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What Clients Ask Us: What's the value of ESPs versus CRMs?

By Cory Smith, Head of Email, Metric Digital

When we sit down with our retail clients, either veteran, new or prospective, we’re asked tons of questions about digital marketing.

Which we love, expect and welcome. Curiosity is one of our cherished values. And since our passion around digital marketing feels like a bottomless well, any opportunity to lead our clients down the path of company growth, we take.

Interestingly, certain questions always seem to come up. Which tells us that our clients might not be the only ones struggling with a particular issue.

And that brings us to you.

In this new blog series, we’ll be tapping into our subject matter experts to answer several of these questions, one by one. Not only to define how we consistently operate as an agency, but also to help your company tackle its most pressing digital marketing challenges.

Today’s question will be:

What's the value of ESP's (email service provider) and CRM's, (customer relationship management)?

We’ve been thinking about this issue ever since one of our clients came to us with the same question. Our conversation centered around data. We wanted to make sure that whatever technology solution we pursued, be it ESP, CRM, or both, there was nothing limiting our ability to leverage the full extent of the data.

A few points to know:

A CRM can help your company do (at least) the following by defining audiences that meet certain criteria:

  • Personalize website content
  • Define a source of truth for attribution
  • Provide offline customer data
  • Integrate with marketing platforms in order to execute other initiatives (Each company would need to define what these initiatives are in order to compare the value of a CRM vs. a more robust ESP)

A built ESP should be able to (at least) do the following:

  • Accept audiences from a CRM in order to execute email campaigns
  • Integrate with your website to add products and/or some personalization to emails
  • Give transparent attribution
  • Accept any data that you generate (offline sales data, for instance) and build campaigns based on that data

Obviously, both of these platforms can do more than just the tasks above, but let's use that as a baseline.

If you were going to purchase a CRM, it would need to integrate with your email platform, no matter what it is. That's a good place to start. Mailchimp, for example, integrates with a variety of CRMs, and you can see the list of all their integrations here.

In addition, in order for a CRM to properly execute audiences for automation, your ESP will need to feed back all of their user-level data to the CRM. 

Meaning, if I get an email, and I open it, that data needs to make it to the CRM so that you can build segments in the CRM to use for later emails. It's not a super complicated ask, but it'll be essential to building out audiences. If you were working on an ESP-forward solution, all of that data would live at the ESP and wouldn't necessarily need to be passed back. So, depending on the CRM you chose, you might end up having to switch ESPs anyhow.

Personally, as an email person, I have a preference to work in a more built out ESP. Typically because most of the data that I've found useful for email segmentation has come from interaction with email.

Bottom line: When running automation, ESPs can do more things on the fly than a CRM, making testing easier and more meaningful. But it’s not an either/or issue. It’s likely that you’ll need both platforms to execute your priorities.

What other questions do you have about digital marketing? Drop us a line and let us know how we can use our curiosity to help your company drive revenue.

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Cory Smith Head of Email The Metric Digital Blog A Blog on All Things Digital Marketing