Program Perception vs. Reality
I'm a huge proponent of vendor management and feel this is the key to a program's long-term success. The e-mail practice itself has become so complicated and detail-oriented that most companies struggle to deliver on their promise and scramble to make the most of their program with limited resources. In my opinion, the service sector has become so watered down with people who claim to know the best use for e-mail marketing that there isn't room for people who actually do know its best uses. Remember, one size does not fit all. What works for Company A doesn't necessarily work for Company B. I don't know how many requests for proposals or requests for information that I've seen where the e-mail program wasn't a good fit. Either the client didn't live up to its billing or the vendor sold them on its best resources but provided inferior service teams. Is the service sector so watered down that you don't get what you paid for? Or are organizations unaware of how to buy and position their partners?
Ironically, what appear to be the best options aren't always what are best for the program. Sometimes the testing budget is nonexistent or there isn't enough time to produce three revisions of creative. So whose fault is it? Is that the fault of the person establishing the strategy? Perhaps the project team setting unrealistic timelines and turnarounds is to blame. Or maybe it's the management team for not appropriately arranging staff or budget. Clients today get more mileage on their dollar than they did four years ago. The world has migrated from a transitional world of "right-sizing" to a world of "capsizing" with teams struggling to catch their breath.
Here's something everyone in e-mail has experienced, that illustrates my point: A mailing was sent out with a typo on the Forward to Friend page. Who was at fault - the creative team for submitting last-minute copy changes, the e-mail producers who input it into the system, or the quality assurance team who were the last to review the design? My guess is that you'll each answer this differently based on your own position and perspective. Once upon a time, we had single organizations managing e-mail. Now, more companies have opted for a diversified team to manage e-mail programs and errors occur more frequently. I will say this, it's hard to improve a program when everyone deflects the blame and no one takes final responsibility.
I maintain that a successful e-mail program is grounded in two truths: You must continually learn and you must get the most out of your partnerships. If you are not maximizing your partner's strengths, augmenting the client's strengths, or designating a responsible party for each phase of the campaign, then you will struggle to understand e-mail's value to your business or how to improve it going forward.
With so many points of contact and sets of responsibilities between partner organizations, I believe you need one person who is responsible for owning the success of the e-mail program. This authority must manage vendors and organizational expectations, yet have an investment in your business to make the partnership work. Maybe that entity comes from within your organization or maybe it's a partner, but without a responsible party managing this never-ending juggling act, your program will struggle to be "the person that your dog thinks you are."