Choosing the Best Email Service Provider
Why choosing the right email service provider is critical.
“Email is one of the most talked-about and least understood channels in digital marketing,” explained Nicole Delma, email marketing expert and The FOND Group founder, in a recent presentation as part of our small business webinar series. It may not be as exciting as creating Instagram stories for your following, but email is a key way of communicating with your customers. The first step to building that connection: finding your best business email service provider (ESP). With so many to choose from, how do you know which meets your company’s needs? Delma advises entrepreneurs to focus on these ten considerations.
You need to know if your email marketing program is useful to your customers, right? First, you’ll have to decide what key performance indicators (KPIs) will define success for your company. Typically, businesses focus on open rate (how many people open emails), but Delma advises product-focused businesses to have conversion rate, or the number of email readers who click and make a purchase, as a top KPI. You’ll choose which other KPIs matter depending on the goal of your email. Some platforms have more in-depth and easy-to-understand reporting than others, which is why Delma has reporting at the top of her list of considerations.
“Spend some time with the sales reps and the account managers and decide if you feel like you have a good connection,” Delma suggests. At least in the beginning, you’ll probably be talking with reps at your ESP quite a bit. Are they going to treat your business with respect, even if you’re one of their smaller clients? Do they understand your business and your industry? If it doesn’t seem like it, keep searching.
Delma advises her clients to think about the kind of support they’re going to need from their ESP. “This is where the platform can really run the gamut. It can be very self-service, where there’s literally no phone number that you can call,” she says.
But if you to want to work closely with someone who can pull reports and help with strategy, look for a provider with representatives that are easy to get in touch with (and who you like working with, which is why Delma emphasizes the importance of culture fit).
Can you use their service for free or at a low cost until you have a certain number of subscribers on your list? Will you be asked to sign a contract for a year or more due to your list size? Delma recommends that entrepreneurs think about their email program in six- to 12-month timeframes, so steer clear of a provider that requires you to enter into a two-year contract.
Pricing is also an instance where having your KPIs in mind is important. “If [the ESP] is primarily for newsletters that are not intended to cause any type of transaction or monetary motion of your customers, then you might want to be a little bit more conservative on your budget. Just focus on great templates,” explains Delma.
Delma believes small business owners should let templates do the heavy lifting in their email marketing programs–and not just because they can save entrepreneurs time and money. “I am a huge fan of the out of the box templates, what’s called WYSIWYG, which is short for ‘what you see is what you get’,” she says. “Just about every ESP has some pretty great templates.” While it may seem that relying on templates will sacrifice your brand’s individuality, by using the colors, logo and fonts you’ve chosen to represent your business across platforms, your brand identity will still shine through.
In addition to simplifying the building process, templates feature coding that works across mobile devices and spam filters. Let the ESP’s tech teams keep working on code that gets past junk folders while you focus on other aspects of your business.
Will you face a huge penalty if you change your initial package? How easy will it be for you to add features? Find a vendor that can easily adapt to your business needs as they change.
When considering the flexibility of a platform, it helps to think about the integrations you want to start with or include later on. Integrations are typically plugins added to an email program or particular campaign which connect your outside accounts. For example, an email vendor may make it easy for you to add info from your business’ Facebook page to a send.
If the vendor you’re considering doesn’t have a robust customer service program or has an affordable package that doesn’t include representative access, it’s essential that they offer good information about how to effectively use their platform. Look at their how-to’s and see if they’re clear enough to replace having a real, live person help you troubleshoot any issues.
“If you are fortunate enough to be going through the RFP, or request for proposal, process, which is not always a privilege that a smaller business has, the best thing that I can say is put two real-life scenarios in front of the person that’s working with you,” Delma advises. “Have them walk you through how they would actually implement things for your business.” Case studies are an effective way to understand how an ESP works with businesses within your industry from start to finish.
Delma understands that more than ever, businesses are faced with uncertainty and a rapidly changing world. “If you have a maternity or paternity leave, or schools close and your children come home, is there someone within the business that’s going to understand your account well enough to get in there and deploy those emails that are driving the weekly revenue?” Some providers don’t offer services at all, and depending on the size of your staff, you may need to rely on your provider to help you when times are tough.
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