MessageGears Research: Marketers Think All ESPs are the Same

Jan 10, 2019
Jeff Haws

Think back to your latest RFP process when your company was picking a new email service provider. Why did you make the selection you did? Ideally, it was because this particular vendor described in detail why they were the best fit for your particular needs, and how they could help you meet your specific email-related goals.

But, quite often, that’s not the case. At the end of a long, exhausting RFP process, a company might choose an ESP for a variety of reasons. Maybe their sales team had a key connection at your company. Perhaps they had the broadest set of features, or you had an existing relationship via other tools. Or maybe they merely offered the lowest price, and the higher-ups said that was the bottom line.

Whatever the reasoning, our recent research suggests that the RFP process has failed a lot of companies searching for a new ESP, leading them to conclude that all ESPs are basically the same. On a scale of 1 to 5, 73% of respondents — all enterprise professionals who have been involved in an RFP to choose an ESP within the past five years — gave the statement “All ESPs are basically the same” a 3 or higher. Nearly 40% gave it a 4+, and roughly 20% gave it a 5.

Why is that? We think one clue can be found earlier in the survey, where 62% said their company revised less than half of their most recent ESP RFP, and 20% said they revised less than 1/5. What that suggests is that companies are rolling their RFP forward from one round to the next largely unchanged, creating two key problems: It more reflects priorities from previous years rather than current ones, and it doesn’t keep up with the rapid pace of technological change in the ESP industry.

And because 66% also said internal knowledge was the key driver of which vendors are included in the RFP, a lot of the same companies are included each time around. This can mean the answers don’t change all that much, and the big-name vendors that enterprise companies often gravitate toward — Think Salesforce, Adobe, and Responsys, to name a few — do tend to sound quite a bit alike on the typical RFP questionnaire, almost by design. Email is, in many cases, an afterthought for them. It’s just bolted on to their existing suite of services. They’ll promise the moon to get a customer signed up, but getting answers to questions once the promises don’t pan out is nearly impossible.

How to Make the RFP Better

Avoiding that trap takes work, but the first step is mostly forgetting what the RFP said three, four, or five years ago, and taking a close look at what your current needs are, along with what the technological landscape looks like. Is social integration really a priority? Do you need SMS and push notifications? If the answer is no, don’t put emphasis on them just because they sound nice. If email is driving 75% of your revenue, then maybe you need a best-in-breed email solution rather than a suite of various products that short-changes your most important communication channel. Not emphasizing the features you truly need leads to a failure of getting to the core of why you’re looking for a new ESP in the first place. For example, if your team can’t access customer data — or access is too slow to enable the personalization you need — none of the well-known SaaS solutions can solve that problem. So marketers need to answer honestly from the start: What’s really driving this change?

The next important step is to seek input from a variety of sources, especially from outside your organization, when deciding which ESPs to include. It’s impossible for most companies to have enough expertise of the ESP industry to know all the key players and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Studying reports like the ones from Forrester and The Relevancy Group can help, as can the content at Email Vendor Selection, along with talking to external colleagues who have recently been through their own RFP. This can help you ensure you don’t leave out a vendor that might have been the best fit.

If you make an honest evaluation of your current needs, priorities, and goals, then design your RFP to reward the companies that can best empower you to reach them, you’ll discover a vast landscape of ESPs that, in many cases, have wildly varying attributes. Finding the one that’s the best fit for you is a challenge the RFP can help you with, but setting it up in a smart way is the only way to make sure the result is one you’ll be happy with.

Our recent 30-minute webinar discussed this and more regarding our recent research into ESP RFPs, in a discussion between MessageGears CEO Roger Barnette and President/Founder of Marketing Democracy Chris Marriott. Watch the full webinar now.

About the Author

Jeff Haws

As MessageGears’ Senior Marketing Manager, Jeff is focused on producing engaging and thoughtful content that resonates with enterprise marketers, helping them to better understand how MessageGears makes their jobs easier. He’s passionate about understanding the way data impacts messaging, and he’s also hopelessly obsessed with baseball.