Tag Archives: SilverPop

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.

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.