the system? Make sure it’s easy to get a quick snapshot of your campaign without having to navigate through lots of screens. And check whether people can quickly view results with easily digestible visuals and download results in an instant. 4. How many emails do I send? This will influence the cost of your email marketing and tell you what your budget is. For the answer take a look at the size of your database and how frequently you send emails. If you’ve got an existing supplier, look at your current send volumes. And don’t forget to look at your business as a whole – customer service, marketing and operations might all send emails. Pool your usage together – the more you send through one provider the cheaper your rate per email will be. 5. What features do I need? Email marketing platforms can come with lots of bells and whistles. They all sound great on paper but how do you know whether you’ll really use them? First of all, don’t get distracted by what they can offer – look at what you really need. Prioritise the functionality by looking at which features are critical to your current strategy. Once you’ve done that then look at what features would be important for your future strategy. 6. How can I future-proof my choice? It can be all too easy to opt for a cheap solution that will do for now. It’s a false economy as it will limit your success and you’ll find yourself spending extra money on development. Equally, it’s all too tempting to over-invest. Many marketers find themselves with a solution that supposedly contains lots of slick functionality which they just can’t use. Where possible you want an email service provider which is flexible – a platform which can easily be scaled up. A solution where you can add on extra functionality and a company which provides fairly scaled pricing. Check how a potential solution can develop in line with your use of it. By doing this you can make sure you don’t get any nasty surprises in the future! 7. What does email have to work with? This is all about looking at what existing systems and software your email marketing will have to work alongside. For example, does it need to feed into existing software like a CRM platform? And don’t forget to think about your business as a whole. Do you have multiple online and offline marketing channels that you need to link up with your email marketing? Make sure you choose email software that helps you bring together your data and join up disparate systems. And choose a solution that can be easily and quickly integrated. 8. What about my email deliverability? There’s a lot of time and effort that goes into to making sure your campaigns actually reach the inbox. And some email service providers are better at doing this than others. If you’re choosing a new email service provider then ask them to share their deliverability rate. Make sure they tell you the rate for their entire customer base. You can even ask them if they can offer a deliverability audit. This will help you understand if there are things they can do to improve your email deliverability instantly. If you’re sending high volumes ask them if there’s the option of having your own dedicated IP address. An IP address is your identity which tells inbox provider who’s sending the emails. If you’ve got a dedicated IP address then you can better control the deliverability and reputation of your email sends. And if you choose a shared IP address then make sure your provider monitors it to maintain its reputation. 9. How do I switch smoothly to a new email service provider? Deciding to make the leap to a new email service provider is the first piece of the puzzle. The second part is securing a smooth and easy switch-over from your old supplier to a new one. Make sure that the process of switching is easy and fast and that they support you when migrating across. Ask them how they’ll manage the switch and if you’ll have an onboarding process. Make sure they talk about ‘warming up’ your IP address. This means not suddenly switching all your email sends to a new address but carefully managing the transition. By gradually increasing volumes, providers such as Gmail and Outlook will become more familiar with your new address. This means they’re less likely to block your emails due to a sudden change in your usual sending behaviour. 10. What customer service is on offer? It’s not just about the software. Guidance on how to get the most out of your email marketing strategy is just as important as the features and functionality. Is having a dedicated account manager important to you? Or are you happy with a self-service provider? Does the email service provider offer additional support such as creative services or campaign management? It’s often the customer service you receive that can make or break to your ongoing success. Takeaway Asking these 10 questions will help you decide on the right email service provider for you. And you’ll be surprised at how varied the answers will be! You’ll also keep potential providers on their toes by showing them you understand exactly what you need. But most of all these questions will give you clarity. They’ll help steer you in the right direction in a world of confusion and overwhelming choice. And any good email service provider should be happy to offer you a demo of their system. If they’re proud and confident of the technology they’ll be all too eager to show it off to you! Kick start your search for an email service provider by booking a free demo of our platform.