Don’t Expect Your ESP to Have the Magic Wand for Solving Your Deliverability Issues

Posted by Ken Takahashi on

After attending the recent MAAWG conference, I traveled to Europe where I spent much of my time with a variety of email service providers (ESPs) discussing the current market conditions and where they saw opportunities moving forward. On my flight home, I realized that there was one resonating theme around my conversations. Almost all of the ESPs I spoke with had significant concerns around supporting the portion of their client base that cause the most deliverability issues. It made me realize that the email deployment industry is setting their pricing policies all wrong.

For years, people have commented on (some might say complained about) the industry use of a CPM pricing model even though the ESP costs are roughly the same whether your campaigns are sent to 1,000 or 100,000 people. Whether or not you agree with this model on principle, it’s clear to me that this is causing a problem now that many ESPs bundling their deliverability services as part of this CPM. Here is what’s wrong with this picture…

  1. Not all clients on an ESP platform cause deliverability problems. It’s quite possible that clients employing best practices are actually subsidizing the deliverability costs of less reputable clients.
  2. ESPs only control one out of the five possible causes of deliverability problems – infrastructure. I’ve written about this before. And, in almost all cases, ESPs do a good job about keeping up with the changing industry standards around how to send email.

Given this information, email marketers should not expect their ESP to solve their non-infrastructure driven deliverability issues. Why? Because ESPs don’t control the levers that drive the majority of deliverability issues – marketers do. Frankly, it’s unfair to ask a vendor to fix a problem they have no control over. (Of course, in the rare case that an ESP does have an infrastructure issue, marketers can expect the ESP to fix that problem quickly.) Email marketers need to take responsibility for their program and understand the reputation factors that may be affecting the delivery of their messages.

That doesn’t mean ESPs don’t have any role here. ESPs should absolutely provide diagnostic tools that allow clients to monitor and analyze deliverability issues in real time, including their sender reputation. By doing so, what email marketers will likely find is their messages are being blocked or filtered because of reputation factors or perhaps content. In other words, factors that have nothing to do with who sends their email. Of course, it may be that the client needs the help of an experienced consultant to fully diagnose and resolve these issues. The ESPs that have the resources to provide this kind of consulting absolutely should – but they should charge for it separately from the deployment charges. This kind of strategic help clearly goes beyond the terms of standard contract for sending email.

In regards to the pricing discrepancies I believe to be problematic in the industry, I advise ESPs to include diagnostic tools as part of their deployment fees, or as part of their CPM. But consulting – which I would argue definitely includes ISP mediation services – should be priced out at a separate value added offering. There seems to be a lot of confusion in the industry on what is expected of an ESP. I am very skeptical when someone says that they can fix deliverability problems by simply switching vendors. Reputation drives deliverability, we’ve already established that. Having an ISP relations staff cannot fix deliverability problems for those with reputation problems. Those clients need a comprehensive analysis of the user experience and data collection methodologies. As any strategic consulting assignment, there needs to be costs associated to delivering this service. In the end, I am sure the service providers who offer – and charge for – this type of service will find that email marketers see the value in understanding the big picture and appreciate the role they have in making their email campaigns successful everyday.


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