How to Buy Email Marketing Services

Lauren Simonds

Updated · Jun 03, 2010

Email marketing can appear deceptively easy: It's cheap, relatively simple to implement and for a small email blast, it requires little manpower. However, the power of email marketing is growing with the technology. Though an email marketing campaign can be handled in-house, there are a myriad of email marketing service providers ready and able to provide a more sophisticated bundle of services.

For companies choosing to handle all marketing in-house, many are simply turning to their current CRM solution. For example, Nucleus Research vice president Rebecca Wetterman says, “Microsoft CRM [offers] marketing directly out of CRM, and that way [a company] can track coming back in” to see how effective the email blast was.


Blast Off With Email Marketing

Companies that are sending out larger email blasts, or those looking for a more complex bundle of options, may opt to partner with an email marketing firm. In seeking the one that best fits your needs, there are a number of key considerations to keep in mind.


Wetterman says the process has to start with self-examination. “Before a company even goes to look at a provider, they need to know what their ultimate end game is — what their goal is — because that's going to determine both the kind of vendor that they select and the frequency with which they use the vendor,” she says.

The next step, according to Aberdeen Group research director Peter Ostrow, is to check references thoroughly for every email marketing provider you're considering. “Interview at least two customers from each provider, whose business needs are similar to yours,” he advises.

And if possible, Wetterman says, get a trial of any solution you're looking at seriously. “That's certainly something that companies ought to be able to do,” she says.

When examining each offering, Wetterman says the user interface is often the most obvious differentiator. “I think, looking forward, we'll see more and more tools like what Brainshark does, where you can send out an email and actually track who's read it, who's forwarded it, and those kinds of things which just provide companies with even richer information about what they've done with the content they sent out,” she says.

The point, Wetterman says, is that it's not enough just to know that a message was delivered. “It's more effective if I can tell whether it's actually read, so looking for a solution that has some of those capabilities is likely to get you further down the curve of knowing whether this is a good lead that you should pursue further,” she says.

Barton Goldenberg, founder and president of ISM, says it's crucial to seek out an email marketing provider that gives you that kind of functionality. “If you want to do sophisticated tracking, like who opened the email, who clicked through, where did they go on the web site, how often did they do it, what time did they do it, you have to go to a company with more sophisticated email marketing capabilities like ExactTarget or Silverpop,” he says.

Nucleus' Wetterman says that kind of targeting is key. “We're seeing financial services and insurance firms, for example, taking data about their customers to send very targeted emails that are very focused on the specific needs of that customer group, be it parents that have teenagers that are about to get driver's licenses, or folks that fit into some other demographic that they want to reach specifically,” she says.

Ultimately, Wetterman says, that's one of the key benefits of email marketing. “You can do some more targeted lists that look very personal to the end user, even though they may be based on thousands and thousands of names,” she says. “So taking the time to do some targeting and understand who's actually on your list, and developing the content that's going to be most attractive to them, is likely worth it.”


Email in the Cloud

Wetterman says the fact that more and more cloud-hosted lists are now available is good for a number of reasons. “[You] get a lot more names, [and] they also can use the strength of multiple users to weed out the bad names… The challenge in the old days was you bought a list and you didn't know how good it was, and you might never know – whereas today, the marketing list may be shared by different organizations using the same service,” she says. “You get a lot better feedback about who is actually on the list and how effective the list is in reaching the contacts that you want.”


It's most important, of course, to build and manage your own list, in addition to any that you may get from elsewhere. “Making it easy for potential leads or potential contacts to subscribe to a list, or be a part of that list, is a good way to augment whatever resources you may be getting from other sources as well,” Wetterman says.

And when moving forward with a campaign, Wetterman says less is generally more. “The more professional and targeted you can be, the better off you're going to be. One message once a week that's very targeted and compelling is much more likely to be read, and much less likely to be unsubscribed, than a message every day,” she says.

That's also true in terms of the design of the emails themselves. “People are less likely to read through a newsletter if they have to click on pictures, or if there are a lot of graphic elements that create attachments that could or could pose problems for them – straight tends to be better,” Wetterman says.

Mailing less frequently, Wetterman says, also allows you to take the time you need to ensure quality. “It's your professional communication out there,” she says. “So just as you would check a brochure before you send it to the printer, you want to take a close look and make sure that whatever you're presenting via email sets the tone, both in terms of being professional and being attractive to your audience.”

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