By Karen J. Bannan
If the calendar change is making you think about switching your e-mail service provider, here are a few tips from Steve Yastrow, principal of Chicago-based consultancy Yastrow Marketing, and Cliff Allen, president of Los Angeles-based marketing company Coravue Inc.
- Simplicity is key. Whether you’re outsourcing everything or managing your campaigns in-house, you’ve still got to do one thing: Upload your messages and input (or upload) your e-mail database. These processes should be as simple as possible so you can get your message out quickly. Ask about the company’s automated tools and processes, Allen said. "Your vendor should have the ability to handle complex database needs," he said. "You should be able to manage all your lists from a single database easily. This lowers the number of e-mails you have to send out and helps you keep your list cleaner."
- Read the fine print. Fees should be clearly stated. Does the vendor charge for set up? If you’re going with a do-it-yourself model, make sure you won’t pay too much if you want to outsource at a later date, Yastrow said.
- Value uniqueness. One of the most beneficial features—at least to your sales force—is the ability to track open and click-through activity by individual, Allen said. "You’ll want to build a history of click-throughs over time so you can learn about a prospect’s interests and develop a profile for that person. The value of a b-to-b setting is that the presales environment lasts six to 24 months. If you can track that data, you can use it to drive campaigns and sales efforts."
- Look for strong analytics. There are two main metrics you probably care about when it comes to e-mail marketing: conversion rates and open rates. Bounce rates and unsubscribes are also important. Your vendor should put all of the above at your fingertips in report format so you don’t have to slog through raw data yourself. "Choose a vendor who can help you interpret results," Yastrow said. "Work with someone who will give you advice on how to improve your efforts."
- Find a good listener. Make sure your vendor understands what you’re trying to do and is willing to help you move ahead. Avoid vendors with their own agenda. "People have this problem with all kinds of marketing," Yastrow said. "The worst thing you can do is select an e-mail partner who is a hammer in search of a nail—they have a tool that they are going to use no matter what," Yastrow said.