One of the great things about having joined The Relevancy Group and working with David Daniels is the ability to speak with leading email service providers (ESPs) and large clients of ESPs on an ongoing basis. It gives one a very broad perspective on the current state of the industry and what's on the minds of some of the most important people driving the industry. Based on these conversations, I've recently noticed that there are definite signs that it might be time for a marketer to assess his or her email partner options. These are the three signs I see most often:
You are not on the latest version of your ESP's platform
If you've been with the same ESP for more than four years, it's highly likely that it has introduced a newer version during that time. But that doesn't mean you are aware that it has done so and you've been migrated to it. This is as much an issue for the hosted solutions as it is the on-premise ones.
The reasons you might be on an older version of the platform are many, starting with you. In other words, you might be aware of the situation and are fine with the status quo. Other reasons include:
- The degree of customization in your particular set-up makes a migration to the newer version complex and risky.
- Your ESP doesn't have the resources to migrate existing customers from one platform to the new one (in a timely fashion).
- The new platform does not address your particular requirements as completely as the one you are currently on.
At this point, you might be thinking that as long as you're happy, it doesn't really matter. And maybe it doesn't. But if you were a new client of the ESP, it would be putting you onto the newest version of the platform. There's a reason for that. In the least, you should determine your platform status if you don't know it.
Your ESP's competitors are more responsive than your own ESP team
There's an old joke about a guy choosing between heaven and hell. The devil takes him to his country club for a round of golf and a nice steak dinner. The guy decides hell seems like a great place, so that's what he chooses. The next thing he knows, he's hanging upside down over a fire and getting poked by pitchforks. He sees the devil standing there and asks, "What the deuce?!" The devil smiles and replies, "Yesterday you were a prospect; today you are a client!"
My point is that salespeople from your ESP's competitors are always going to bend over backwards to be helpful to you. That's to be expected, as is the fact that if you went with their company, they'd move on to the next prospect. However, if the first person to tell you about a block at a major ISP is another ESP's sales guy and not you own account team, you have a serious service problem. Even worse is if you receive invites to industry conferences or client events from your ESP's competitors while getting nothing from the one with whom you work. Shame on you if you haven't pointed out to your current ESP how much this irks you. If you have and nothing's changed, it just might be time to start shopping.
You haven't had a quarterly review -- ever
One of the situations that arise from long-standing ESP relationships is that people cycle in and out on the client side. Thus, you are sometimes stuck with the bad habits encouraged by your predecessor at your company. The original contract might have clearly stated a requirement of four quarterly reviews a year. But if your predecessor decided she didn't care to sit through them, your ESP probably stopped preparing them before you even came on board. And now, you don't know to ask for them, and your ESP is in the bad habit of not providing them.
And that might not be the only bad habit picked up by the ESP before you came along. Whereas your predecessor was only interested in email, perhaps you want to explore mobile as well. Tired of facing rejection, your ESP might have stopped recommending a pilot program a long time ago.
The harsh reality is that sometimes clients become "cash cows" to their ESPs. That's the point when the ESP has concluded the client is A) no longer interested in any program improvements, B) really, really painful to work with, C) never going anywhere else, or d) A, B and C. When you've become a cash cow, you're going to get the barest minimum levels of service. The ESP isn't going to invest anything more than it has to in the relationship. Worst of all, this situation might have developed under your predecessor.
But that doesn't mean you can't turn things around with your current ESP. Nothing focuses an ESP's attention like an RFP. Sometimes it makes sense to give the company the chance to turn things around on its own. But unless you really believe it will do so without the RFP, then it's time to go that route.
Don't interpret my message in this column to be "long term relationships are bad." That isn't what I am saying. In fact, the exact opposite is true if the relationship is strong. If you decide to issue an RFP and subsequently decide to stay with your current ESP, great! I can promise you that you'll have reset the relationship to your advantage -- which is good for you, good for business, and, in the long run, good for your ESP.
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