Recent meetings with clients and prospects has raised this issue to the top of my mind: who exactly is responsible for deliverability?

And by ‘responsible’, who carries the can if it all goes wrong?

At a recent meeting, an ecommerce director was explaining a difficult deliverability issue that his business was facing. They were clearly laying the blame at the feet of their incumbent ESP.

When I asked, ‘Do you think your ESP should have been consulting with you on this and should have prevented this issue occurring?’ I was met with a very firm response… [with raised eyebrows] “Well, you would have thought so, wouldn’t you?”.

It is certainly true that ESPs hold the keys to the kingdom. They own the relationships with the ISPs and [should] build strong partnerships with third parties such as Return Path, who have made themselves indispensable to the science of Deliverability Management.

But ESPs should be doing far more than this. From the constant monitoring of Deliverability Scores to leaping on deliverability issues before they mushroom, ESPs are more often than not the party that fixes issues when, and hopefully before, they arise.

They should also, to my mind, be working with the mailer to ensure that strategies are in place to maximise the virtuous circle of improving results and excellent deliverability.

On the other hand, for most service business the customer is always (or must think they are always) right and ESPs are no different. Too many times I have seen mailers over-ride the advice of an ESP on deliverability matters. Furthermore, self-serve/ASP platforms leave deliverability in the hands of the mailer with no proactive support or consultancy. But is this sufficient?

An email campaign manager, faced with a marketing director stressed over missing targets, is not in any position to argue against mailing every single record available to try to drive extra orders. Should they be expected to have the depth of knowledge, or indeed the stomach, to argue with the marketing director that this is a very dangerous and short term strategy?

If, as I stated above, ESPs hold the keys to the kingdom, in the form of knowledge and relationships, then isn’t there a ‘duty of care’ on the part of the ESPs to educate and manage their clients? I like a good analogy, and I see this current approach tantamount to a manufacturer selling someone a product, warning them that it could be dangerous and won’t work if misused, but then not explaining actually how to use it or what you can do wrong. 

There are, of course, mailers who won’t listen, even to arguments such as ‘change your strategy and make more money’! But I find myself constantly drawn back to the conclusion that even self-service/ASP customers deserve consultancy and support on deliverability issues.

If a mailer chooses to ignore advice, then on their head be it… but that support should be there in the first place. I must also caveat this statement, with the point that should a Mailer make such a decision then it should be with the firm knowledge that it is likely to be accompanies by an invoice from the ESP to unpick the problems.

But, the final and over-riding argument should be that working in partnership is a win-win. If an ESP helps a mailer achieve excellent deliverability then more money will be made by the mailer and a key reason why mailers become unsettled with their ESP is avoided. But this cannot happen without trust and commitment on both sides.

Matthew Kelleher

Published 21 February, 2013 by Matthew Kelleher

Matthew Kelleher is commercial director as RedEye and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (2)


John Bollinger

I agree that it is a partnership between the mailer and the ESP, and more specifically the deliverability specialist, but ultimately the mailer is responsible for their deliverability based on their mailing practices.

If hired or responsible for deliverability consulting, the specialist should be working with the client on strategies to improve results, but the mailer needs to follow that advice. Unless a mailer is given the wrong advice, which is unlikely, the onus is on the mailer for the results.

As a Deliverability Consultant for over 9 years, I have seen a irony in deliverability consulting: Those that really need the advice don't want to pay for it, and if they do they expect the consultant to wave a magic wand or pick up the Bat-phone and call the ISP to get good delivery. And those that don't really need deliverability consulting are happy to pay for it but it is seldom needed.

This is because those mailers that don't need it are following best practices, sending mail that is relevant to subscribers that want what they are sending and at the right frequency, but they want the benefit of a consultant there to review their mailings to look for trends that may be an issue and work with them on new directions. Those with poor mailing practices do not want to change what they are doing to achieve good deliverability, instead they want the "special sauce" to make bad deliverability go away. They aren't willing to accept the fact that the special sauce is following best practices.

I don't care who the ESP is, or who the consultant is, or how much the consultant reviews the metrics of each mailing, if these best mailing practices are not followed, deliverability will not improve. It is no more the responsibility of the ESP/consultant than it is of the doctor that tells their patient to stop smoking or your health will continue to decline and you may die as a result, but the patient continues to smoke 2 packs a day and blames the doctor that their health is declining. The doctor can have them come in daily to run tests and look at the results (metrics), but if the patient continues to smoke (poor mailing practices) the patient will not get any better.

over 5 years ago

Matthew Kelleher

Matthew Kelleher, Commercial Director at RedEyeEnterprise

Hello John, I love your concept of the 'irony in deliverability consulting', an incredibly apt description of the issues that you, and sometimes I, face. I also like your rather stark analogy of the smoker and the email marketer, I tend to have less sympathy for the former, however!

What you don't mention, which I think is important, is that your role is ultimately one of 'revenue generation'. Better deliverability practises drives improved engagement with email, and better engagement with email drives more orders & revenue from email. It is, in fact, a virtuous circle.

Does that turn the irony into sarcasm through the addition of (black) comedy? Or am I pushing this idea too far?!

over 5 years ago

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