5 tips to evaluate a new Email Service Provider (ESP)

Trendline Interactive

4 minute read

Having the right Email Service Provider (ESP) that meets your needs is crucial for running an efficient and effective operation. It also can be the source of your martech headaches. 

The right platform makes it easy for you to build and manage campaigns, track performance and analyze results, and incorporate data at every step. The wrong ESP will cost you time, money, and growth.

But how do you choose the right platform for your organization? Before you get started with your ESP evaluations, take some time to think through what you truly need from your platform, who will be using it (IT, marketing, ecommerce, etc.), and how a new ESP fits into your current martech philosophy.

Here are 5 tips to keep in mind when evaluating a new ESP. 

1. Don’t jump into a demo right away

Our experience with clients shows us that many start their search for solutions by researching the technology market for features and functionality. But shopping for features without considering needs often leads buyers down the wrong path. So, the technology gets the blame if the fit is wrong, but the buying process is often more at fault. 

When you shop for a new email platform, it’s tempting to go right to a demo. It’s fun to see what you could get with a new system if your current platform doesn’t keep up with developments in the email space – like cross-channel marketing, real-time email or complex lead-nurturing scenarios.

But investigating features and functions is actually the last step of your ESP evaluation process. 

It’s like test-driving a fancy sports car to replace your 14-year-old minivan. Sure, it looks and handles great. The dashboard is easy to navigate, the sound system turns your car into a concert hall, and you can hit highway speed in seconds. 

But will it accommodate your kids’ car seats? How does it handle on snow or ice? How far can you drive until you need to gas up or recharge? Do you really need a twin-turbo V8 engine?

2. Define your martech needs

Your research process should start with a long look at your organization itself. Determining which platform is the right fit for your organization is not just about shopping for features and functionality. You need to find the provider that best fits your marketing-technology philosophy – “martech philosophy” for short.

When we say “martech philosophy,” we’re not talking about a collection of abstract thoughts. Your marketing philosophy is the sum total of your marketing goals, strategies and tactics you use to meet customers’ wants and needs and achieve your company’s objectives. 

Because you’re reading this post, you probably are at least a little dissatisfied with your current state. Explore that dissatisfaction to understand where it comes from. If it is not something obvious, such as price, customer experience, or end of life (as with Bronto or Yesmail), then diagnose the issue so that you are certain making the switch is the right move.  

To define your martech needs we recommend using an adaptation of the Diamond E Framework. It allows you to explore your environment across three major elements. These often compete against each other within the organization, setting up tensions that need to be resolved: 

  • What you want to do as governed by management preferences, organizational goals or other forces
  • What you can do based on your company’s resources, including your technology stack
  • What you must do because of your competitive environment

As with a Venn diagram, your needs (or philosophy) will evolve from the intersection of those competing elements.

Diamond E framework for choosing the right email service provider
From Strategic Analysis and Action by Mary Crossan, Michael Rouse, W. Glenn Rowe and Cara Mauer

3. Watch for the skills gap

Don’t overlook the practical side of the tech equation. Consider the people on your team who will use the technology. Going back to our car analogy, if that sports car has a manual transmission, but your team is trained to drive only automatic, how long will you need to train them before they can master the gear shift without grinding the gears? 

Ask your vendor prospects these questions:

  • Will you train our users, and, if so,  is that negotiated as a separate service contract? 
  • Do our users need advanced technical skills to use this platform successfully? 
  • When can we expect to begin realizing full value and performance? 
  • How easily can we port over our data? 
  • What back-end changes might we need to make throughout our tech stack to accommodate this new platform?

4. Create a rating system

As you read through the list and start evaluating different providers, develop an informal rating system that measures how each ESP model fits in with your martech philosophy, including business needs, capabilities, budget and goals. 

Consider these elements:

  • Potential cost (low, medium, high) based on these factors:
    • Pricing model (Free, free-to-paid, tiered, pay-per-service or all in one)
    • Number of contacts or data records allowed per tier or price point
  • How well the ESP would help you meet your program goals 
  • Whether features are available out of the box or require developer intervention
  • Speed and time of message cadence

5. Get help sooner rather than later

The tech landscape has become complex and even contradictory at times.  Today that landscape looks like the map of a global ecosystem grouped by continents according to the industries they serve:

email service provider landscape

Source: Chief Martech

This creates a marketplace that resembles the noisy bazaars of bygone days instead of an organized collection of opportunities designed to encourage thoughtful consideration. Shopping for best-fit technology becomes a long and often daunting process. 

Choosing the right email service provider

The evaluation process gets overwhelming quickly. So don’t go it alone! Call on an objective third party with years of experience shepherding companies successfully through tech searches, transitions and implementations. 

Pairing up with an independent technology consultant like Trendline Interactive will help you start your search on the right foot,  and tap into the resources needed to complete the search, selection and implementation of a different platform. 

We invite you to contact us for a no-obligation conversation about your needs and how we can help you navigate this complex landscape confidently and successfully.

Trendline Interactive

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About the Author(s)

Trendline Interactive

Built from email marketing, Trendline Interactive is an agency and consultancy that inspires brands to create meaningful engagement through cross-channel communications. Our passion is that every single message sent is not only meaningful to the audience, but drives success for our clients.

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