Email Service Provider (ESPs) 

 November 30, 2022

By  HiFlyer

This ecommerce strategy article is an excerpt from our new book, The Ultimate Ecommerce Email & SMS Playbook. We’re diving into our ecommerce strategy chapter focused on the 7 Reasons Why Ecommerce Customers Leave Your Brand.

If you’re reading this book, you most likely have a good grasp of what an ESP does. But not every brand understands the tiers of ESP out there and tends to think that Klaviyo, Mailchimp, or OmniSend are the best options in the market. 

This section will give you some ideas to consider as you use those entry-level ESPs and vet larger ones as you scale. And for those who are just starting out, here’s a quick primer on the importance of an e-commerce ESP and what you need to know before you select one. 

ESPs – Email Service Providers – are email marketing and distribution services for your business. They can be integrated into your CRM or CMS to work seamlessly with your email list. 

ESPs make managing your email lists, collecting new email addresses, and analyzing email marketing campaigns simple. 

Choosing the right ESP will optimize your deliverability rates, your open rates, and ultimately lead to more sales. ESPs will make it easy for you to customize your email marketing to different target segments within your audience. They’ll also help you ensure you’re complying with laws regarding marketing and spam.

With so many options available, here are a few things to consider when choosing the right ESP for you:

  • Deliverability is the likelihood that your emails will reach your subscribers’ inbox. Email Tool Tester recently did some research on which ESP has the best deliverability, and here are the results:
  • Security: Your ESP should give you peace of mind that your customers’ data will be secure. Look into aspects such as password policies, encryption safeguards, and the use of firewalls. With GDPR, CCPA, and other privacy regulations being enacted, it’s extremely important to choose an ESP with thorough security standards for the sake of your customers.
  • Reporting and Analytics: The reporting your ESP provides can help you adjust and improve on the performance of future campaigns. But you might want a more comprehensive analysis of data such as where your subscribers are located, the devices used to open your mail, and click maps, which show you how your audience is interacting with your email content. You will eventually want more predictive analytics and machine learning as well as you scale your brand. Think about which metrics you want to track and ensure you choose an ESP that supports this.
  • Integrations: Most ESPs offer integrations with major CMS, CRM, e-commerce apps, and platforms. At the very least, they should have APIs or plugins that you can use to build custom integrations. Consider how much implementation, training, and management is required to get you or your team set up with the new ESP, as well as the costs to hire a dev team to get you up and running seamlessly.
  • Overall Strategy: When choosing the right ESP, it’s helpful to have a clear idea of what your email marketing strategy will look like. For example, if you’re a blog, you’ll need an ESP that excels in content marketing using feeds; if you’re an e-commerce store, you’ll need to send marketing emails with updated product data. In addition, identifying the email types – newsletters, promotions, workflows, triggers, lifecycle campaigns, and on – will help you kick the tires better. Knowing exactly what you require and how you want your strategy to play out will give you the best chance of choosing the right ESP for your needs.
  • Out-of-the-box features: Once you’ve mapped out your strategy, the features you require from an ESP will be clearer, and you’re able to narrow down the platforms that provide the most important tools right away (aka “out of the box!”) Ask yourself:
    • Do I want ready-made email templates or the ability to create custom HTML templates?
    • Do I prefer WYSIWYG drag-and-drop builders or intense HTML-coded templates?
    • Do I want an ESP that charges by the number of emails sent or the number of customer profiles in the database? Some even charge based on the number of emails clicked. 
    • Do I want an ESP that focuses on email only or one that allows for cross-channel marketing via SMS, Facebook ads, Google ads, push notifications, and more? 
  • Customer Support: Sometimes, campaigns and flows just don’t go according to plan, and you’ll need a strong customer support system to get you out of these tricky situations. While all good ESPs should have email and phone support, check for other options like social media support. Another handy function in an emergency is the 24/7 chat function on some sites.
  • Your budget: This plays the biggest role in deciding which ESP is perfect for your brand. Keep your budget in mind, and know exactly what you’re able to afford in an ESP and what you can do without. Make sure you take all additional costs into account, such as dedicated IP addresses, extra features, and data storage. Be sure to check how your ESP calculates price – by CPM or by the number of contacts – and forecast your projected list growth so as not to exceed your budget.

Be sure to think about the long-term ROI of an ESP investment. As a data-driven marketer, I’m always thinking about the potential of new technology and illustrating how the ROI will be there if implemented and utilized correctly. 

When I onboarded Bluecore, one of my favorite ESPs, I was sure to check with my close friends and colleagues at Sephora, Jockey, and Teleflora on the projected ROI. 

Bluecore’s cost-per-click model was a unique model compared to the traditional cost-per-thousand sends we’re used to seeing in the industry. So, I needed to be sure I could monetize every single click without going over budget. I had to convince upper management about the value of a CPC-based ESP, but once I did, we quickly saw a huge ROI. 

Bluecore helped us grow automation revenue by 300% that year because I took the time to think long-term and ensure I had the right strategy in place. Remember this: technology is just a tool. And that tool is only as good as the strategy and team guiding it.

One final point: be realistic when it comes to which features and extras you’ll actually use and those which you can easily do without. Most companies only implement 10% of the technology they buy, which is quite wasteful. Focusing on the core aspects of your ESP and adding on new features slowly is the key to maximizing your ESP investment.


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