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6 reasons to fire your ESP


Email marketing has become a vital part of business, but often little time and attention is paid to the delivery mechanism. When it comes to the use of email, status quo is the name of the game at many large companies. Legacy systems, agencies, tactics, and email service providers remain as immovable objects at many companies for several reasons. However, we've all seen how much email marketing has turned into a science over the past handful of years.

It's no longer good enough to put together an email, hit send, and assume it's going to make it through to the intended recipient. This applies both to emails designed for customer acquisition, as well as for relationship or retention marketing. Staying complacent is going to get you nowhere fast. It's the job of your email service provider to guide you to email marketing success. If your ESP is sitting back and hoping that each time you call it isn't because you're going to flee, then it's time to send your ESP packing. Keep reading to see if any of these six reasons to kick your ESP to the curb strike a chord with you.

Names = $

Each year, do you raise an eyebrow during your budgeting process when you see how much you're paying your ESP? Do you compare notes with counterparts at other companies and realize that you're paying much more than you should for the delivery of your email marketing programs? If so, it may be time to move to another ESP.

ESPs are no different than many other companies in a variety of industries. A few companies tend to rise to the top, get caught up in the pride of beating their chest, and then ride their company name for all that it is worth. This is a big problem if you get caught up in your ESP's business cycle while it is in coasting mode. Your ESP will likely price its products and services based on a brand name as opposed to its true value. It's also not uncommon for the pricing structure to be set higher simply because the company has better salespeople who are able to convince clients that the added expense is worth the money. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. Do your homework.

Whenever your contract term is up for renewal, take a look at the different ESPs out there, even if you're happy with your current ESP. At the very least, it will keep your ESP honest with its pricing model, and may result in a negotiated lower rate. During our recent ESP switch, the result was a significant reduction of all fees over what we had been paying during the prior year.


What good is your ESP if it doesn't play nice with your other systems? Unless you like piecing together disparate data as well as looking in several programs to get a full-scale view of your email marketing campaigns, your ESP must integrate with your existing back-end systems.

As an example, with our previous ESP, we had to put in a request to have our IT department pull customer lists for us based on pre-defined segments. The ESP didn't integrate well with our data warehouse, and there wasn't a simple way for us to run our own segment queries and automatically generate the lists we wanted immediately before the email drop. Many of our customers received emails from us that were no longer relevant since the queries were usually a few days old by the time we were able to do the drop. As a result, the email campaigns weren't as effective as they could have been. In addition, we were constantly running the risk of our newly acquired customers thinking we weren't paying attention.

If the integration with your back-end systems requires heavy consulting fees to do something that seems relatively simple (e.g., data feeds, database linking for list queries), then it's likely not worth spending the time and energy to make it happen. Instead, find another ESP that is able to integrate easily. Your back-end systems are going to vary from others, so you'll need to interview several ESPs to find the right fit. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as a one-size-fits-all ESP when it comes to database integration, but when you find a match, you'll wonder how you managed without it.

Help me!

Any marketing tool you use likely requires some level of support. Just like web analytic systems and ad servers, an excellent (or poor) client support system will make or break an ESP's reputation and ability to retain customers.

It all starts with the people. Do you have a dedicated account manager that is your go-to person whenever there is a problem or question about the system? A great account manager can be the traffic cop when it comes to tech support questions, billing issues, and ideas for leveraging the capabilities of the tools. Someone who is not only a go-to resource when problems arise, but also offers proactive advice leading to email marketing success can often make up for other shortcomings your ESP may have.

Customer service and client services aren't just about tech support. They truly are opportunities to generate success stories and build relationships. Unfortunately, this mindset has gone by the wayside with many ESPs as they focus on centralizing support services in order to streamline tech support tickets and provide 24/7 technical support.

While tech support centralization is a good idea, it's not a replacement for the dedicated account manager. If you don't have a dedicated account manager, request one. If your ESP won't give you one, it's a telltale sign that you need to shop for a new ESP.

How do I use this thing?

When you started using your ESP, what type of training did you receive? Was there a comprehensive launch training that can be replicated any time you have a new person join your team?

There are few things that are as frustrating as being excited about starting with a new technology partner only to get the feeling once you get under the hood that you need an advanced engineering degree with a minor in rocket science to figure out how to use it. Product features and system capabilities are only good if the marketer can leverage them easily and effectively. If you feel like a moron every time you log in, your desire to use the tool is going to wane quickly.

The training component is one of the most important factors that will determine your level of satisfaction, especially at the beginning of the relationship with your ESP or when you have a new person on your team. Complicated training, or a lack of effective training, will doom your relationship with your ESP. This is another instance when having a dedicated account manager can be a big help.

If you're finding that it's just too difficult for you and your team to navigate even your most common tasks, then enlist the help of your account manager to schedule training modules broken down for each specific task. If this level of training still presents a problem for your ESP, start looking for ways to break your contract. Otherwise, you're in for a long road of frustration.

Also, when you're selecting your ESP, ask to see the training manual and the training process before anything is signed. Then request a demo account so you can actually follow the training to perform basic tasks within the system. This will avoid headaches down the road.

You want the reporting to work? Surprise!

You're up and running with your new ESP, and you have multiple email marketing campaigns running. It's time to see how everything is performing, so you'll need to package up a report for your team and your boss. The only problem is that your ESP's reporting package doesn't allow you to produce the reports you really need. Sound familiar?

