These days almost every email service provider (ESP) is offering their services for pennies on the dollar. Free this, free that, and delivery rates for just pennies and in some cases, no cost at all for life. Sounds like the dot-com days all over again, right? It is, but nobody wants to talk about that. Who in their right mind would not use a vendor offering so many free or deeply discounted services? Well, if you are a smart business owner you would not fall for that trap. But lately it seems many business owners and C-level management have found the need to "learn their lesson" the hard way and fall into that budget trap head first. The ESP market is now saturated with companies offering email delivery services and everyone, even high school kids, are getting into the email delivery business.
The problem with all these budget vendors popping up everywhere (that covers about 96% of the email marketing industry) is they all lack real-world experience with email technologies and they can't afford to hire the experienced and highly educated staff to support their systems. The end result is increased bounces, very low HTML open rates, low click rates, and an overall decline in revenues for clients using those vendors. Have you fallen for this trap? There is no shame in admitting you want to save a buck on email services, it's human nature to want more-for-less but when it comes to your business you have to look past the dollar you are saving to see if that savings is actually causing you to lose money on every campaign. In almost every case, revenues from your email campaigns will be down.
The reason why so many ESP's have popped-up is because it seems like an easy business to start. You set up a few servers, set up a really fancy website with all kinds of buzz words like "real-time analytics" and "post-campaign collaboration" and open your door to the world. Of course, they set their rates amazingly low to lure in the unsuspecting customers (like honey to a grizzly bear) and the customers start to pour in. That's easy, sending email is easy. Anyone can do it. The problem is actually delivering the message and getting the message into the inbox. That's where those ESPs fall down and you lose big money. There are almost 100 different moving parts involved when sending an email campaign and the budget vendors cover about 15 of them, at best. The other 85 moving parts are unknown to those ESPs and if you (as their customer) don't know about those 85 other parts you think you are getting great results. In reality without all 100 of those moving parts being actively monitored, maintained, and serviced on a pro-active basis, you are actually getting pretty poor results. But you would know from poor vs. amazing? No, because the vendor you may be using is telling you "everything is fine" when it's far from fine. We see this all the time and when we ask prospective customers "how are your results with your vendor?" the answer is always "Oh things are absolutely great, they are so wonderful." Then we show them the blacklists they are on, plus the bounces they are not seeing, and then they start to ask their vendor the questions. Soon after, they leave the vendor. The old saying "like taking candy from a baby" is so true in this business. Once the email marketer sees the light, they bail out on their vendor very quickly.
A recent example of this was with a story a retailer told us. They were forced to use a budget vendor because their upper management felt the best vendor had the lowest prices combined with a "wet" website (full of fancy graphics, spinning buttons, and moving icons.) The upper management didn't really understand what an ESP did so their goal was price-only. After two years passed the upper management of the retailer started to ask questions about deliverability. They wanted to make sure their messages were being sent and received properly. Their vendor gave them vague answers (as many ESPs do) so they started looking for other vendors to use for comparing results. They came to Global IntelliSystems and we were happy to give them a free run to see how things compared. Guess what happened? The results they had with Global were far above their current vendor and they even found some list members that had not received emails in years - all of a sudden getting their messages.
Why the improvement in results? There is no magic, no secret power, it's just experience and knowing what works and what does not. It also helps knowing all of the administrators at the major ISP's and online service firms (Hotmail, Gmail, Earthlink, Comcast, AOL, Yahoo, etc.) so problems can be fixed and put to rest. Experience counts in this business and you can't get experience on a shoestring budget, it just cannot be done.
When shopping for an ESP, look into their history, look into them closely. If they offer a price that is too-good-to-be-true - run away fast before you get suckered into signing up. This advice just may make a huge difference in improving your monthly revenues. Here are some questions you should ask your vendor to see if they really know their stuff....
1. Are your delivery servers in the cloud or do you have direct control and ownership of them?
(if they say cloud, the conversation should end right there. The cloud is not where you want your proprietary lists and customer information.)
2. Do you manage all of the ISP relations in terms of block clearing, deferral clearing, and deliverability issues? And do you handle those throughout the day?
(if they say it's your responsibility - the conversation should end - it's the vendors job to manage issues in real-time for you.)
3. Do I have access to all of the raw bounce message data so I can cross-check bounce data?
(This is critical because many ESP's falsely categorize bounces so you delete people from your list who should stay as active subscribers.)
4. Do you offer 24/7 whitelist management for our dedicated servers that we use for sending mail?
(This is kind of a "gotcha" question for them - you must be given dedicated servers for your company and whitelisting should be actively maintained by the vendor.)
5. Do you delete information/subscribers from my list?
(Many ESP's will delete complaints or any email addresses that don't seem proper without telling you. You must have control over every address - they belong to you.)
If you get a NO on any of those questions - you should move onto the next vendor. These things are actually quite simple but the ESP community is full of "kids" that really don't understand how serious email marketing is to your business. Seek out a better vendor that works with you to help you achieve success.
Questions? Feel free to email me directly at JBROGAN@GLIQ.COM - I would be happy to answer your questions or help you with email marketing services anytime.