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How to Choose an Email Marketing Platform

Katelyn StaabenKatelyn Staaben/Digital Marketing Strategist
February 19, 20196 min read

How do you choose an email marketing platform from the hundreds out there vying for your business? You needn’t struggle to find the best fit for your company. Some solid research and preparation can greatly reduce the frustration of the search. Let’s walk through it.

Prepare for the Search

Whether you’re new to email marketing or an old pro, start by creating an overview of your current email marketing usage and future goals.

List Required Features and Goals

If you already use email marketing software, list your goals for each email campaign and for your marketing automation workflow. Be specific; next to each goal, list the features of your current email marketing platform that allow you to attain that goal.

If you are new to email marketing, list your goals. If you are aware of specific features needed to attain those goals, list them, too.

For example, we use our workflows to send automated email reminders and follow-ups for our weekly workshops and webinars. Our listed goal: “Send automated reminders and follow-up emails to workshop and webinar attendees.” This goal calls for these features:

  • time-based workflow elements to send the emails on the correct days and times, and
  • dynamic email content to customize the content of follow-up emails.

List every feature that you absolutely need, regardless of its simplicity or complexity. This will  guarantee that your new email marketing platform can perform every required task.

Keep in mind features in your email marketing platform that go beyond email, such as features for creating forms or scheduling social media content. Put them on your list. If your new platform can’t handle them, you might have to find an additional vendor.

Different email marketing platforms might accomplish your goals in different ways. For example, some email marketing platforms rely on tags to organize contacts, while others use only custom fields. Both features work, but they function differently within the platform.

Keep an open mind as you watch demos of potential platforms. You may discover an easier, simpler way to attain your goals. The familiar way might not be the best way.  

List Wanted Features

After listing your needs and absolute requirements, make your wish list and rank the items. Keep the future in mind. Maybe landing page development, for example, isn’t important today, but will be very important in 10 months. Be aware of coming trends and plan for them.

Integration with Other Tools

List current integrations with your email marketing platform and any integrations you may want in the future. These integrations could involve your CRM, cart, CMS or social media platforms.

Integrations matter in your email platform choice. Features tend to be similar across platforms; integrations differ more and can make or break deals.

Count Your Contacts

Once you have listed the features and integrations, look at your current usage and email lists. Pricing for email marketing platforms typically depends on one of two factors: total contacts or total email sends per month. Know these numbers to accurately forecast costs.

Remove unnecessary emails – spam, bounced, unsubscribed -- before you start your count. Also, note the number of new contacts you gather per month. This, too, figures in the ongoing cost of your new platform.

Many platforms determine pricing by the amount of contacts

Many platforms use total contacts to determine monthly pricing.

Know how many emails you send per month. The total should include tests and emails sent through marketing automation workflows. Do you anticipate increasing your email send frequency in the future? Make a note of the increase and factor it in.

Set Your Budget

Set a budget as early as possible in the research phase. Email marketing services vary widely in price, and a solid budget can help validate or eliminate potential platforms.

Researching Email Marketing Platforms

You’ve completed your research and you’re ready to search for your new email marketing platform. Begin, data in hand, by homing in on the type of email marketing platform you need.

Types of Email Marketing Platforms

Email marketing platforms come with a wide range of capabilities to meet business needs at all points on the usage spectrum. Some platforms, such as Constant Contact and MailChimp, aim at small-business beginners or organizations that create simple campaigns with minimal marketing automation. These platforms offer the lowest cost -- several even have free plans -- but very limited features. They’re great if you need little or nothing beyond basic email marketing.

Platforms such as HubSpot, Marketo and Pardot offer every bell and whistle, but at a much higher price. If you’re moving from basic to the next level, one of these platforms may be for you.

Most email marketing platforms fall between these two groups in both features and price. The in-betweens tend to offer many marketing features, but some fall short in marketing automation capabilities. Some platforms, such as Campaign Monitor, Act-On and SharpSpring, suit any industry. Others target particular industries; Klaviyo, for example, specializes in e-commerce organizations.

Your list of needs and wants will help you to determine exactly where your business sits on this cost/feature/automation spectrum. Many organizations have top-10 lists of the best email marketing platforms for different types of organizations or price ranges. These lists can help you start your search.

What to Ask Potential Email Marketing Platform Vendors

Your search has yielded email marketing platforms that meet all your needs and many of your wants. The next step: Set up demonstrations of their features to see the platforms in action. Ask the vendor to show you the library of email templates. Find out their average open rates, and don’t hesitate to ask the vendor to complete a simple task, such as adding or removing an email address within the system. During these demos, don’t be swayed by fancy features and smooth-talking salespeople.

You will probably find several email marketing platforms that fall within your budget and satisfy your needs, wants and integrations. Consider the following to fine-tune your decision.  

Support Resources

Your email marketing tool should have a solid support system to help you get started, especially if you lack experience. Ask potential vendors about their support resources, response times and whether the support is complimentary.

Check on whether the new platform offers an onboarding program and, if so, how extensive it is. Your new platform could differ markedly from your last; basic training on your new tool can ease the transition.

Deliverability Rates

Email deliverability is sometimes beyond your control, and poor delivery can cause your email marketing campaigns to fail.

The reputation of the sender, tracked through the IP address and sending domain, is a major factor in email deliverability. Spam-laden email sent from a certain IP address can cause that IP to be flagged as risky.

Most email marketing platforms use shared IP addresses, meaning all users of the platform rotate usage of a selection of addresses. If one user engages in poor email practices, everyone could suffer the consequences. Read more about how shared IP addresses impact email deliverability.

SharpSpring

Some email marketing platforms track key deliverability statistics and alert users if they are in danger of being flagged.

Ask potential vendors how they manage email deliverability rates and what they do if users are flagged.

Ask Forums and Outside Review Sites

Read outside reviews and ask email marketing forum users about their experiences with email marketing platforms you are considering.

Many email marketing platforms have public support forums where users share problems and discuss solutions. Visit them to see what users have to say and to gain insight into how support teams respond to users and manage issues.

Free Trials

Free email marketing trial

Some email marketing platforms offer free trials for new users.

If the vendor offers a free trial, use it. Even if the trial offers limited features, you can experience the tool firsthand before you make your final decision.

Making your Email Marketing Platform Decision

The demo process should narrow your search to a handful of platforms. If it narrows it to one clear solution to your problems, great! Move on to the challenge of transitioning to your new tool.

However, most marketers will be left with several great options – not a bad problem to have. It means you’ve done your research and preparation, have a solid foundation for your decision, and you can’t go wrong.

 

Katelyn StaabenKatelyn Staaben/Digital Marketing Strategist

Katelyn Staaben is a social media strategist and digital marketer with a background in developing strategy for B2B organizations. Certified in conversion writing through Conversion XL and Google Analytics, she supports the Northwoods digital marketing and account teams by contributing ideas to web design projects, social media, SEO, digital strategy consulting, and content management implementation.

Connect with Katelyn on LinkedIn | Read Katelyn Staaben's Blogs

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