Overview of the Enterprise Email Service Provider Landscape
The Enterprise Email Service Provider (ESP) landscape continues to evolve, and the competition is as fierce as ever. Instead of going into the strengths and weaknesses of individual providers (there are a number of buyers’ guides that regularly address this in depth), a general overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the different types of ESPs in the Enterprise ESP landscape may better provide context for those considering their platform options.
In general, the current landscape can be classified as follows:
Strengths: These platforms have the broadest product offerings, including tools to coordinate marketing campaigns across digital channels. They have the most sophisticated training programs, and substantial financial and human resources to continue expanding their solution set.
Drawbacks: Their long track record of success means they serve a lot of masters—and thus they offer a variety of methods for accomplishing any task, which can make determining the “best route” challenging. Professional service teams are often stretched thin, so getting their attention or “special treatment” can also be a challenge. (Fortunately for us, they play nice with partner agencies like Trendline that help navigate these complex systems.)
Strengths: Strong solution sets with highly attentive customer service teams. These platforms specialize in running highly sophisticated email marketing programs and can turn out an amazing end-product.
Drawbacks: More complex programs are largely dependent on leveraging their premium-priced professional services. Be prepared to pay (and sometimes wait), even when your requests seem relatively straightforward. Moreover, if you are unfortunate and get the “B” service team, you could be screwed.
2nd Generation ESPs
A group of relatively young companies including Cordial, Maropost, and Sailthru are giving the traditional Email Service Providers a run for their money by taking lessons from their predecessors and trying to rethink how things are done.
Strengths: Not needing to concern themselves with legacy clients or managing backward compatibility allows these companies to develop and roll out new tools built on the latest cloud technologies—including some highly compelling features.
Drawbacks: Don’t offer the same breadth of solutions as the traditional ESPs and don’t have the same resources for things like training. Expect high touch, but less polished, service.
A number of non-US companies such as Adestra, DotMailer, and Emarsys have recently opened US offices following the consolidation of the traditional Enterprise Email Service Providers.
Strengths: These platforms are proven, and experienced users can generally be found in the marketplace. These companies have compelling solution sets that are often targeted to specific vertical or global markets where their solutions meet specific needs well.
Drawbacks: Unproven support in the US market. Moreover, these companies don’t have the same deep pockets as traditional Enterprise ESPs, which means their solutions and development roadmaps tend to be narrower—making it especially important to ensure their long term development plans align with your organization’s growth plans.
For companies looking to execute emails primarily triggered from their own platforms (e.g., app companies or high tech companies with lots of development resources), companies like Mailgun and Sendgrid provide platforms that are primarily accessed through APIs.
Strengths: These companies compete primarily on cost. Their solutions are substantially less expensive than other platforms suitable for Enterprise email programs.
Drawbacks: Marketers should be forewarned that any time help is needed, you will need development resources. This often proves especially frustrating when simple creative changes or reporting are needed. This in turn makes things like testing and optimization difficult. In short, without dedicated IT support, it is difficult to move an email program forward, and so we recommend organizations balance lost-opportunity costs alongside potential cost savings when pursuing this route.
We see competition between service providers as a good thing. Ultimately, the competition is forcing everyone to get better. But we recommend that the evaluations start with identifying the type of platform company that is most likely to serve your needs over the long term. Determining if your overall philosophy lines up with the vision of the platform providers you are considering is often more important than simply shopping for specific features and functionality.