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Switching providers, what you need to consider

john caldwellHaving been in the email space since 1996, Red Pill Email founder, John Caldwell, has worked on the agency side, the client side, and as a consultant, using deployment tools that range from ESPs to in-house to home-grown email systems.

The verdict is in. It’s time to change Email Service Providers, and it’s now your job to lead the project.  Switching Email Service Providers (ESPs) can be a scary process if you’ve never done it before. Where do you start?

Too often too many take to their favorite discussion or Q&A groups generically asking “What’s the best ESP?” to receive personal opinions from people that don’t know your company’s requirements and who you don’t know or how their experience relates to yours or your organizations.

Demo versus reality

It’s tempting to start off with product demos. They let you see “what’s out there” and gather some ideas, but base your decision on what your organization needs rather than the features an ESP provides.  And let’s face it; it’s easy to get caught up in the feature wars of ESPs.  Every one of them has some really cool demo-ware that makes everyone in the room go: “wow!”. But how are you going to use the platform? What features and functions do you need to support your email messaging now with room to grow?

Sending out that RFP you whipped up over lunch to all of the ESPs you can find isn’t the way to go about it either. If that’s how much effort you’re putting into this project it will not end well.  Do your homework first and then send RFPs only to those vendors that you have identified that can meet your specifications and seem compatible with your way of doing business.

But what do you really need to consider when switching ESPs?

Let’s start on the premise that you’ve conferred with your stakeholders and collected, documented, and distilled your organization’s technical, marketing, and business requirements.  These are the features and functions that you actually need and will really use.  The easier a platform’s features become to use the more use they will get and the more proficient – and loyal their users will become.  Increased proficiency leads to increased productivity which leads to more time for the marketer to focus on advancing rather than just maintaining email programs and campaigns.

Adestra’s all-in pricing doesn’t nickel and dime you up to the cool stuff.  You won’t pay extra for things like abandoned order and other popular messaging programs that are all native to the Adestra platform.  Everything is included so the marketer always has instant access to whatever features they made need now and as requirements change.

Now that all of the levers, knobs, switches, buttons, and bells have been tested, checked, and accounted for and we know that our technical needs can be met, we’re almost half way there.  After all, up to now we’ve only looked at input into the platform; now it’s time to look at output from the platform.  And no, “output” isn’t the act of sending email….

Is reporting as important as it should be?

The kind of output we’re talking about is the kind that helps you monitor your messaging and report on your results.  And just like the functions and features of a platform, the easier reports are to create and access the more they’ll be used. The more advanced a platform the more action you’ll be able to take from those reports.

To a lot of email marketers “reporting” is a checkbox activity.  They take a glance; they see that their opens and clicks are up, down or steady over time.  If their bounces or complaints rise they may take a closer look to identify the cause because this can impact other numbers. And then they’d have to explain to someone why their numbers are different.

Even if that’s how you’ve always done it, it’s probably not the most effective use of reporting.  And if that’s the way you’ve always done it, now that you’re moving to another vendor it’s the perfect time to add advanced reporting from which you can take direct action.  Not doing that results in missed opportunities to quickly communicate with your prospects and customers based on actions they’ve taken with your messaging programs.

Advanced reporting can lead to advanced testing which can lead to incremental increases in message engagement resulting in increased conversions. So while you’re beefing up your reporting specifications, be sure to add a comprehensive environment to your requirements.

There is no right or wrong way to use message metrics, but if you’re looking at metrics like a big odometer you’re doing it wrong.  We’re always running new and different queries and reports as we test new segments and messages.  What if we could turn those queries and reports into new campaigns?  Reaction time could be reduced as would the level of effort in rolling out testing or production campaigns based on the results of previous campaigns.  Adestra takes that all one step further by encouraging the addition of 3rd party data into the mix to enhance reporting, segmentation, and campaigns.

What’s next?

Now that you have your requirements listed and accounted for you’re ready to research ESPs capable of meeting your specifications.  From there, go ahead and schedule some demonstrations making sure that those demos are based on your specifications and not on rote.  After you’ve held a few demos pick the two or three vendors that you feel comfortable with and that meet your needs, and then send your well-crafted (not written over lunch) RFP to those select few.

Switching providers is not just about their technical capabilities, you need to check out the human factor, too.  Vendor-supplied references are typical, and you can be sure that you’ll speak with only their best.  You might as well be talking to their mom.  If you wanted to talk to someone’s mom at Adestra I’m sure they would make it happen – they’re all about service and satisfaction, after all.  So much that they won the 2014 ICS UK Customer Satisfaction Award for Customer Focus from the Institute of Customer Service with an average 4.7 out of 5 eighteen-month rating for customer service from this independent 3rd party source.

Selecting the right vendor is just the beginning; the hard work in switching vendors comes after the contracts are signed….

About John

Experienced in integrated email marketing and operations, John has worked with a number of major clients that include Teleflora, eHarmony, Experian Consumer Direct (FreeCreditReport.com), LegalZoom, eFax, WebEx, Palm, and more.

He is a Member of the Email Experience Council of the Direct Marketing Association, serving as Chair of the Marketing & Membership Subcommittee for 2013-2014, Co-Chair of the Email Measurement Accuracy Roundtable/Advisory Board from 2009 through 2013, a member of the Speakers Bureau, a MAC Committee member, and member of the former Career Paths Roundtable.  He is a Member of the Direct Marketing Association and of Marketing Sherpa.  Named as one of the “50 Marketing Leaders over 50 You Should Know” in the May 2013 edition of Global CMO Magazine, John is always flattered when referred to as an email marketing expert, however tends to think of himself more as a practitioner.