Category Archives: Email Service Provider

ESP Review Results

Sorry for the lack of posts, but the search and implementation of our new ESP can be time consuming.

We ended up contracting with ExactTarget late in November.  Our contract with eDialog (now eBay Enterprise Marketing Services) expired at the end of December.  With the holidays in there that left us with about 3 weeks to transition.

We reviewed eDialog, ExactTarget, Bronto, and SilverPop.  I also had a brief conversation with StrongView. These are all great vendors, are competitively priced, and I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them.  Different vendors may be more appropriate for you depending on how you go to market, what kind of support you want, and your desire to implement data, but they are all solid vendors.  I’ll try to post later about why we made the decision we did, a decision we are happy with.

I do want to briefly talk about eDialog.  (I just can’t get myself to type eBay Enterprise Marketing Services or to say EEMS.)  They provide great service.  They are used to providing clients with a full service business model.  They are willing and very capable of taking care of everything for you.  You can contract with them and not need to think about emails again if that is the way you do business.  If you are looking for a vendor that will implement your email marketing, I highly recommend eDialog.

But that isn’t the way we do business. We tend to want to do it all ourselves and look for a tool set that enables, simplifies, and streamlines that.

So before I get into why we chose ExactTarget, in some subsequent post, I wanted to list what I will miss about eDialog.

  • Great, personal customer service.  We had weekly phone calls with our eDialog team, but even between those meetings I could call or email and count on a quick response.
  • Symbols.  eDialog makes it very easy to embed variables, what they call Symbols, into emails.  Lots of other vendors provide that capability, but it is very simple and straight forward in eDialog.
  • Proofing and Seed Lists.  eDialog has a great process for proofing emails, both right within their platform, and by sending out sample emails to an internal proofing list.  Emails sent out to a proofing list are populated with real customer data, so you can see what your emails will look like when your customer receives them.  Seeds are easily appended to each email drop, if that is what you want to do.
  • Proactive deliverability team.  I never had to worry about whether our emails we getting delivered to our customers.  Early on, when we were warming up our IP address, I would get emails from eDialog telling me when an ISP was blocking our emails and stating that they were acting to resolve the block.  Sure enough the next send would go through.  I’m sure that part of our success was due to that proactive approach and consistent delivery right to people’s inbox.

Followup from Responsys – for your continued amusement…

Soon after the conversation I documented in my previous post, my boss and our CEO got the following email.  What was Responsys trying to accomplish?  Is this a proven sales technique?  Does this approach seem bizarre? I suspect this isn’t some rogue sales person, especially since it didn’t come from the person I spoke with, so it might illuminate the philosophy of some higher-ups.

BTW, I certainly don’t expect this, but if somebody at Responsys wants to to apologize to me, especially for misrepresenting the value I place on revenue, I will certainly post that apology.

The italicized comments wrapped in square brackets are mine, or are edits to protect the innocent.

Dear [my boss] and [CEO],

We just connected with Victor Nuovo from your team and are concerned about the direction that your marketing efforts are currently headed. Without hesitation, Victor confirmed, that the decision on choosing an email service provider will be based around pure cost savings, rather than maximizing revenue. [No, I told them that revenue, I believe I used the word “value”, was important but that I didn’t believe Responsys added value other competitive vendor’s couldn’t provide. If I were truly considering only cost, there are open-source email software tools I could use.] As the digital marketing space continues to shift, your main competitors such as [Company A], are choosing to increase their customer retention rate and their return on investment. If [my employer] continues to focus on price versus finding new ways to optimize their digital strategy, it will continue to fall behind its competitors. [Hmm, I wasn’t aware that we were falling behind our competitors.]

Within 3 months of implementing Responsys, [Company A] reached their first goal of increased online sales revenue by 27%. [We increased email revenue by 50% when we switched to e-Dialog, but read more about that in my previous post.] This is through the capability of having:

– Targeted marketing campaigns to enable more strategic marketing segmentation and decisions

– A customizable management console, offering a toolset for testing, accelerating the time to send value for customers

– The ability to leverage large amounts of both online and offline data to individualize messaging based on where they are within their customer lifecycle

Please feel free to also connect with your neighbor and current Responsys Customer, [Company B] —see video.

In summary, digital marketing can no longer have a “merchandise driven” strategy, but instead a “customer driven” approach. Your customer expects you to know about their web and email behaviors, their preferences, and what channel they desire to be spoken through. It’s our goal as marketers to leverage that data to deepen customer engagement and ultimately maximize revenue across the digital channels. Is [my employer] ready to shift to a customer driven model? We would welcome the opportunity to discuss.

