How to choose the right email service provider for your e-commerce marketing

Email marketing is often advertised as being a low-cost, high-return marketing investment. However, picking the wrong email service provider (ESP) or acquiring poor quality email addresses can cost you thousands of extra dollars per year.

At Sideqik, we often help customers improve the quality of their email lists as well as the potential customers they acquire, but for now, let’s help you with choosing the right email service provider.

There are hundreds of different ESPs and dozens in any “top” list.  Is MailChimp, Constant Contact, Aweber, Hubspot, Silverpop, WhatCountsLeadLife or another provider right for your email marketing? Yes and no!

The choices (and sales pitches) can be daunting. From my experience, the best place to start is by answering some questions about your business, marketing plans and e-commerce platform. This doesn’t take too long and will save you a ton of time overall, as you start looking at the options on the market.

Future-focused and present-minded

When choosing an ESP, it’s critical to consider where your marketing and e-commerce platform will be in 12 – 18 months. Now, let’s not get carried away with best-case scenarios. What will your business realistically look like in the future and where are you today? The ESP sales reps will almost always pitch you on “edge cases” and extreme usage. While we’ve seen our customers have some incredible growth in as little as six months, it’s important be realistic and not let the ESP up-sell you on fictitious possibilities.

Questions to consider:

  • Email volume:
    • How many people are on my email list? Make sure that you count those currently subscribed/opted-in only. Some email service providers, like Aweber, show you a total including unsubscribes on the dashboard and you have to dig in to see the number of people you’re actually sending to.
    • How many regular emails (e.g. newsletters, email blasts, etc.) does my brand send each month? How many do I expect to send each month in 6 – 12 and 12 – 18 months?
    • How many transactional emails are you sending each month? These are the real-time triggered emails such as abandoned cart recaptures and order confirmations.
  • Customer and prospect data:
    • What kind of customer and prospective customer data should I capture? This includes much more than name, city and email. It could also include birthday, order history, what marketing partner they came through, how long they’ve been on your list, etc.
    • Do you need to capture additional customer data from surveys, cross-promotions or social media sources?
    • Are you currently targeting your customer base for different email content? How would you like to improve this targeting? Will you actually tailor content for different segments or do you need an ESP that can help with that?
  • Email hygiene:
    • What are the sources of your emails? Are they all opt-in?
    • Do you currently have any deliverability challenges? Do you expect that to change in the future?
    • Do the emails your brand sends frequently end up in spam? Do you have a plan of action if you get blacklisted?
  • Technical skills:
    • How technical is your digital marketing team? How about your email team/person?
    • Do you need technical assistance during the creation of the email templates or during the campaign deployment?
    • Do you have in-house creative resources (i.e. Who does your graphics and design?)?
    • Do you have multiple members of your team helping specific tasks during the email production process? If yes, you may need an ESP that helps with workflow. How is this impacted by your e-commerce platform?
  • Required features:
    • Do you need to nurture leads? Is placing them in a drip campaign enough or do you need marketing automation based on data and interactions with your e-commerce site?
    • What will you need to report to your boss? We know it all comes down to results, so what will you have to produce? Some of the ESPs can provide reporting and analysis tools that will meet your immediate needs.
    • Do you need private IP addresses to send general marketing emails? How about for transactional emails or are these already sent from your e-commerce provider (frequently the case)?
    • Does the platform need to handle SMS campaigns? Yes, this is similar to the “upgrade options” when buying a new car. Don’t let them talk you into it, unless you know you need it. There are mobile messaging providers that may be able to better meet your needs.

Kind of like car shopping

Choosing an email service provider can be a lot like car shopping. Everyone has an opinion, and many of the sales people are ruthless (although, we know some really great ones too). Your decision ultimately comes down to how you feel the ESP will meet your needs.

Taking a little bit of time to establish your must have features and thinking through your growth plans will allow you to drastically narrow the choices. Be open to test driving a few different providers to better understand their interface and ease of use, before making a final decision. Email marketing has been around for a long time, and it isn’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future. So take your time, think it through, go for a test drive and remember, you have options.

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