Considering a new ESP? Top 7 questions you need to ask first
How do you know when it’s time to migrate to a different email service provider (ESP) or marketing automation platform (MAP)? For simplicity, I’ll use ESP to refer to both of these types of tools.
A few weeks ago, we talked about migrating to an ESP when your marketing leader decides it’s time to move on over. (We’ve all been there.) But there are a couple of other times this question might enter your mind:
- It’s renewal time!
- Your current platform no longer meets your needs.
So if you’re in either of these situations, ask yourself the following questions about your current ESP first before deciding to make the move to another. You might find the grass is greener where you already are. Or not.
Is my current ESP reliable?
Delays in email delivery. Notifications that some part—or all—of the service is down. Features not working the way you expect. We know things happen, but if it’s impacting your business goals, preventing your team from accomplishing the tasks they need to, or becoming a regular part of your day-to-day, it might be time to make a change.
In our recent State of Email report, marketers shared that they’re relying more on ESP tools like code editors. As in 50% more than the year before. That’s quite a jump. So if your ESP isn’t up-and-running every time you are, that could have a negative effect on your productivity.
My real-life scenario: Here’s an example from my own experience as an Email Marketing Specialist when a feature didn’t work the way I expected and the ESP provided no solution for me. We used a pretty well-known ESP at the time. To do segmentation, you’d select your parameters and then “run” the audience at the click of a button. Well, that “click of a button” took hours to run a very simple geographic query. And, I had about 12 of them. So, it sometimes took all night to run only to error out. Meaning—I never felt confident that the feature would work.
My solution? I manually split all my audiences using CSV files. This carried on into our more robust segmentation when we would target geo, industry, company size, and more. I learned my way around the VLOOKUP function, but boy, that was both painful and gave room for error. And it went on for too long. This was a huge driver for us moving from that ESP.
Can I collaborate easily with my team?
The keyword here is: easily. Not everyone is on a full email team (I see you and have been there, email team of one!), but at almost every place I’ve worked, there has been one thing in common: Everyone has an opinion or wants to have input when it comes to email marketing.
And this past year, there was a spike in the number of collaborators in the email process. Today, 60% of companies have 4 or more people involved in email reviews and approvals. That’s an increase from 52% in 2019. Do you have an easy way to collect that feedback and have it all approved in a single spot?
My real-life scenario: I used to print out emails to get feedback from my boss, email the email to someone else, and meet in person with yet another stakeholder. Then, I’d come back to my desk and try to make sense of what everyone wanted and make my best guess at producing the next proof.
Over time, I got pretty good at understanding what each person wanted. But having the feedback all in one spot for everyone to see and prioritize it would have been a dream—and given me back loads of time. I’d like to think I have some Jedi mind tricks in my arsenal now, so I’ll take ‘em.
Am I able to get to the data I need?
There are some standard ESP metrics that should come with your account. But oftentimes, once you get in there and start using it, you realize you can’t get to everything you thought you could or it requires you to set up the reports yourself. At this point, you’ve likely set up the reports you need, so make a mental note to think about these if you decide to switch ESPs.
But what about those other data points you can’t get but would like to? Do you need to see multi-channel attribution in this part of your toolset? Or maybe you need a certain report for yourself but a different one for partners.
My real-life scenario: I used to work on an email program that was part our content and part sponsored content. So, for any newsletter we would send, we’d have multiple sponsors, but only one showing up per subscriber. As we built a more robust program, internally, we wanted to use dynamic content for our stuff and still be able to report on how our sponsored content was doing. You may have guessed it: We couldn’t get to both automatically with our ESP. Only one or the other.
My solution? Since we had to report performance to sponsors, and I couldn’t stand holding my email program back either, there were times when I manually created and sent 50 versions of a newsletter when all was said and done. Not being able to get to this data was a deal-breaker for me and a driver to move us to a new ESP.
How fast can I launch an email campaign?
60% of marketing leaders told us they plan to send more emails in the future. But with 40% of email marketers saying their teams are under-resourced and 52% of them also saying it takes more than 2 weeks to create an email, how can you make this happen? The easier it is to build and test in one place, the quicker your team can hit the send button.
One way to make this happen is through integrations, so think about how your current ESP may or may not integrate with other tools you use.