Thanks,

[somebody person other than the person I spoke with]

Reviewing Email Service Providers: Responsys

Responsys was one of the vendors we considered in 2011 that I did not consider in 2013. The reason was simple, they are overpriced and, frankly, full of themselves. I researched them thoroughly in 2011 and while they do provide a quality system, great friendly user interface, and, I suspect, good customer service, there was nothing that justified the premium they were demanding. When I choose e-Dialog and informed them of that, they got very pissy, even to the point of insisting I had made the wrong decision for many months after it was made.

In constrast, vendors like Bronto, who also didn’t get the contract, were civil and helpful even when they knew they were out of the running. Their helpfulness after not winning the contract helped them build a long lasting relationship that serves them well this time around. Responsible email program managers owe it to their employer to re-evaluate ESPs every time a contract comes due. Sales managers should know that, and make sure sales people don’t burn bridges if they lose a contract.

I mention all this because I just had an interesting interaction with Responsys on October 11. They heard from a peer of mine that I was looking and sought me out. I replied I wasn’t considering them unless they would be competitive with their price and told them the range I was looking at. They responnded, “OK, let’s talk”.  I seriously doubted they would be competitive, but I thought it was worth 15 minutes to find out.

The conversation happened as scheduled, and the sales person mentioned early on that I should expect them to be more expensive than the other vendors I was looking at. I thought to myself, “then why did you waste your time”, since I was clear beforehand that price was an issue. He tried to argue that retailers like us saw huge increases in revenue when they switched to Responsys and that I must not consider value important. I replied, in a very matter-of-fact tone, that I did consider value important, but that I didn’t believe Responsys could provide any significant value that the other vendors I was considering couldn’t provide. That really set him off and he essentially hung up on me, after rattling off a list of their clients that saw up to 25% growth. So even though I wasted 10 minutes of my time, I was amused by the whole sequence and can confirm that the people at Responsys are still full of themselves and get pissy when they realize they aren’t going to get the business.

For the record, we experienced double the growth that Responsys says some of their new clients experienced in the year after we joined e-Dialog. But I wouldn’t credit too much of that increase to e-Dialog, and I’m not sure any of it is due to any unique capability e-Dialog provides. Instead, it was due to focus and a dedication to accelerate our email program, an effort e-Dialog certainly enabled but didn’t drive. I don’t believe we would have seen less of an increase with any of the other major vendors we considered, and I don’t think it would have been any greater if we had chosen Responsys.

LATE BREAKING NEWS: We got a rather interesting follow-up email from Responsys, which I’ll share soon.

Another Email Serivice Provider Review

The leaves are at their peak here in Vermont and 2013 is an odd numbered year, so it must be time for another evaluation of Email Service Providers.  I won’t share much at this point, since I am still having discussions with vendors and negotiations are yet to come, but I will provide updates along the way when appropriate, with a full update after the fact.

The ESPs I am considering this year are e-Dialog, our current provider and consequently the path of least resistance, ExactTarget, which is definitely a heavy weight with its acquisition of iGoDigital last year it its acquisition by SalesForce this year, SilverPop, which brings with it some much needed marketing automation, and Bronto, which I always liked but which oddly enough seems to be want to play the role of high-priced vendor this year.

The one contender I reviewed last year, which I am not reviewing this year is Responsys.  Don’t get me wrong, they are a strong contender, but they seem to think they can charge a huge premium over that of vendors that provide similar or stronger features.  Of course, there are plenty of people who will buy the most expensive wine on the wine list because they can, even if there are better wines at lower prices available, so I’m sure they will continue to do well.  I did have a rather amusing interaction with them, which I will share with you later.

Great Customer Service at e-Dialog

It’s is time for me to praise e-Dialog again, this time about their customer service.  We set up an email improperly last week and scheduled it to go out yesterday at 9:00 AM.  When it didn’t go out, I tried to figure out what was wrong, but being a newbie, I couldn’t.  After sending them an email they took a look at it, fixed the problem, and the email went on its merry way.  All this on a long weekend.

More positive updates to come, I am sure.

BTW, if you are an e-Dialog user, I’d be interested in setting up an online forum or users group.  I’d like to be able to discuss how to use their tool-set with other, more experienced users.

Busy Week for Emails Last Week

Last week was a busy week for emails, with volumes not seen since before Christmas. Of course, most of those emails were of the ##% off variety. If email marketing professionals are going to contribute to the marketing mix, they will need to figure out how emails can be used to drive sales without discounting everything. Unfortunately 95% of the emails I read feature discounts, including the emails that I’m responsible for. That is what we’ve trained our subscribers to expect.

