If you are an independent software vendor (ISV) that integrates your communication platform with SendGrid APIs, this post is for you. 

Enabling many customers to operate email programs concurrently is a complex task and you are in good hands with Twilio SendGrid. Our experience working with some of the world’s largest volume ISVs has taught us a few things about how ISVs can onboard customers for success. 

In this article, I’ll present a framework that will help you avoid common pitfalls and institute internal processes to get your first customers up and running efficiently.  

An ISV customer onboarding framework

If your customers are successful, your platform will be too! Every ISV platform is different, and your customers may have different requirements and demands, too. Having a consistent approach to customer onboarding will reduce problematic sending practices that can hinder and harm your business. 

Below is a suggested framework on which you can build when designing your product features and services.

Phase 1: Vetting your customer

When customers use your platform to send email, you share their success and their challenges. It’s especially important to ensure that your customers use your platform to send wanted and well-orchestrated email campaigns, so that you build and maintain a good reputation for your IPs and your overall platform. 

We recommend building the following steps into your customer onboarding process when vetting a customer’s readiness to start using your platform to send email.

  • Vet your customer’s business legitimacy using documentation proof
  • Understand your customer’s sending volume and history
  • Understand what types of emails your customer is sending
  • Ensure your customer has double opt-in implemented
  • Ensure your customer is not using a purchased database of contacts
  • Ensure your customer is not using any scraped email contacts
  • Ensure your customer’s sending does not violate your and SendGrid’s terms and AUP
  • Ensure your customer is using an email sender domain that is representative of their business entity and website domain. Using an unrelated email sender domain may indicate an intention to spam or send emails unrelated to their business use case
  • If necessary, have a conversation with your potential customer and clarify why an unrelated sender domain is going to be used on your platform
  • Ensure your customer has sunset practices in place and is not sending to inactive addresses. Sending high-volume to inactive addresses at a high-frequency is considered spamming and can likely impact deliverability and reputation of SendGrid’s IP(s)
  • Check if your customer’s domain is currently being blacklisted

Phase 2: Verifying your customer’s sender domain

A verified sender domain is a prerequisite for sending email as it signals to inbox providers and recipients that your customer’s email can be trusted, ensuring that the emails are delivered as expected. Follow the instructions below to ensure that your customer’s domains are ready to go.

  • Work with your customer to validate their email sender domain with SendGrid
  • If a customer domain cannot be verified for various reasons, you may use your verified domain to send on behalf of your customer
  • You may use single sender verification but it is recommended to only use this for low-volume sending and testing purposes

Phase 3: Vetting email content

We recommend that you take time to feel confident in your customer’s plans to send email that meets their stated business goals and that their audience in theory wants to receive. There is some art and some science to this step. In our experience, seeing examples of your customer’s planned communications and ensuring that they have an understanding of email deliverability will greatly improve outcomes for you and them. 

Phase 4: Piloting your customers

As new customers are cleared to start sending, we recommend that you give them a chance to warm up before they hit their largest volumes. This period gives you time to see how your system is working for them and for them to more safely get comfortable with your platform. If challenges arise at this time, it will be easier to adjust course at this stage.

  • Design your product to enforce daily sending restrictions for new customers to prevent abuse
  • View every new customer as an unknown entity and let them show you that they are good actors during this trial period
  • If free-form content is allowed on your platform, sample the email content so as to verify they are adhering to acceptable use 

Phase 5: Using IP pools

IP pooling is an essential tool for ISVs who are managing many different email programs simultaneously. We recommend that you take time to understand and establish IP pools with good sending reputations. From there, you’ll be ready to assign customer mailstreams accordingly. 

  • Understand your customer’s sending profile and use IP pools to optimize your IP costs
  • Design your IP pool strategy and verify rDNS records
  • Start with good high-volume senders as the bulk of your customer base. Starting with bad senders makes it difficult to build up the reputation of the IP pool

Phase 6: Monitoring your IP pools and customers

The truth is that some of your customers at some point may end up in hot water in terms of their sending reputations. The good news is that with good monitoring, you can catch the problems as they materialize and before they spill over into other IP pools. Follow the actions below and you should be ready to capture and contain poor sending results. 

  • Use event webhooks to monitor event data and make IP pooling allocation decisions
  • Understand how each customer’s email sending is performing on a daily basis
  • Use the Twilio SendGrid Deliverability Insights dashboard to monitor for blocks, spam reports, and invalid emails; take appropriate action with your customers
  • If your customers have recurring bad sending results that lead to blocked domains, quarantine them into a bad sending IP pool or use separate IPs for them

Phase 7: Engaging your customers

Many problems that could arise when your customers are operating their email programs can be prevented or mitigated through proactive support and training. The following practices can help your team build internal knowledge and develop positive relationships with your customers.

  • Have an outreach program to manage customer performance
  • Identify customers who display undesirable sending behaviors and give them extra support
  • Train your account team and CSMs to engage your customers to enable best practices

Phase 8: Continuous governance

You would obviously like to avoid it but despite all of your best efforts some customers may not comply with the positive sending behavior that you need for them to operate on your platform. The following steps may help your team stay on top of your sending policies and enable your team to respond when escalations arise. 

  • Ensure you continue to enforce your policies with your customers throughout their lifecycle with your platform
  • Design an escalation policy for restricting customer’s sending volume if they do not adhere to good sending practices
  • Have an end-of-service policy for when to suspend or ban a customer from sending emails on your platform if a customer’s sending behavior continually violates your terms of service without recourse

Twilio Professional Services can help

Running an ISV email platform is complex and it can help to have experts by your side. Twilio Professional Services has a team of seasoned email experts whose knowledge ranges from building scalable email applications to email deliverability and email program management. We love ISVs!

If your team would benefit from guidance while you build and operate your ISV email program, reach out to Twilio Professional Services to learn more. We are ready and waiting to help you build!



Author
Yong Hui Yow is a Senior Technical Onboarding Manager at Twilio working on the Professional Services team in Singapore.
Abby Ford
Reviewer
Abby is the Content Manager on the Twilio Professional Services team. She enjoys creating content that enables people to gain knowledge and achieve results. She’s a Bay Area native and mom of two who you might find playing amateur guitar on the porch.
Kyle Rojas
Reviewer
Kyle is a Sr. Onboarding Engineer on the Twilio SendGrid Professional Services team. He has five years of experience helping ISV's architect and maintain their email and programmable SMS programs. Kyle is a Colorado native and enjoys golfing and skiing in his free time.