A Checklist for Evaluating Prospective E-Mail Vendors

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E-Mail marketing requires specialized expertise. For optimum results you want to outsource your campaigns to a company with painstaking technical execution. Here's a list of areas you should cover when interviewing providers:


* What is the company's e-mail expertise?


Find out if the company has specialized systems and whether it can integrate your e-mail marketing with your customer relationship management database?


* Does the company provide a Web interface where you can upload messages, manage lists and trigger mailings?


If you don't plan to be hands on, then these features are not essential. If you will be the type of client that needs handholding, try a few test mailings before you make a long-term commitment or move your entire e-mail database over to the provider. It's important to see how good the handholding really is.


* Is the provider able to send many different message types?


Text messaging may be the way to transmit today but as e-mail progresses, rich text and file attachments with audio and video may become the rage. Make sure the company you select can keep pace with the technological changes already on the horizon and beyond.


* Does the company provide Web access to tracking, measurement and reporting?


In the electronic age we're all working in, you don't want to work with a company that can't provide you with real time reporting. If you have to wait for a paper or e-mail report to be delivered a week after a mailing, you are not dealing with a state-of-the-art company.


* Does the provider handle inbound questions and responses?


This may not seem important at first, but as your e-mail volume increases so will the number of responses that can make their way back into your mailbox. Some companies can take the load off and sort these and deliver them to the right departments. Others can help generate automated acknowledgements.


_What kinds of reports can the company provide?


Just capturing the click-through rates may be all you need. But some providers can tell you how many people actually opened up your message, what kind of ROI you are getting on your mailing, and much more. Reporting can be the one feature that will tell you what's going on and determine all of your subsequent moves.


_What database services does the company offer?


Will you need data warehousing, data marts or data mining? Some companies can do the most sophisticated work for you in this area; others haven't a clue, they're just technicians handling bulk processing. If all you require is to get the messages out, then stick with the techies. If you plan on doing segmentation and overlays on your data, work with a more sophisticated provider.


_Does the company work well with third parties?


You may need to have your database sent over from your fulfillment house, or your HTML messages from your advertising agency. You may need special links added into your messages at the last minute. It's imperative that you check the provider out very carefully. Interview any client references the company gives you on this point._


* How thorough is the company's knowledge of legalities and online netiquette?


One of the perks your provider should be able to offer you is that it is expert in what it does and knows the e-mail playing field very well. The company should be able to advise you about what kinds of messages work, what practices to avoid, what to do if there are complaints and how to protect your company.
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