Things are going well with e-Dialog. We got five emails out last week in our first full week with them. By the end of the week click rates were as strong as they have been. Data integration is our next major undertaking, as is a triggered welcome series.

Email Service Provider Review

I have been meaning to talk about a recent Email Service Provider review I conducted in the last four months of 2011.  The short story is that we ended up choosing e-Dialog for their great new tool set, reputation for service, and competitive pricing.

Now for the long story.

We started our search with almost 20 vendors on our list.  Entry level vendors, such as iContact and ConstantContact were not considered or were quickly dropped, since we were looking to do more than batch and blast.  Instead we wanted to rely more on triggered events, dynamic content, and advanced segmentation.  We had been using MailChimp, which is a phenomenal tool but one that doesn’t have the features we want.

The starting list included BlueHornet, Bronto, CheetahMail, e-Dialog, emailDirect, ExactTarget, Responsys, SilverPop, and StrongMail.  There were others in the initial list that were immediately eliminated because they either didn’t respond to calls or emails, or because they fell into that “entry level” category.

Of this select group, CheetahMail was quickly dropped because their technology doesn’t easily adapt itself to a self-service model.  If you are looking for a full service model, then you should definitely consider them, but I found their tool set clunky and far from user friendly.  Since we were looking for a self-serve model, but also wanted access to professional services, their business model didn’t really fit ours.

BlueHornet was getting a lot of buzz, but their technology didn’t seem as advanced as some of the other vendors.  The same was also true of emailDirect.  Remember, that we were under a tight timeline, so I may have not given these two vendors fair consideration.  I was looking to narrow down the list, and it didn’t take much to get cut.

The next two vendors to get cut were Bronto and SilverPop, and both for the same reason: I was looking for a company that could integrate relational data into their platform, so that we could use that relational data in our segmentation, triggers, and dynamic content, and neither company at the time could do that.  Of the two, I was really sad to have to cut Bronto out of the mix.  Aside from their ability to absorb relational data, they have a great platform.  It is both powerful and easy to use: a rare combination.  I had a lot of comfort with the people there and would have liked to do business with them.  I understand Bronto (and SilverPop too, I believe) will be able to work with relational data sometime this year.  If I were starting this review later this year Bronto would be in the final bidding.

StrongMail was eliminated next.  They also have amazing technology, but they are used to selling software and although they are moving rapidly to embrace a hosted business model and developing their professional services offering, I still felt like I was buying software.  Watch out for this company, however, because if they are able to leverage their technology in a hosted environment, they will be hard to beat.

That left us with eDialog, ExactTarget, and Responsys.  ExactTarget was in the mix primarily because they are the most competitively priced vendor.  Their technology is also incredibly sophisticated, but like CheetahMail, a bit clunky, old fashioned, and difficult to use.  They need to invest in a new UI, which could make their product much more competitive.  With ExactTarget, a trained email profession could pretty much do anything, but you’d need a lot of training, patience, and technical help.  I felt that ExactTarget’s technology was at least as flexible and powerful as any of the other vendors, maybe more so, but that the price to be paid was not one that would be buried in the contract, but in the time involved.

That left us with eDialog and Responsys.  Both of these companies are great companies.  The Responsys sales effort is a beautiful thing to watch and any student of the sales process would be well served by observing Responsys.  One can tell that is is tightly choreographed and aggressive, but it feels natural and comfortable for the most part.

Here’s my brief summary of eDialog vs. Responsys: eDialog is a service company that is adding sophisticated technology to their offering, while Responsys is a technology company that is adding sophisticated services to their offering.  From my admittedly limited perspective, they haven’t quite yet met in the middle, with eDialog being slightly stronger with their services and Responsys being slightly stronger with their technology. eDialog’s parent company (eBay) appears to have invested in eDialog’s technology and I expect them to make great strides in the coming years.

Aside from that, the big difference is in the cost.  With ExactTarget throwing low ball offers out there the other vendors have to decide whether they are going to also play that game.  Although we got into negotiations with only a few of these companies, many acknowledged ExactTarget’s pricing and how it requires them to react.  Responsys, and from what I hear CheetahMail, are exceptions to this.  I my eyes, the difference between the technology provided eDialog and Responsys was not proportional the the difference in cost.  Especially given eDialog’s significant and recent improvements to their technology.

Since the time when we signed our agreement with eDialog,  I have become even more impressed with their company.  They have been great at holding our hands through the transition period, stepping in to manage things for us that we weren’t yet able to manage.  I know that if I have a question or concern it will be answered or addressed immediately.  I look forward to a successful email program in 2012 and am sure that much of that success will be enabled by eDialog.  I’ll continue to post about my experience with them as we gain more experience and history.