Marketers are from Mars, ESPs are from Venus

Last month I formally joined The Relevancy Group, whose founder and CEO is David Daniels. David's been following the ESP landscape for years, first as an analyst at Jupiter and then, following its purchase by Forrester, he was the brains behind the periodic Wave Reports that ranked the various ESPs.

One of the key reasons David and I came together was our shared belief that, more than ever before, marketers can benefit from the experience and advice of email veterans from both the seller and the buyer side as they evaluate their existing vendor relationships and explore new ones. One of the things David and I enjoy talking about are the ways the ESPs and clients can see some things so dramatically different. Oftentimes these things put strain on the relationship and over time lead to a break down in the relationship.

As in any relationship, sometimes it's easier to hear about these disconnects and ways to address them from unbiased third parties. So, in the spirit of just about any issue of Cosmopolitan, this month we're going to look at four ways ESPs and clients can improve their relationships.

Client: I love my team, but...

It's become conventional wisdom in the world of technology that over time the cost of delivery should drop. I don't know where this idea first originated, as the cost of almost everything else goes up over time. Certainly the fight for market share can be a factor in the downward pressure on fees charged to clients.

Those who follow me know I often rail against the race to the bottom for CPMs in the ESP world. But I know that's not going to change until they hit rock bottom (sometime next week). So marketers, your ESP isn't going to be too surprised when contract renewal time comes around and you ask for price concessions in return for a contract extension. But what is going to drive your ESP completely out of its mind is when you add, "We really like the team you've assigned to our business, and we want to be sure they continue on our account. Oh, and by the way, we'd like a 10 percent reduction in the blended rate we pay for their time."

You like your team? Well it's highly likely that your ESP also likes your team a lot. After all, you're a very important client that the ESP would like to keep happy. This means it probably has had to give your team raises over the term of the prior contract. And this has already eroded the margin on the ESP's service fees. Now you are asking the company to cut its CPMs and, at the same time, cut the margin it makes on its people. Perhaps the ESP can find efficiencies of scale in its platform. But it can't in regards to its people. If you want to pay less for your team, don't be surprised if you end up with a new team of recent hires.

ESP: Of course we understand the importance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday!

No, you don't. Because if you did, nothing would ever go wrong over the course of this critical weekend, unless your factory gets hit by a meteor. Your client, her boss, and her boss's jobs are all potentially on the line. So it is not OK for emails to be delayed several hours (or more!) because of volume coming through your system. You had 12 months to get ready for these events.

Sure, there is the occasional catastrophic failure at an ESP. (I was on the front lines of such an experience, and I still waking up screaming in the middle of the night on occasion.) But that's not what I am referring to. It's the little things that add up over the course of the weekend that unnerve your clients and make them think you don't care as much as they do. Repeat after me: There is no excuse for a lack of capacity, for a lack of technical support staff on standby, or for a targeting error on Black Friday through Cyber Monday. This is the Super Bowl of email marketing for your clients! Don't let them down!

Client: Our agency knows what it's doing

No it doesn't. You know it. The folks at your agency know it. And your ESP knows it. In fact, your ESP pointed it out to you in the first place. The creative team at your agency didn't go work there because they dreamed of creating emails. In fact, they want to do almost anything but create emails. So your junior agency team isn't going to bother to consider things like dynamic templates, images vs. text, mobile versions, etc. Chances are, they aren't even going to deliver the production-ready creative you and they promised your ESP.

Your ESP is going to do a lot more work to get that campaign out the door than it planned for -- and more than what you are paying it for. And when the campaign launches later than planned, you are going to blame your ESP. The fact that it told you this was going to happen is conveniently forgotten at these times.

There's a reason the best ESPs have strong creative teams in-house. You get better work, and you get it on time. And maybe you'll win an award. Everyone likes to win a major award! There's nothing like a good awards show to bring ESPs and clients together.

ESP: Don't worry, we'll build a "Chinese wall" around your team

Hey ESP, we might have been born at night, but it wasn't last night! Saying these words doesn't make it a reality. You need to recognize that we clients might be a little nervous about the big new client you just landed that also happens to be a major competitor of ours. This isn't like the old days when clients were just buying a technology solution from you. Back then it was almost an asset to have multiple clients in a single vertical. But now you're selling creative and strategic services, and frankly your existing clients might suspect that your staff isn't really big enough to wall off all the services people working on their business from the ones working on their competitor's.

This is where it comes in handy to have multiple offices. A "Chinese wall" is much more believable when there is geographic distance added to the equation. If that isn't possible, maybe you need to have a frank discussion with your current clients. Listen to their concerns, and see how you might be able to address them. It doesn't do you any good to have an existing client decide it's time for an RFP just as you are onboarding a big new client. Oh, and one final word of advice: If you drop a current client to take on a bigger, new client, no one will ever trust you again. Not even your mother.

When I was running the services team of one of the major ESPs, I used to tell my folks that an ESP starts losing a client the day it signs that client up. And then I would tell them that it doesn't have to be that way. Setting expectations correctly up front, listening to each other, and dealing with issues as they arise go a long way toward mitigating the problems that build up over time and eventually lead to a break up.

It's been said that "hope is not a strategy," and hoping that your relationship with your new client or ESP will turn out differently that your prior relationship isn't enough.

Chris Marriott is the vice president of services and principal consultant at The Relevancy Group.

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