Handling e-mail in-house vs. hiring it out

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Is it best to hire an e-mail service provider or to handle e-mail distribution in-house? For most marketers, that decision is based on time and money. ESPs often provide automation and templates that appeal to marketers with smaller lists and even less time. But when is it time to move to a hosted model?

Chris John, director of business development for SocketLabs, which provides both on-premise as well as hosted e-mail solutions, said there should be a lot more thought involved when making such a big decision.

“People tend to think about bringing their e-mail on-site when their volume warrants it. They want to save money,” he said. “What I tell customers is that once they start doing millions of messages a month, there's usually a cost savings involved by taking the e-mail server in-house.” Here are four questions every marketer will want to ask before making the switch to or from an in-house e-mail server:

  1. Can staff handle the pace and support? An in-house server will require someone to run it. That person must be able to work with marketers either to teach them how to use the system or coordinate work. Most important, that person must be able and willing to work with Internet service providers, reputation companies and white-listing organizations such as ReturnPath and Cisco Systems' IronPort. “You need the resources internally to handle what is essentially a daily job,” John said. “Even something as simple as setting up feedback loops with the major ISPs can take a big chunk of a day.”
  2. Is your company looking for more control? Some businesses simply want to control their own destinies. They don't, for example, want to sit back while servers are down or an IP address is blocked. “Some people don't want to have to go through a double opt-in process, either,” John said. “ISPs are getting more strict about data and best practices, and there are some marketers who don't want to deal with that hassle
  3. Do you have a marketing automation system already installed? Marketers use these systems to better track campaigns across platforms and media. E-mail marketing should be tightly integrated with other marketing and advertising efforts, but not every ESP has the ability to do that. Sure, John said, you can download metrics, but for some marketers that may not be enough. “The ability to track a campaign as a whole is what many larger companies are looking for,” he said. “When analytics can't mix and match, you're going to get segmented views instead of seeing your campaign as a whole.”
  4. Are you getting the results you are looking for? “Is your e-mail being delivered and do you have full insight into your campaigns? For a lot of people, it all comes down to ROI,” John said.
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