50% of marketers say optimizing email workflow is a priority, so integration with tools you already use could be a game-changer when it comes to reducing context switching—switching between tools or tasks—and increasing your efficiency. According to one blog I read, each extra task or ‘context’ you switch between eats up 20–80% of your overall productivity. So, making sure your ESP integrates with things like Litmus or other tools you’re using could significantly improve your workday.
My real-life scenario: When I worked with a customer to make all of their email templates mobile-friendly, they were already using Litmus as a product. However, this wasn’t just any customer. They were essentially an email agency and were testing hundreds of emails for their own customers. Once we found the Litmus integration with their ESP, we were able to optimize their workflow and save them a ton of time. If we didn’t find that, they would have moved to another ESP because Litmus was so critical to their workflow.
Does it empower me to be smarter?
With the right ESP, you can be more efficient and spend your saved time on smarter, more innovative strategies instead. Expanding email automation, personalization, and A/B testing are the top three strategies marketers shared with us for optimizing their email programs. Let’s dive into each of those to see if your current solution already meets your needs or not.
Depending on where you are in your email program, automating some existing flows or creating some automated nurture streams may be the next best step for you to innovate. Expanding email automation is the top priority for email marketers.
Personalization is top of mind for marketers. In fact, 60% of them say that personalization is a priority. And that makes sense. With personalized subject lines being 50% more likely to be opened, personalization is power. But 66% of marketers don’t have the resources. Meaning—your ESP should empower you.
A/B testing is another area on the rise with 90% of marketers saying they A/B test their emails. More than a quarter even A/B test “almost always” or “often.” This is great news! But how easy is it to do with your ESP now? Is it easy to test beyond the subject line?
My real-life scenario: Since automation is most marketers’ top priority, I’ll share one experience that fits into that category. I was working with a client who had an ESP with nurture capability, but it was all conditional statements like “IF THEN” or “IF ELSE.” For a team of non-coders, that was painful, inefficient, and just not scalable for the automation they needed to put in place. This was one of their top needs in relation to their overall goals, so they knew they needed to switch platforms.
What is my ESP account team support like?
When you think of your ESP account team, is it like a scene from Cheers—where everyone knows your name? Or do you only hear from them close to renewal time? Is support included in your contract, or are you paying an arm and a leg for it? Not all account teams can be a true extension of your team, but it’s something to consider. According to Gartner, high levels of customer service increase the likelihood of customer retention. Are you getting that service?
If not, it could be something to negotiate into your contract at renewal or if you switch. But even if you’re paying for a higher tier of support, that doesn’t always guarantee a great experience. What has the support you’re already getting been like?
My real-life scenario: I worked with a client who had some email campaign reporting that was so far from their typical performance that it raised major red flags. We reached out to our premium support team who guaranteed a response within 8 hours. In the meantime, we halted all other campaigns so we wouldn’t impact our sender reputation. We figured we’d know something by that night, so we agreed to be on standby.
But by the time the 8th hour rolled by without a word, we called. The queue was closed. We sent an email to our account manager. Still nothing. The clock ticked over from 11:59pm to midnight. Through many escalations, emails, phone calls, and even the CEO knowing someone high up at the ESP, we finally got it resolved. Needless to say, we didn’t feel like this ESP was an extension of the team. This literally stopped the business. And because they violated the terms of the agreement, my client decided to break their contract and move to another partner.
And last, but certainly not least… the ultimate wrap-up question:
Is it meeting my business goals?
When you have all of your responses to the above questions, you should have a pretty good answer to this one. After all, they each tie to your business goals.
Several of the scenarios I shared were times when the ESP I was using didn’t meet my business needs. There can also be seemingly basic needs to address. For example: If you’re a high-growth company, can your ESP handle the frequency of sends, the volume, and the segmentation to drive the conversions you need it to? If your audience size grows, will you be penalized? Ensuring that your ESP has the ability to grow with you is key.
Your ESP should boost your email efficiency and be your partner in innovation—if not leading the way—so you can focus on growing your email marketing program. Are they giving you ways to hit your goals? And developing the workflows and features you need ahead of when you need them?
Product road maps show that your ESP has a plan for innovation and that all parts of their organization are aligned on where they’re headed. In addition to visibility for you, they also create accountability when they share their plans and timelines. When was the last time you saw a product road map for your ESP?
Are there any other questions you’d ask? Stay tuned for the next article in our ESP migration blog post series!
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