Three Reasons Why Email Senders Divorce ESPs

Usually,
before a couple marries, they engage in hundreds of intimate, layered
conversations, in an effort to establish realistic expectations and build a
foundation for a successful marriage. 
The same principle can and should apply in the context of a business
partnership.  As with any partner, in
business or otherwise, at the outset of each relationship is a set of clearly
defined goals.  Also, and very often
unexpectedly, misunderstandings occur and can lead to a painful breakdown in
communication, which often leads to resentment and, at times, permanent
separation.

At
the Email Insider Summit last week, it became evident that, after four exciting
holes of Golf on Sanibel Island, it was time to abort because of heavy rain.
What followed was a conversation that was far more engaging than golf: it was a
conversation that transpired between Jeremy Swift of
BlueHornet, Dave Baker of Razorfish and myself about why marketers
leave ESPs.

Reason 1: Unrealistic Expectations

According
to Dave, the relationship between a marketer and an ESP usually begins to
deteriorate after about 18-24 months. 
The “marriage” between ESP and marketer goes through a honeymoon phase,
during which everything is promised by the ESP to the marketer, including, but
not limited to, increased deliverability to the inbox, cannibalistic pricing,
dedicated professional services teams and streamlined integration.  Because of the mission-critical nature of
email marketing, if these expectations are not satisfactorily met, a breakdown
in communication occurs. As a result, resentment ensues, leading to separation
and, ultimately, divorce. This course of events has negative effects for both
parties; communication breakdowns leave the marketer feeling bewildered and the
ESP scrambling to find another client.

What
to Do:

Set
proper expectations.  Account Managers
and professional services teams at competent ESPs must set clear, realistic
guidelines outlining what the client should expect over the course of the
relationship, including a well defined timetable.  Milestones should be clearly defined at the
beginning, and once they are met, they should be celebrated.  Sometimes ESPs can get into a mischief where
if the client is hooked, they can capitulate and ultimately flip on pricing
since the cost of switching would be prohibitive.  But, as with more casual relationships these
days, it’s easy to switch.  Clients don’t
have to sign on until death do they part.

Reason
2: Lack of Dedicated Account Management

Let’s
face it. The growth trajectory of the email industry is such that providing an
adequate support infrastructure is challenging for ESPs.  According to Jeremy Swift of Blue Hornet,
marketers are frustrated with the overall lack of highly skilled customer
service representatives and attention to detail from ESPs.  This is a direct result of the prolific
growth of the industry.  Additionally,
the lack of ability to scale efficiently is a direct result of the
organizational challenges ESPs encounter. 
The inability to allocate enough competent account managers to
proactively service client accounts leads to bitter disappointment.
ESPs are forced to confront several questions, such as
“Should we offer platform training? Are there costs involved? Is there an
active support community that clients can instantly engage with?”

What
to Do:

The
industry will face continued realignment/consolidation, and ESPs must be prepared
to deal with this natural turbulence.  To
counteract these effects, if you are an ESP that vows 24/7 customer service,
you must ensure that someone is available at all times to provide feedback.
This is necessary because marketers will test and track the level of service
they are receiving, including the response time of support queries. With 150+
ESPs to consider, it’s a definite buyer’s market, and clients will seek timely
resolutions, robust platform features, and more importantly personal
references.  Outstanding customer service
will ensure that your ESP stands out positively to clients in the midst of an
increasingly crowded field.  Just as in
marriage, prompt, clear communication is the cornerstone of a successful client/ESP
relationship.

Reason
3: Insufficient Complementary Services

At
the Email Insider Summit last week, we learned that
venture capitalists and angel investors will partner with competent ESPs and offer highly relevant complementary services that are
congruent to the ESPs
core group of offerings, such as
social, mobile, database management and the ability to scale globally. 
Proficient ESPs may have dedicated
in-house design teams, professional services teams,
technicians, and deliverability consultants that work harmoniously on behalf of clients.  On the other hand, if an ESP has
disparate
and/or contrasting services, the
relationship
will be erratic and
communication will suffer
due to additional points of
failure.
This again leads to added frustration
and more aggravated clients.  Finally, as
a point of reference, if an ESP’s platform does not offer social media
integration and/or the user interface is too rigid or complex, marketers will
likely withdraw, resulting in “divorce.” 
   

What
to Do:

When
shopping for a new ESP,
carefully weigh these
aforementioned factors and identify if they align with your marketing
objectives.  It’s
important to understand explicitly what these services mean by asking the
right questions. Before entering this type of relationship, it’s crucial to
understand how the ESP’s services will be executed in the grand scope your
email initiatives.  For example, a good
technical services team should help define your requirements and might offer a
customized roadmap as you accumulate advanced data points from your
subscribers.  For instance, they might
ask you to tag each link in your creative with an acronym, to locate a micro
segment that is highly profitable on your list. It’s important to know who you
are as an ESP and as a client.  Clone
your bright spots, and play to your strengths.

Arranged Marriages will likely Fail

Finally, remember that collaborating
effectively with your ESP should alleviate some pain points. Through effective
collaboration, you should be able to determine which complementary services you
currently need, and which of those you will require in the future. Finally,
arranged marriages don’t work well in the Email Industry.:) You’ll want to take
your ESP out for a test drive and evaluate the product in your own environment.
Test driving different platforms will lead to a more confident option in a long
term partner.  It’s important that you
know what you are getting into before you make a commitment to “marry” a
particular ESP. But as with marriage, if you take proper precautions before
committing, you will pave the way to a long and successful relationship.     
  

Special Thanks to Dave
Baker of
Razorfish, Jeremy Swift of BlueHornet and Christy Barret Weymouth of ExactTarget for their contributions.


Fred Tabsharani

Port25 Solutions, Inc.

@tabsharani

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