Most Marketers Make These ESP Selection Mistakes – And How You Can Avoid Them

 In Email Deliverability, Email Marketing

Christopher Mariott helps brands with the vendor selection process. Within 30 minutes on our podcast, he laid out the insights he gained from 20+ years of his industry experience. Insights about how to choose the best email service providers, what actually counts as the "best", and much more.

I think getting the ESP right is probably the most critical thing that an email marketer can do.

Christopher Mariott

Dennis Dayman has hosted many email industry experts on the ForTheLoveOfEmail podcast. A lot of what we learned through practice has been crazy useful while some of our knowledge was challenged by the experts on the show.

Dennis deeply engages his guests on the podcast with highly intertwined questions. And thanks to his questions, Chris discussed very intriguing ideas on the vendor selection process, some of which we’ll be discussing today.

By the end, you will:

  1. Understand what most people miss out when choosing an ESP
  2. Know why taking the time to choose the right email service provider (ESP) is critical to an email marketer's success
  3. Get the exact steps to figure out how to choose the right ESP for yourself

About Chris Mariott

Christopher Mariott is the Founder and President of Email Connect.

His journey in email and digital marketing began back in 2004 when he joined an email marketing company called "Digital Impact", later acquired by Acxiom.

After the acquisition, he found that ESPs were trying to become more complex while becoming easier for the brands to use.

The change happened where ESPs no longer handled everything for the brands and instead began offering services while the brands handled sending and tracking emails.

Through his business, Chris helps brands with the vendor selection process that requires a complete understanding of finding the right ESP-Brand fit.

Why does the Average Vendor Selection Process fail?

To start off, Dennis brought up the topic of common practices in vendor selection that most Email marketers follow. This compelled Chris to talk about why he started the vendor selection consulting business and how this was one of the major reasons leading to the decision.

Selecting an email service provider or ESP isn't as simple a process as it was before. Choosing the cheapest one or the biggest brand in the sector can lead to a lot of back and forth in the future.

Picking the wrong vendor is like drinking too much the night before. The hangover is going to last a long time.

For most email marketers and brands out there, the email service selection process is something like this:

  1. Go to Google
  2. Enter "Best email service provider"
  3. Either buy the one who pays the most for ads, or the one that a review website claims to be the best.

In this case, out of 10 - 20 results, you may come across 4 - 5 ESPs who actually solve the purpose you're trying to solve.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn't take into consideration an important detail.

You'll end up in either of the two situations:

  • You select a vendor who paid the most for ads to show up top in the search results
  • Or the vendor is selected as the "best" by someone who has distilled the information on a review site, after only reading the features.

Both of these situations are hit-or-miss. Would you want to save time upfront if it costs you a lot more time in the future? I'd rather not.

Another common practice in the industry is choosing what someone else uses. The issue with this practice is simple: The other brand may have completely differing needs for their marketing efforts.

Dennis discussed an interesting analogy to highlight this point. If you want a BMW, and ask for an opinion from someone who owns a minivan, they'd try to convince you that a minivan is your best bet. It might as well be.

But the question is, is it right for you? Let's contemplate this question a little further.

Why You Should Take More Time to Choose an ESP?

No matter what people say, choosing an ESP-brand fit for yourself is a time-consuming process. But it's an upfront time commitment, to avoid future issues. 

Chris discussed a thought-provoking scenario to emphasize the time marketers must spend in the selection process. Suppose you need to go from the North to the South, fast. You won't opt for a boat or a luxury cruise. These modes are great for leisure travel but don't solve your purpose.

Instead, you would take an airline.

Does it mean that a luxury cruise ship is a bad choice for everyone? Not really.

It's what your brand needs that's important.

There isn't the best ESP. But there's always the best ESP for the brand as long as they can arrive on the point.

If you cut short the selection process by looking up Google and then calling in the top 5 or top 10 ESPs listed on some review website, you might come across a few ESPs.

Comparing to the cruise ship and airplane analogy, you might end up with an ESP equivalent of a cruise ship, when your need can only be fulfilled by an airliner!

