how to interview email technology company for ESP customization

Investing in an email service provider (ESP) is both time and money intensive. But at the enterprise level, even the most sophisticated ESP will not make your email program as powerful as it can be “out of the box.” It requires customization. ESPs give you access to the tools required for customization – but making an enterprise ESP work exactly the way you need it to requires specialized expertise.

When that time comes, you’ll have a few options. It could be the ESP can provide the necessary customization, but chances are you’ll have to wait a long time for it due to backlog. It could be your IT team decides to tackle it internally. Or it could be you’ll go the third-party route, looking for a reputable vendor to tackle this email technology task for you.

Questions for vendors—from a vendor
If choosing such a vendor is on your radar screen now or in the future, read through the rest of this post for tips on choosing a good one. I’ve provided a list of questions for you to ask, based on my experiences as the CEO of ClickMail.

ClickMail is not an email service provider. Since the start of our company, we’ve been a platform-agnostic reseller of those ESPs we believe to be the best, like ExactTarget. And our value has come from the expertise we offer our clients as we help them choose—and use—the best email service provider for their needs.

That includes customizing ESPs when necessary, and therein lies my expertise on this particular topic: We’ve seen ESP customizations go awry because a vendor wasn’t up to the job. We’ve been the email technology experts brought in to pick up the pieces. I know about the budget over-runs and the headaches that happen when an ESP customization fails. And I know what it takes to do them right, because that’s what ClickMail does.

So the questions I offer below are critical, because they are based on my past experiences. In addition, these are questions we as a vendor are always ready and willing to able to answer when we are approached with an ESP customization project.

It’s all about the experience
Go beyond interviewing the potential vendor, and ask questions of their previous clients and the ESP(s) they’ve worked with too. You want to know about the vendor’s email technology experience, but you also want to know about the client’s perception of the vendor and project.

Questions for the vendor

1)   What type of customization projects have you done on the platform?

2)   How many have you done?

3)   Dido you deliver a customization that met the client’s specifications in each case?

4)   What other ESPs have you worked with?

5)   Do you have references from clients for whom you did a similar project?

6)   Can we contact them?

7)   What have you done besides customize that ESP? (You want to know about their breadth of experience so if something is less than standard, you know they can adapt.)

8)   Is the current team the same one that did the previous email customization projects? If not, explain.

9)   What sets you aside from your competition?


Questions for previous clients

1)   Did the vendor stay within your budget? Ignore it? Act cognizant of it and accordingly?

2)   Did they stay on schedule, and—if not—did they keep you informed of progress?

3)   What kind of support did they/do they offer afterward? Did they offer and abide by an SLA?

4)   Did they meet your expectations and deliver a customization that met your specifications?

5)   Were there any surprises in the final price or costs along the way?

6)   Would you be willing to provide a recommendation for this vendor?


Questions for the ESP(s)

1)   Can you verify this vendor did the customization(s) they claim to have done?

2)   Would you be willing to provide a recommendation for this vendor?


If you’re not satisfied with the answers to any of these questions, dig deeper or else start looking elsewhere. This job is too important to risk using a questionable vendor. Hold out for a proven vendor you can trust.

As email marketing evolves ever closer to the one-to-one marketing ideal, ESP customizations will become more common. You can’t build a highly sophisticated email marketing program using a generic platform. You must customize your ESP to make it more powerful. But it’s only more powerful if it’s done right. Make sure you choose the right email technology vendor for the job.

Published On: January 8th, 2014Categories: ESP customization

About the Author: Sharon

Sharon Ernst from is on a mission to improve the business and marketing writing skills of today’s workforce with her blog, newsletter and online classes. Her newest class on intermediate email copywriting covers 19 tips and techniques non-copywriters can put to use right away for better results. The class has real-life examples and before/after comparisons to make the lessons stick. Find her class at When she’s not busy helping employees, managers and marketers master their writing skills, she and her husband are busy raising pigs, cows, chickens and vegetables on their 20-acre farm.

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