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Breaking Down Technical Concepts: How Marketing Can Talk to IT About ESP Evaluation

By Pratik Bhadra

So you’re considering a new email service provider?

Implementing a new technology that is core to your marketing program and thinking through the strategies and campaigns you’ll be able to launch once you go live in the new system should be exciting for your team.

Of course, getting to that point of excitement isn’t always easy. Because your ESP is so core to your marketing, making the switch comes with a lot of considerations.

On the marketing capabilities side, your team should have a good handle on what you need based on what’s working and what’s not with your current setup.

But it’s not just your marketing team that needs to buy in to the change. You likely also need support from your IT team to confirm that the technology’s technical capabilities measure up to certain standards.

4 Areas of Discussion Between Marketing & IT for ESP Evaluation

When it comes to evaluating your choice for a new ESP, at a minimum you need your IT team to look at four core areas: Scalability, availability, IT overhead and maintenance.

These four consideration areas are nothing new, but the questions your IT team needs to ask have changed, largely thanks to changes in your own email marketing needs.

So how can your marketing team approach those technical conversations to best frame what you need for your IT team? Here’s what you need to know to have a meaningful discussion.

1) Scalability

The question: What does the ESP’s throughput on transactional and personalized emails look like? Does the ESP have the right infrastructure to handle a high volume of those emails at scale, with high speed and good deliverability?

Why it matters: Having an email system that can reliably scale to handle increasing volumes of email quickly is important to supporting future business growth as you increase your email subscribers. But this scalability should apply to more than just promotional email blasts. As your marketing team shifts its approach to email marketing and starts sending more and more personalized emails, including triggered emails that send based on customer behavior onsite, you need a system that can handle that transactional volume at speed and with good deliverability.

What to look for: A best-in-class solution will be able to scale to any send volume for promotional blasts as well as personalized and transactional messages. Furthermore, the ESP should be able to guarantee that send speed and deliverability will scale effectively alongside that increased volume. Along those lines, the ESP should always be planning for a higher throughput to anticipate and prepare for any volume increases.

2) Availability

The question: What kind of availability does the ESP offer? In other words, what happens if the ESP’s APIs or services go down?

Why it matters: This discussion is all about risk assessment. Because email is core to your marketing program, understanding the provider’s commitment to availability — including future promises around uptime and past track record on meeting those promises — is essential to assessing the risk of potential service interruptions that impact whether or not emails will get sent and delivered as planned.

What to look for: Platforms built on cloud services benefit from relying on a vast network of highly available data centers. A cloud-based model offers what’s known as “active/active zero downtime,” meaning that the application is always running, even if one data center goes down. This model is far less risky than one in which the ESP has its own data centers because in those cases, if one data center goes down, there is far less redundancy (perhaps only one or two back ups) than a large-scale cloud provider like Google offers, along with a fairly long time for disaster recovery and business continuity to get back to operational state.

3) IT Overhead

The question: How much work does your IT team need to take on to set up retail data feeds into the ESP so that those data points are actionable through the ESP?

Why it matters: Your IT team needs to plan for this work, meaning they need to get it on their schedule and then actually complete the work. That makes the setup efforts an opportunity cost for work they would have otherwise done to innovate and/or maintain other parts of your organization’s technology stack.

What to look for: An ESP that provides an easy way to get actionable retail data into its system will enable personalization at scale for your team. Critically, this type of setup should be possible for your IT team to get live with little to no work. Essentially, you should view it as the ESP’s role to provide your company with an actionable retail performance platform with minimal (if any) IT involvement.

4) Maintenance

The question: How often does the ESP update its software? And how do those updates impact system availability, delivery of emails in ongoing campaigns and planning for marketing workflows?

Why it matters: Some ESPs deliver updates on a monthly or quarterly basis and take their systems down completely to deploy those changes. With this setup, your team must wait for a release cycle to finish before seeing any improvements (even to system bugs) and must sometimes plan for a prolonged window of downtime (often up to eight hours) in which you can’t send any marketing emails. This type of extended downtime on nights or weekends may have been okay in the past, but it doesn’t work for modern email marketing programs. In a world where your marketing team runs campaigns designed to interact with customers whenever they engage onsite — whatever day or time that might be — several hours of planned downtime for maintenance is no longer acceptable.

What to look for: An ESP that offers regular and speedy software updates without any system interruptions will eliminate the need to plan your campaigns around maintenance schedules or worry about continuously flowing triggers not reaching customers at the right time. Furthermore, an ESP that’s more nimble with change will provide the best working experience for your team and keep you at the forefront of innovation. To mitigate the risk of such regular changes, you need an ESP that backs up these deployments with an entire suite of controls that monitors for issues and contains the areas of the system affected by each update.

What’s Next for Your Email Marketing Program?

What else do you need to consider as you map out the future of your email marketing program? Check out our Ultimate Guide to ESP Selection for the Modern Retail Marketer.

Pratik Bhadra

Pratik Bhadra

Pratik is the Head of Product at Bluecore. In this role, Pratik leads the evolution of the next generation email solution and the leapfrog to a retail performance platform. Previously, he was the VP of Product at Zeta Global, where he led the product initiative to define and build Zeta's marketing cloud, incorporating several ESPs and marketing databases to form Zeta's flagship product line. Prior to Zeta Global, Pratik held several software management roles at National Instruments. Pratik holds a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science from The University of Texas at Austin.