What gets measured gets done. We all heard this saying before. But what happens when you can't measure what you need? Outside of actually getting your email delivered to the inbox, reporting is the next biggest element in terms of what distinguishes a good ESP from a bad one.

Make a list of all of the reporting elements that you need from the system. Ideally, this should have been done in the evaluation process before signing a contract. Work with your account manager to identify which reports can already be run in the system along with how to run them. For the reports that aren't out of the box, figure out if there is a simple work around to assemble the report. If this isn't possible, find out what's on the horizon in terms of new reporting features.

Every release of a new version should include new and improved reporting capabilities and features. Before each new release, ask your account manager to see the roadmap. Scrutinize the roadmap in terms of making sure the upcoming reporting improvements match your business needs. If they don't, then it's time to fire your ESP and find one that can meet your reporting needs.

A simple case of over-promising and under-delivering

All of us have fallen into the trap at one time or another. I sure have. A salesperson or sales team puts on a great show. All of the product demos are impressive, and the sales team seems to have satisfactory answers to every question that your team asks. The team even shares its roadmap of new releases with you, and everything seems in line with your expectations.

You go into the relationship with your ESP with a high level of excitement, and a clearly defined strategy and list of tactics. You run into a hiccup right out of the gate, but still aren't worried. After all, hiccups with a new technology relationship are expected. Then comes another hiccup followed by another one. Next, you run into situations where the system's capabilities don't meet your expectations. Guess what -- you've been a victim of your ESP over-promising and under-delivering.

The best approach at this point is to create a list of issues and circle back with your ESP's sales team, account team, and executive management. List your grievances and how performance fell short of expectations. In some cases, this exercise will be all it takes to cause positive change. In other cases, the problems may not be fixable.

In my experience, non-fixable problems include the overall reputation of the ESP, the ESP's relationship with each of the ISPs, ability to get your email into the inbox, reporting, training, and service. If these problems sound too familiar, run as fast as you can. There are a handful of good ESPs that will meet your needs and give you what you need to succeed with all of your email marketing objectives.

Sean Cheyney is the VP of marketing and business development for AccuQuote.

On Twitter? Follow Cheyney at @scheyney. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Sean Cheyney currently serves as VP, Audience Extension, at Triad Retail Media, where he oversees sales, strategy, training, positioning, implementation and growth of audience extension sales and solutions for Triad’s clients including Sears,...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Sean Cheyney

2009, November 17

Thanks for the comment Annie. I hope that the ESPs view the article with your suggestion in mind.

Commenter: Annie Cooley

2009, November 17

These 6 reasons to fire an ESP not only warn people looking for the right ESP to consider these options seriously, but it also gives a good guideline to ESP themselves on the sort of level they need to participate on to be considered against their competitors.

Thank you for setting the caliber high!

Commenter: John Caldwell

2009, November 12

Hey Sean,

It all comes down to this; the problems that you've mentioned aren't a reason to fire a vendor, but a reason to fire the person that selected an inadequate vendor in the first place.

I've already gone point by point to your post and you haven't given me anything back other than insinuating that my view is colored from an ESP perspective and that I haven't any client-side experience.

Did you bother checking me out before making such assumptions? Looks to me like the same approach as you seem to have taken in selecting an ESP.... I'm just sayin'....

My post links to yours a half-dozen times and you've been kind enough to post back to me in the comments here, so I guess it's up to the reader to form their own opinions....

Commenter: Sean Cheyney

2009, November 12


Thanks for your comments both here and on your post. While I may not be an expert on the inner workings of ESPs for an insider's perspective (since I've never worked for an ESP), my background comes from years on the client side. Each of the examples I've given in the article are based on real experiences from the lens of an advertiser. I'm not alone either. Many advertisers commonly share the same types of frustrations with each other.

My experience with all vendors is that it begins with delivering what is promised and expected. Expectations need to be clear from both parties. It's defintely not a one way street.

For the client side, expectations continue to evolve as business needs dictate. If a true partnership has developed, then solutions can usually be had. If not, the relationship can turn into a business hinderance quickly. In my experience with ESPs (and generally with several technology vendors), this is the case.

Commenter: John Caldwell

2009, November 11

It's interesting that your vocabulary tends to fall to the negative with things like "fire" and "ripping"....

It's also interesting to note that while you comment that you love being taken to task, I don't seem to see any defense of your original position either here or at http://RedPillEmail.com

And while you're obviously not an authority on the subject (that's a rip, fyi), and most certainly have some unrealistic views of the role of an ESP, I'd hate to see someone with even less experience take this post as authoritive - because it's posted at iMedia Connection - and perhaps cause a rift between they and their vendor that wouldn't have been there otherwise. That would not be fair to the reader or the vendor.

But hey, thanks for the link to my post! :)

Commenter: Sean Cheyney

2009, November 10

Just came across this blog post ripping each of the points I gave in the article. I love it when someone takes me to task, whether I agree with them or not. Read this post and comment back here on this article to let me know your thoughts on his points as well as mine.


Commenter: Sean Cheyney

2009, November 09

Thanks Toni. Reporting is so crucial, that it has to be a top focus when going through the RFP process.

Commenter: Toni Page

2009, November 09

I totally agree with looking into the training and reporting before going with a system. Our ESP counts preview / testing in over-all results, and unsubscribes as click-throughs. Correcting the report is a manual process.