4 Questions to Answer Before Eradicating your ESP for Marketing Automation tools

Kara Douglas, Senior Manager, Marketing Communications at JustAnswer LLC
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Kara Douglas, Senior Manager, Marketing Communications at JustAnswer LLC

How do you know if you are ready to upgrade from your ESP (Email Service Provider) to Marketing Automation tools? First you must understand the difference; An ESP and Marketing Automation tools are both vehicles for sending email campaigns, most of which offer tools for creating HTML templates, most support personalization & serving dynamic content. Most offer data segmentation & reporting tools. Most manage the delivery, including processing bounces and unsubscribe. Some even offer sexier features including, learning the best time of day to send an email based upon the time of day that recipient will most likely open an email based on previous open history. Some ESP's say they are now “cross channel” marketing solutions, however very few actually were built that way. Most ESP's have partnered with other solutions to become a cross-channel solution. While this is becoming increasingly more important to send personalized relevant messaging, Marketing Automation tools are here to help marketer’s take email marketing as well as cross channel communications to the next level of sophistication. With some of the Marketing Automation tools available today - the sky's the limit. There is no end to the creativity and sophistication you can achieve. You can build personalized customer journeys thus creating strengthened customer relationships.

“Understanding that when you change providers means you are basically starting to build a sending reputation from scratch. It doesn't matter if you had 98 percent of your emails delivered to the inbox at your prior ESP, in most cases you have to start over and rebuild”

My company is one of the early adopters of marketing automation tools and while I am a strong advocate, I learned quite a bit through the process. If you think you are outgrowing your ESP, be sure to ask yourself these questions first:

1. Do your marketing efforts require real time data fulfillment?

My company had a specific requirement to be able to access data in real time. Not just for transactional messaging but also to send the most relevant messaging at the right time by leveraging behavioral data points for segmentation & personalization. Most of the ESP’s we looked at were moving away from hosted models and moving to be primarily SAAS solutions. They may have API’s to allow you to send data back & forth. That can be a heavy load on a database depending on how often scripts are running to make API calls & updating back to the database. This presents delays for real time data. We needed a solution that allowed us to host our own data. If you can live with data updating once per day, an ESP may still be a good & more affordable option.

2. How much time are you willing to invest in the implementation of the new tools and migration of existing campaigns from the old provider to the new one?

It took us about three months t o complete the implementation with a professional services contractor onsite for six weeks from our vendor, a mixed bag of 12 engineers and a team of three marketers who would be the primary users dedicated to the implementation. It then took one full year to fully migrate over from our old ESP solution, with a dedicated team of three users and one DB architect and three developers. There was no time for optimization. We were carrying two separate contracts with each provider (old & new) during the transition. We were under the gun to complete the migration by the next contract renewal with our old ESP. I spoke with many references as well as other clients who faced many of our same challenges and hearing their stories made us feel like one of the lucky ones. It took others six months or more just to complete implementation.

3. Are you staffed correctly?

Most Marketing Automation tools boast they are easy to use, and that Marketers can be self-sufficient with their tools. This is true, if your marketing team has skillsets that include: SQL, JavaScript, XML& HTML. As well as understanding the use of conditional statements to support serving dynamic content. Between responsive template designs and coding CSS, to coming up with scalable solutions to have multiple variations of templates unique to recipient data points, marketing roles are changing. Having a team with a blend of technical and marketing skills is the only way to effectively begin to put those marketing automation tools to use. We quickly had to make some adjustments and get our marketers the technical training needed to become a self-sufficient marketing team again post implementation. While we still rely on a shortened list of technical resources (DB architect, operations and occasionally developers) we can create campaigns in a reasonable turnaround time without their help on most days.

4. How familiar are you with the challenges of email delivery as well as current best prac­tices?

Email delivery best practices should not be treated lightly. Understanding that when you change provid­ers means you are basically starting to build a sending reputation from scratch. It doesn't matter if you had 98 percent of your emails delivered to the inbox at your prior ESP, in most cases you have to start over and rebuild. This takes time & patience. It also takes having knowl­edgeable delivery consultants who can advise on strategy and best practices. Warming up a new IP address is not only time consuming, but impacts former benchmarks for open/click rates, and most importantly ROI. It’s temporary and once you get through the warm up process successfully - you should see things begin to improve and shortly af­ter see the ROI benefits of investing into Market­ing Automation tools.

Although we faced many challenges & learning curves by moving to Marketing Automation tools, we now have the foundation in place. We've recently begun to leverage the sophistication the tools can offer, optimized many of our old campaigns and build new campaigns we were unable to create with our prior ESP. After a little over one year, we are now beginning to see the ROI and we look forward to all the exciting things we will be able to create in 2015.

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