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The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Selecting an ESP

By Ken Magill
Selecting a new email service provider is one of the more important and complicated undertakings a medium- to large-sized company can undergo.
Between demonstrations and meetings, the vetting process alone can cost thousands of dollars in employee hours.
Select the wrong one and you’re typically stuck with that decision for from three to five years until you can make the case to management for another switch, according to John Caldwell, CEO of ESP migration and integration firm Red Pill Email.
Caldwell estimates he’s done 50 email vendor selections and somewhere around 130 ESP integrations for clients in the last 10 years.
Caldwell also publishes a yearly Email Vendor Features and Functions Guide that examines hundreds of data points on a wide swath of ESPs. His model for the guide is much like Consumer Reports in that he does not charge ESPs to participate and be evaluated.
Over the years, Caldwell said, he has seen clients make a lot of mistakes and he’s seen some made repeatedly. The mistakes he said he’s seen most all point to people using superficial criteria to make their selection. 
According to Caldwell, [Full disclosure: Caldwell’s a friend] one of the top mistakes people make when selecting an ESP is crowdsourcing advice.
“Don’t crowdsource,” he said. “That’s just a bad way to do anything unless you’re doing something that appeals to everyone. It’s okay to ask an opinion, but know whose opinion you’re asking for. 
“Someone who has run email for Paul’s Poodle Emporium for four months is going to have a very different opinion than someone who has 15 years of email marketing experience and runs a program for a Fortune 500 company supervising three email marketers,” Caldwell said.
“And that guy’s going to have a different opinion than one of those three email marketers who has used four or five different platforms over the years,” said Caldwell.
Caldwell also said marketers often ask the wrong people for advice.
“I have a dentist and a mechanic,” he said. “They both have tools. But I don’t ask my mechanic about dentistry and I don’t ask my dentist about auto repair.”
It’s important to know what qualifies the person giving the advice to give it, Caldwell said.
Another mistake Caldwell said he sees repeatedly is someone choosing an ESP based on the ESP representative’s physical or personal appeal.
“While personality makes a difference, that comes at the end [of the selection process] not the beginning,” he said. “You may find someone who’s very charismatic and personable. You get along with them. Maybe you play golf with them. That’s not how to buy a platform. Just because he’s a nice guy who lets you beat him at golf doesn’t mean his platform has the capabilities you need.”
However, Caldwell said, in situations where the vendors’ offerings are so close that it’s difficult to single one out, “then maybe personality comes into play. But you don’t start out with that and often people do.”
Past relationships can also contribute to unwise ESP decisions, according to Caldwell.
“Let’s say you’ve got ABC Company and ABC hires Betty as their new email person,” he said. “Betty has a lot of experience with, but the company has another platform. Just because Betty’s familiar with a different platform is no reason to change ESPs. Betty needs to learn the platform that you have.”

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