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Jul 09, 2003
How To

5 Painful Lessons on Picking and Switching to a New Email Broadcast Service

SUMMARY: Last week, MarketingSherpa switched email broadcast service providers. The process was not as easy as expected (ok, we were naïve.) This quick article by Anne includes:
Lesson #1 - Force sales reps to include a techie
Lesson #2 - "Source Code" confusion
Lesson #3 - Transition will take longer than anyone thinks
Lesson #4 - Demand your own branded URL
Lesson #5 - Include send-time in production schedules
by MarketingSherpa's Publisher, Anne Holland

Just like everyone else in the US Northeast, I've been incredibly stressed and cranky this year because we've had fewer than 30 days of sunshine since January. (Seattle, now I really feel your
pain.)

So, I decided to take last week off to relax, and since we weren't going to be publishing, I figured it was a great time to do the final transition to our new email broadcast vendor.

As the Publisher of MarketingSherpa, and a Buyer's Guide for selecting vendors, I figured this would be a piece of cake.

Ha, ha, ha.

Here's what I learned on my summer vacation - if you can use my pain to make your life easier, the pain will have been worthwhile.

Lesson #1 - Force sales reps to include a techie
Lesson #2 - "Source Code" confusion
Lesson #3 - Transition will take longer than anyone thinks
Lesson #4 - Demand your own branded URL
Lesson #5 - Include send-time in production schedules


-> Lesson #1 - Force sales reps to include a techie

When you set interview appointments with your short-list of vendors, make sure you ask that they include a tech-expert in the meeting.

In my experience, the rep will say, "Oh sure." Then the rep will show up at the meeting alone. You'll say, "Where's your techie?" The rep will say confidently, "I can probably answer all of your
questions."

Learn from my pain -- invariably the rep could not answer 75% of my tech questions. Since email broadcasting is all about tech, the meeting was a waste of time.

So, I learned to bail on the meeting instantly, and tell the rep he or she had to reschedule with a techie in tow (and no, I won't wait 15 minutes while you run through the building trying to round someone up.)


-> Lesson #2 - "Source Code" confusion

If you're from the world of postal list databases like I am, you use the term "source code" to indicate a code appended to each name on a list that reveals where the name originally came from (i.e. the source.)

Source codes are critical because they are the basis of most marketing reports. How can you tell if your investment in a particular list or campaign was worthwhile if you can't track those names as a group (separate from the rest of your list) over time?

So my number one question to email vendors was, "Do you track source code?"

They all said, "No" in a confused voice.

Turns out almost none of them came from old fashioned DM. So the term "source code" means something completely different to them -- to do with the source of programming code. Which is pretty esoteric and no wonder they all thought I was weird to care about it.

After three tries, I learned to word the question differently. "Can you add a code to an incoming name joining the list to indicate where it came from if I give you a list of codes?"

No problem.

(BTW: If you want to do it right, you should really be able to add several types of source codes per name to indicate which campaign, which offer, which list/media outlet. Plus, if people can join your database for more than one list option, you should be able to source code an individual's name multiple times to indicate the source of each separate permission.)


-> Lesson #3 - Transition will take longer than anyone thinks

Every sales rep will end their pitch by saying, "We can have you up and running in 48 hours or less. It's so easy."

They aren't exactly lying.

In a perfect world, when all the stars are aligned and you are the perfect client who matches their system without customization, and techies on both sides are geniuses with nothing else to do all day, no doubt it can take less than 48 hours to get up and running.

In reality, it's a lot like Web design.

Your site revamp always takes hideously longer than anyone anticipated. And nobody remembered to build adequate testing and training time into the schedule to boot.

Learn from my pain -- assign a project manager on your end to handle the transition, and spec it out step-by-step with a check- sheet of your own needs. Don't assume the vendor will hold your
hand 100% even if they promise to. It's your email database, it's your campaigns, it's your responsibility.

And yeah, move regular stuff off of your project manager's plate during transition time so he or she can do the job well. This is not an add-on project.


-> Lesson #4 - Demand your own branded URL

When our new vendor asked for a special URL that they could use for our set-up, I assumed they meant to use it for our "from" and "reply" addresses. (We couldn't use our regular
MarketingSherpa.com address because that's already being used for staff emails through a separately hosted system.)

So I cheerfully said, "OK use MarketingSherpa.net" and changed the IP addresses for it (which can take up to 96 hours just to propagate -- another reason why 48 hour transitions are baloney.)

You can imagine how shocked I was when I received my first issue from the new broadcast host and the from and reply address read, "Sherpa@TailoredNews.com"

A few readers were surprised too. One wrote in asking, "Are you changing your company name?" Another called me on the phone to demand urgently, "Have you guys been sold?"

Turns out we had a miscommunication with our new vendor. They used the MarketingSherpa URL for all the hosted pages they put up for us (for example, our manage your subs form is now on their server even though it looks like us.)

It didn't occur to them that the "from" domain name was a Big Branding Deal, or anyone would care much about it.

Now they're working on a solution quickly, and I'm gritting my teeth with each issue that goes out until it's implemented.


-> Lesson #5 - Include send-time in production schedules

As we've said before in other articles, email broadcast firms who brag about how fast they can get your campaign out may be doing you a big disservice because some ISPs filter mail based on how quickly masses of it from the same sender are coming.

If they get a whole bunch of mail from you, they worry it must be junk, and stop it from reaching recipients.

When you switch vendors this problem can be initially exacerbated because you may want to send to that portion of your list that was do-not-send-bounces from your last vendor's tactics. Some of the bounces were legitimate, but some may have been caused by mistakenly blocked IP addresses, etc.

So there you are sending a higher number of bounces than you would normally do, and many ISPs, as well as AOL and Yahoo, look unkindly on mailers who send to bad addresses. They may, in fact, stop the rest of your mail from going through.

The solution is to send very slowly, especially at first. You have to throttle back on speed.

Which is great, except when you have thousands of names on your list and they need to get your message in a timely fashion. (In fact, we've found every time we miss our deadlines and send issues after 3pm ET, our immediate click rates suffer.)

Our new vendor was sending so carefully that in fact a newsletter going to only 15,000 people took more than an hour to get out. And that played havoc with our schedule.

Now we're changing all our deadlines (ok not today - obviously this issue is a bit late) so editorial has to get issues into production two hours prior to the time they used to.

Cross your fingers it works out.

And best of luck with your own transition.

P.S. Our new vendor is TailoredMail, and I have to say I am quite excited about working with them.
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