What to consider when changing e-mail service providers

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The e-mail marketing world got a little smaller this week as e-mail service provider CheetahMail, an Experian company, announced it will acquire analytics provider Harvest Solutions.

Terms of the deal were not released, but CheetahMail President Matthew Seeley confirmed that Harvest Solutions would bring additional analytic features to its customer base.

Announcements of mergers and acquisitions have become commonplace in the e-mail industry.

"One of the most common questions we’re asked these days is, ‘Are you being acquired, too?’ It’s a concern," said Bill Nussey, CEO of ESP Silverpop. Some marketers are abandoning their old companies for larger, more established ones that are less likely to be taken over.

 Nussey, along with Chris Baggott, co-founder of ExactTarget, and Lana McGilvray, VP-marketing at Skylist, had these tips to help marketers make a smooth transition to a new ESP.

  • Consider analytics and customer relationship management. Amy Fanale, director of global marketing for b-to-b software provider Transor, recently moved from an in-house e-mail marketing program to ExactTarget. One of her requirements: Whichever ESP she contracted with needed to integrate with her Siebel database. "We needed to be able to make changes in our customer database and have those changes go straight through to our e-mail marketing database," she said.
  • Don’t jump ship without testing the waters. Silverpop’s Nussey suggested running multiple test campaigns before putting campaigns into production with your new ESP. "Think about overlapping production for one month. Yes, it will cost you a little more, but you’re probably going to run into some issues when you first get started," he said. "It leaves you a safety net if something goes wrong."
  • Expect a drop in deliverability. Your customers and prospects are used to receiving e-mail from a specific set of IP addresses. Once you start sending from a new set, it might take a while before you’re on their white lists, Skylist’s McGilvray explained. The result: fewer messages reaching recipients.
  • Tread carefully when it comes to data migration. Your two biggest pitfalls, ExactTarget’s Baggott said, are not importing your suppression list and not being able to take your metrics data with you. "When you’re picking a new vendor, you have to make sure it is contractually obligated to provide you with your data when you leave," he said. "In some cases they won’t, so you have to plan for your escape over a few months, collecting and replicating your data as you go." As for your suppression list, make sure you import it into the new system when you upload your lists or face plenty of spam reports.
  • Don’t forget about change management. Before you make a switch, map all internal and external processes of your campaign cycle, Silverpop’s Nussey said. Each person who touches your campaign needs to be involved, informed and trained during the switchover. "Take into account that everyone is going to need a little extra time to get familiar with the new system," he said. "People absolutely underestimate the magnitude of such a change, even with the most intuitive, simple systems."
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