Before Choosing an Email Management Vendor, Ask the Right Questions

For companies making do with homegrown solutions to manage transactional email content, switching to cloud-based template management is a smart move, one that will allow for both an expanded feature set and improved flexibility.

It’s also a major project. An apt comparison would be migrating your website from HTML to a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, since a good CMS will allow you to seamlessly and reliably create professional-looking content without having to code every new page from scratch.

A template management platform does much the same for email. The main difference is that while the CMS world is full of known quantities, like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, cloud email template systems are generally more obscure. The onus then falls to the company seeking these services to determine if a provider is up to the task.

To make this process easier, here are some key questions to ask your cloud template management provider:

Engineering Team Questions

For engineering, much of the headache involved in switching to cloud-based email content management revolves around trust. In particular, engineering needs to trust that the right email is sent to the right customer at the right time. The two features most responsible for ensuring that happens are a static identifier for each template and a simple API for triggering the email send. Your service provider should offer both.

The overall goal of moving transactional email management to the cloud is to reduce dependence on engineering as much as possible, since engineering time is expensive. And crucial to that goal is a system that doesn’t require deploying code to update emails.

The platform should also offer new capabilities. Reduced dependency on engineering should not result in a loss of features. Going back to the WordPress analogy, you want a system that allows the complexity of your emails to evolve—think embedded video or image carousels.

Another consideration is reusability. Consider the engineering mantra Don’t Repeat Yourself (DRY) and inquire about the ability to write code once and reuse it as often as you want.

Finally, engineering should ask whether the template engine is open-source or whether you might get locked into a proprietary system.

Product Team Questions

The product team’s primary concern is that an email template, as a product itself, works as intended. To ensure the right data, personalization, and other content are incorporated properly, look for systems that specifically require template validation before one can be published into production.

Another consideration for the product team is the ability to A/B test transactional email changes. Often a product team will be tasked with growth-related activities, such as improving on-boarding engagement. The ability to test transactional emails that are part of the on-boarding process is key to that growth.

Marketing Questions

For marketing, the primary concern is autonomy; they need to be able to update and test email templates without going back to engineering. Their questions will revolve around ease of editing, validation, and email client testing.

Another concern for marketers is whether the solution supports localization. For example, if you have one time and date in the back end, will they update for another time zone? If you serve multiple markets, localization support could be vitally important.

A Fit for Everyone

Engineering, product, and marketing teams are all stakeholders in managing transactional email content. Your cloud-based solution should streamline collaboration between all three, while ensuring both autonomy and a reduced workload for each.

The most important question you can ask about switching to cloud-based email content management is, “Will this solve my problem?” If a new system is likely to create more headaches due to poor design, a lack of features, or excessively complex implementation, then it might not be worth making the jump.

But when you find the right platform, making the switch is more than worth it. Asking the right questions will help you get there. 

Matt Harris is cofounder and CEO of sendwithus. Harris has extensive email and product expertise, acquired working with Fortune 500 clients and contracting for government and private software companies. After graduating with a degree in computer science from the University of Victoria, he developed his start-up chops in the inaugural cohort of FounderFuel, a Montreal start-up accelerator. A self-proclaimed hacker, email nerd, and avid rock climber, Harris cofounded sendwithus in 2013 in Victoria, Canada, and later moved to San Francisco to participate in the Y Combinator program. 

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