For enterprises trying to enhance their marketing campaigns, choosing the right email service provider (ESP) could be the difference between adequate results and extraordinary results.

But the email marketing space is crowded, causing confusion, at the least, and decision paralysis, in the most severe cases.

Choosing a new ESP requires thorough preparation and evaluation of each prospect and its capabilities. But beyond capabilities, it's essential to determine whether their values align with your organization's goals, requirements, and mission.

Before selecting an ESP, consider these six must-haves for any genuine, mutually beneficial partnership.

1. Functionalities

One of the most important questions to ask when choosing an ESP is what functionalities make this provider stand out from the crowd.

Ideally, the best ESP will have four major components. They will know the basics, and they will also have sophisticated list and data management, customization, and integration capabilities:

  • Core functionalities: Think of the core functionalities as the foundation of a house. These core services support and enable a successful marketing campaign. Generally, they range from email to social media and display ads within one single platform. Testing capabilities, the level of adaptability for email creation, and triggered and automated messages are functionalities that your enterprise should expect in an ESP. Without the core functionalities, a marketing program may fracture and quickly crumble.
  • List/data management: Your ESP should offer flexible data management options, such as the ability to serve and coordinate as a database of record (DBOR). For ESPs with extensive client data, collecting and storing metrics successfully is essential. Your ESP should handle, store, and allow you access to email, purchase, browsing, tenure and demographic data at any point in time.
  • Customization: A great ESP/enterprise relationship requires a unique framework for each marketing program rather than copy-and-paste templates. Your ESP should align their program with your resources, technology, and goals.
  • Integration: For multifaceted, data-driven programs that use more than one technology solution, the ability to integrate is essential. Look for an ESP that is flexible with its technology and can integrate easily with your current services.

2. Reporting Capabilities

The basic metrics, such as inboxing, open, and click rates, are no longer sufficient for assessing the success of a marketing program. Your ESP should offer more advanced capabilities for measuring success so you can apply real-time insights to make adjustments, enhance targeting, and increase revenue, all while maximizing ROI.

Before choosing an ESP, make sure that it has the tools to determine...

  • Audience composition: openers, clickers, purchasers, dormant, etc.
  • Database activity: currently active, recently active, lapsed, inactive
  • Database tenure: new-to-database, recently joined
  • After-the-click tracking: email-generated purchases, on various devices and platforms
  • Device preference and email viewership: mobile, desktop, hybrid

ESP candidates that check off those five reporting capabilities value and recognize the importance of campaign measurement.

3. Structured Deliverability Services

Outstanding deliverability must go beyond technology... and focus on people—a fact that marketers often overlook. Technology may be able to detect and prevent issues, but experts are necessary to plan and problem-solve.

Dedicated deliverability experts must jump in and communicate when a problem arises. Accordingly, they play an instrumental role in helping to plan new programs and testing old ones.

4. Account Management and Customer Support

Think of your relationship with your ESP as a business partnership rather than a vendor-client relationship. Your ESP should respect, support, and adapt to your team's structure and processes. Even better if the ESP account team has local support for your marketing team; that often adds depth to the relationship and increases responsiveness

If you're looking for a vendor partner that stays by your businesses side every step of the way, a full-service partnership might work best for you. However, if you're looking for a hands-off approach, a self-service account structure (which requires internal resources) may be your best option. Or, you can meet in the middle with a hybrid account structure, which uses account management hours on retainer.

Regardless of what you choose, the ideal ESP can and will adapt to your needs. Just the same, technical support should be available. A solid support system that is available 24/7 should be in place to solve issues that require immediate attention, even during non-business hours. That any-time availability can serve as a safety net for your marketing program.

5. Complementary Services

Before choosing an ESP, you should ask yourself what complementary services the provider offers that will help you understand and build relationships with your subscribers and customers:

  • Are agency services available for ad hoc work or even to serve as an agency of record?
  • What data services are available to better know your subscribers?
  • What services are available to acquire more subscribers?

Often, organizational silos challenge marketing programs struggling to craft a cohesive experience. Your ESP should be able to help you mend silos with an all-encompassing marketing program that maintains an in-house, cohesive, cross-functional team with broad marketing expertise.

For example, an ESP that can provide metrics will enable informed creative and strategic recommendations along with data-driven insights and enhancements across all channels.

6. Aligned Corporate Values

When choosing an ESP, trust is essential, because it can define the future of your marketing program. Aligned values help ensure trust.

It's easy to spot a good fit in the RFP process. Early on, pay attention to the types of question ESP are asking. For example, are they asking about goals, interactions with customers, and your brand's marketplace perception? Or do they focus on technical requirements? An ESP that is too focused on technology and is aloof about customers and prospects might not make the best partner.

The basis of any good partnership includes mutual understanding of and respect for each company's culture, along with aligned technology requirements and goals.

* * *

If your potential ESP can check off these six requirements, you can just about guarantee a successful relationship.

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Your Email Service Provider: Five Must-Have Capabilities and One Essential Trait

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image of Ed Kuderna

Ed Kuderna is managing director at Yesmail, responsible for the Yesmail Interactive division of Yes LifeCycle Marketing.

LinkedIn: Ed Kuderna