… And Why Selecting an ESP Based on Deliverability is not Wise

Just saw an ad from an email service provider touting its deliverability prowess. The ad, which I’m guessing most of the email marketing community has seen, is BS on stilts.

The ESP in question is by far not the first to prospect by making deliverability claims. It would be nice if it were the last.

Let’s start with a story to help illustrate my point.

Some years back I was sitting in my endocrinologist’s office noting how many of the people in the crowded waiting room were in various states of physical decline. Then I noticed a morbidly obese guy eating a donut.

I’m like: “Really? A donut in an endocrinologist’s office?” Granted, he could have been there for an ailment other than diabetes, but still.

Looking at all these decrepit people, I began thinking of the time my wife broke her ankle and how much work it was to tend to her while she healed.

“What if I get into a similar needy state and there’s no end in sight for her until I’m dead?” I thought.

Right then and there, I took a vow: “There may come a day when I am physically dependent on my wife, but if that day comes it will not be because I didn’t do everything humanly possible to manage my diabetes.”

I got to work. I got back in the gym, cleaned up my eating habits and lost 70 pounds. I have kept the weight off ever since. I also got in good enough shape that my endocrinologist took me off insulin.

After congratulating me, my endocrinologist said: “I have a favor to ask. Would you mind writing an online review for me?”

“Sure,” I said. “May I ask why?”

“I have a lot of patients who come in here thinking I can wave a magic wand and cure their diabetes, and when they find out I can’t they leave a bad review. You have shown that you understand that in order to manage your diabetes, you have to do the work.”

I left him a positive review. In it, I said: “Understand he can’t manage your diabetes for you. It’s up to you to watch your diet and get a proper amount of exercise.”

The same philosophy applies to email deliverability. No ESP can wave a magic wand and instantly improve a client’s deliverability.

Email senders’ deliverability usually suffers because of one or a combination of the following: bad addresses, spam traps and spam complaints, the keys of which to limiting are all under the senders’ control.

Like an endocrinologist, an ESP can steer their clients in the right behavioral direction, but it’s the sender who must exercise the self-discipline necessary to avoid crippling their email marketing program.

This is not to say there is nothing an ESP can do to aid their clients’ deliverability. There are all kinds of technical issues that need to be addressed. But email marketing is a mature enough channel that it’s hard to believe any ESP worth considering hasn’t already addressed them.

What would be hilarious is if a sender signed on with an ESP because it had been touting its deliverability prowess, and promptly added all of their previously suppressed names to their house file thinking they’ve finally got an ESP who can magically make the suppressed names deliverable.

As the sender’s email got predictably spam-hammered by inbox providers, the deliverability-touting ESP would have some serious ‘splainin to do.

“I thought you said you could get my email delivered.” “Well, yes, but there are certain best practices you must follow.” “That’s exactly what my last ESP said.”

One of Red Pill Email’s founding principles is there is no best ESP, just the best ESP for a particular sender in terms of specific, applicable features and functions.

There is a slew of things a sender must consider when selecting a new ESP, such as how technically advanced must they be to use the service, what kind of security the ESP offers and how many applicable out-of-the-box campaign options they offer.

Having a deliverability discussion with a prospective ESP is always appropriate. For example, it’s wise to discuss how they intend to ramp the program up to avoid triggering spam filters, or how they ensure one client’s sloppy practices do not negatively impact the email reputations of others.

But selecting an ESP primarily for its deliverability claims is kind of like the fat guy eating a donut in his endocrinologist’s office.