Competitive Analysis, Evaluating ESPs

Dear Email Diva,

I've been asked to research some e-mail marketing packages for our nonprofit company. Is there any site that provides a good overall comparison of some of the top competitors?

Do you know of the primary differences or the advantages and disadvantages of [this large-scale, mid-priced Email Service Provider] versus [this low-cost provider]? I'm trying to find a more objective comparison than the sales literature.


Dear KV,

Email Data Source has a database of millions of emails, collected for just this purpose (among others). If their product is beyond the means of your nonprofit organization, donate to all of your competitors and sign up for their email programs.

Just be sure to set the bar high, regardless of what others are doing. I have seen two common mistakes with nonprofits: over-mailing and mailing only solicitations. Some groups will send out an email every time someone in the organizations sneezes. Press releases, meeting minutes -- you name it, they'll send it. It burns out your readers and trains them to ignore your messages. Another problem is sending email only to ask for a donation. Smart organizations speak to their donors' interest in the cause as well: progress being made, latest developments in the cause, a human interest/personal story, etc. Of course you need to raise money, but you don't want that to be your only reason for contacting your subscribers. Address your email audience as you would a big donor at a dinner party.

There are great Email Service Providers (ESPs) at all ends of the spectrum, but there are reasons for cost differences. Very large low-end providers can't afford to give you the personal service, both consultative and technical, that you get from a smaller provider or a more-expensive mid-priced provider.

Another concern is the reputation you share with other senders. Companies with little respect for the medium and their audiences would be more likely to use a bargain-basement ESP. Your deliverability may suffer from their reputation, as the experts explained in this article.



As I wrote in "ESP Selection Tips," to evaluate an ESP, you need to "look under the hood," with a product demo and discussions between your tech people and their tech people. Yes, coordinating the logistics takes time, but you will get firsthand experience with the type of service you'll receive after the sale. If they are difficult to connect with before they have your money, you can bet it will be difficult to get good service once the contract is signed.

And, as I wrote in this article (with a useful addition from Nancy Darish), ask your peers and look for independent research for feedback on your prospective partners.

Finally, looking at two providers is not enough. One may be better than the other, but is it the best for your needs? Take the extra time to evaluate three to five candidates.

Good Luck!

The Email Diva

Send your questions or submit your email for critique to Melinda Krueger, the Email Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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