So, the first step is not to begin your search for the best ESP or vendor. Instead, begin with plotting out all the features that you need from an ESP.

Take the time to make a note of all of the requirements from the email marketing and the growth marketing team within your company. They will be the best people to tell exactly what would be necessary for your brand.

Once that's done, you can go ahead with the vendor selection process to choose the best email service provider for your brand.

Things to Consider While Choosing the Best Email Service Provider (ESP)

Let's answer this lingering question. It comes down to this. Which email service does your team love to use?

Features that Matter in a Platform

ESPs have a lot of features to show for. A lot of which you may never use.

So it's no longer a question of which ESP offers the most amount of features for the lowest fee. Back in 2004 to around 2007, this decision would have made perfect sense. If your vendor faced delivery issues or got blocked, you could call up your guy or girl at the Mailbox provider's office, and ask them to unblock you.

As mailbox providers moved from manually handling spam to using algorithms and machines, email service providers switched from a "We handle everything" to "We provide the platform as a service".

Now, what matters is not only the cost or speed but what platforms are easy to use? What platforms are intuitive? What platform makes your job as the email team faster, better, easier?

Call-in Vendors with the Required Attributes

As we mentioned earlier, don't call in everyone from a top 5, top 10 list. Call-in only those Email service providers who fulfill your needs based on how they portray their branding on the website and other marketing material.

You might note that Pepipost's marketing revolves around fast transactional email delivery speeds paired with high inboxing. And those are our areas of expertise. You can have a look at the features of our platform.

Know the ESPs Pain Points and Use Cases

This drills down into your requirements. The reason why we talk about ESP-brand fit is for this reason. Every ESP has a pain point. And you need to consider your use cases and match that up with the ESPs pain points.

What you have to achieve with this step is to figure out if most of their strengths align with the features you need.

When all you need are transactional emails, an ESP that doesn't do cold emails is perfectly fine for your needs. At Pepipost, we don't offer cold emailing on our platform to ensure we maintain the reputation of our IP addresses. We might be a bad choice for someone whose business revolves around cold emailing. However, for bigger brands like those in the e-commerce or banking sectors who NEED instant delivery for transactional and promotional emails, our server speeds will be unmatched

Keep the Marketing Team in the Loop

If the email marketing team hasn't already selected a platform that they love to use, they would love to know:

  • How fast can a platform pull segments?
  • How fast does the platform create waterfalls?
  • How easy is it to set up an AB test or ABCD test?
  • And how is that automated or would they have to manually go back in?

The Question of Deliverability

The thing with deliverability is, most email service providers can deliver your emails just fine. The question is how soon can they detect an email delivery issue when it occurs and fix it.

Because every service provider is going to experience a delivery issue sometime or the other. An ESP who can identify and fix these issues quickly should be on your list of good choices!

The Migration from One ESP to Another

A whole lot of people also underestimate the technology move. While you transition to another email service provider, there are a lot of elements that need to be moved over.

That includes your email lists, your historical emails, the unsubscribe lists, the suppressions lists, the authentication processes, and the integrations within existing applications of your company. There is also the automation, triggers, IP warmups, and quite a lot that goes into the process of migration.

And the migration process can be made easy when there are dedicated parties either in your company or in the company you're migrating to, to make this happen.

For instance, Pepipost helps you with the migration process. And even without our help, we keep the best documentation available for you so the migration is as seamless as possible.

Keep the IT Team in the loop. There's nothing worse than informing the IT team at the time you need to perform the migration. Because they're going to be a critical piece of the entire migration puzzle.

They handle the change in the APIs, and software integrations, and letting them know about your decision to switch email service providers in the initial phases can help you make the migration process much smoother.

Final thoughts...

Though the entire process may seem daunting, it really isn't. It is the upfront time you spend to find the right ESP now, which will save you a lot of time switching in the future if the ESP wasn't the right fit for your needs.

If you’re considering a switch from your ESP, feel free to ask us any questions that you have in mind. Our support team is available for a chat with you on the bottom right of your screen.

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