So I’m wading through my Inbox on a Monday morning, like a lot of people I’m sure do, when the Subject Line, “6 reasons to fire your ESP“, jumps out at me from my iMedia Connection subscription. 

Since I’ve spent lot of time studying ESPs; a lot of time working with clients on vendor selection; consulted with ESPs; and regularly monitored the ESP marketplace during my tenure at a multi-billion dollar enterprise organization with 8-digit email channel revenue, might be something of interest to me

Rather than leave a long windy blog-length comment, why not just blog my comments here….

While the author mentions that legacy email tools can be immovable objects within an organization for several reasons, he didn’t really list any of those reasons.  I don’t want to do his job or get off track talking about some of those reasons, but let me jot a couple down that quickly come to mind:

  1. Political – It’s not just you, it’s everybody.  It’s about control in all its different shades within an organization.  Sometimes it’s Empire Building and battle for budget and head-count; sometimes it’s a hot-potato.  It’s as different as organizations and the people in them.
  2. Cost-Based – It could cost a deeply integrated organization $150,000 or more to move vendors, and that’s just from a technical cost perspective.  How many years will it take to recoup technical migration costs  at a CPM savings of $0.05-$0.10?  The same can be said from a productivity perspective.

There are enough shades of gray and nuances in just those two reasons to make a blog post, alone….  But let’s get back to the 6 reasons to fire your ESP….

Reason #1 – Name = $

I’ll agree that it’s a good idea to keep current on market rates for comparable services, that’s just prudent, but WTF is this guy talking about ESPs pricing their services based on their brand name?

Ya know what?  In almost 14 years in this space I’ve never seen that happen.  Can some vendors be a little snootier than others?  Sure, just like some can be bigger whores than others, so what?  Do ESPs beat their chests when they come out with something that they think is cool or revolutionary?  Hell, yes!  What, do you expect them to do, keep it a secret in a competitive marketplace?  Gimme a break…. 

Let me tell you a little secret about ESPs and their users; most ESP clients use less  than 30% of their ESP’s capabilities.  The thing is, not all clients use the same 30%, so one should expect an ESP or appliance to do much much more than they need.  ESPs do not sit back waiting for users to leverage more of the tool before advancing their product.   Often ESPs advance their product and beat on their chest more for the competition than what the end-user will ever implement – and that’s to the user’s advantage, not a detriment via some perceived over-inflated pricing.

I’m also going to agree that renewal time is the best time to negotiate a better rate from your ESP, but if you’re going to renegotiate anything contracted, isn’t renewal time always the best time for that?  But I digress….

Reason #2 – Integration

Okay, let’s start at the beginning; if you can’t integrate your data with your ESP then that wasn’t a concern when you first contracted with them.  That’s not their fault.  I’d guess that you were probably looking more at price-points than you were ESP capabilities; again, not the fault of the vendor.  Do you see a theme here?

At the core of the most elaborate relational data base configuration is a series of flat files full of delimited data.  Quite often relational data is flattened before being sent to your ESP.  It’s generally going to move in one of four ways;

  1. It’s going to be uploaded manually
  2. It’s going to transfer via FTP
  3. It’s going to transfer via XML (or maybe SOAP)
  4. It’s going to post via GET

At the end of the day, you know your data schema better than any email vendor and it’s your job to provide data to the vendor.  Vendors might have pre-defined fields where some data may be required to reside, but matching your fields to the vendor isn’t that big a deal in your data API feeds.

The author goes on to talk about difficulties in segmenting or easy-use of data, but that’s manipulating resident data, not integrating data from other locations.  Sorry, but it’s apples and oranges.  Now, if you need better control of your data through a UI than you did when you contracted with the vendor, then that might be a legitimate reason to “fire” an ESP, but again, the “reason” listed was “Integration”. 

Now, if the vendor can’t accept and process the data that it’s being fed it fast enough, well, who’s job was it to consider scalability when contracting with that vendor? 

Here’s what bites my ass about Reason #2; the author comments about heavy consulting fees to do something (integrate data) relatively simple. 

I’ve had clients that after two weeks couldn’t provide me with their data schema.  I’ve had clients that because they could mirror their data on a vendor did, even though it wasn’t needed, and then wonder why it takes so long to query millions of rows and hundreds of fields across multiple data tables.  I’ve had clients that randomly change field names (not following even their own schema) out of nowhere.  Not one of those things was under my or a vendor’s control. 

You pay heavy consulting fees when you don’t know what data you have, what data you need to move to the vendor, or the best way to do it.  You pay for knowledge or experience that you don’t have.  Sometimes you buy that information from your vendor, and sometimes you buy it from someone like me.  In the end, it’s cheaper to do it right the first time than it is to do it over….  If you don’t know your data or how to move it, then don’t complain when you have to hire someone to it for you.  Again, not a vendor’s fault….

Reason #3 – Help Me!

I really don’t know what to say here….  Did the vendor offer a dedicated account manager when you contracted?  If they did and then took it away, that might be a reason to shop for a new vendor, but if what you got is what you bought is that the fault of the vendor?   Not everyone wants or needs handholding by their vendor.  Those that do should expect to pay for it either directly through a service fee or time-on,  or expect it to be rolled into usage fees.

This is becoming more about who is choosing the vendor – and their level of experience – than the vendor chosen….

Reason #4 – How do I use this thing?

Here the author’s expectation seems to be that the vendor will train each  email person the client hires for free.  High-end vendors that offer Webinar or in-person training do so for a price.  Most vendors these days offer some sort of on-demand training.  Of course, available training should have been a consideration when first selecting the vendor, but because you didn’t it’s the vendors fault for not training last week’s receptionist to be this week’s email guru?

If you’ve outgrown a tool and no longer find it productive to operate, that might be a reason to fire an ESP, but to make them responsible for training advanced concepts to someone without the requisite skills is unrealistic….

Reason #5 – You want the reporting to work? Surprise!

Are you serious?  Didn’t you ask questions about reporting when you demo’d the product?  I mean, this is just silly.  Who would contract with a vendor to deploy and track email messages without checking to see what kind of reporting was available?

In fairness, not all vendors calculate metrics the same way.  The Measurement Accuracy Roundtable of the Email Experience Council is working to change that.  But again, these things are about due diligence when selecting a vendor.  If you don’t know enough about contracting ESP services, then maybe it would be a good idea to hire someone that does….

Reason #6 – A simple case of over-promising and under-delivering

I’m going to partially agree with the author here.  Believe it or not there are  sales people that don’t know their product – or the industry – as well as they think that they do.  On more than one occasion I’ve had a rep “correct” me about the capabilities of their product only to find out later that I was correct and maybe they need a little more product training….

If’ it’s bait and switch, that’s one thing – and that vendor probably won’t be around long enough to fire.  If it’s because the buyer didn’t do their homework, or maybe they thought they were a little smarter than the vendor and was getting some sort of incredible deal, then that’s the buyer’s fault as much as the vendor.

Most vendors will give some sort of SLA attached to performance and up-time, and many will give a 30-day out clause and put their money where their mouth is.

As far as coming up with reasons to fire an ESP, this post is sorely lacking.  It would have been better written as a remedial guide of things to look for when selecting an ESP or appliance.  I think that it still would have been found wanting based on the information in the article, but then again, that’s one of the reasons that a VP of Marketing hires someone like me rather than attempting to do it them self….  I’m just sayin’….