Expert’s Guide to Email for Agencies Table of Contents Introduction Agencies come in many different forms. From local design firms to full-service digital marketing companies that help their clients develop and implement a complete online strategy. At their core, agencies help their clients by leveraging a suite of software solutions so the clients can focus more on their businesses. One of the most essential features an agency can provide their clients is a reliable and scalable email solution. When it comes to email, finding and integrating an email solution seems like a lot of difficult work, which is why so many agencies rely on SendGrid. To help other agencies tackle the issue of email for their customers, we tapped into the expertise of four different agencies that are currently using SendGrid to help their clients communicate with their end customers and users: HIVE Digital Strategy Neticon Curotec Switch Digital In addition to learning about how these agencies use email, and the advice they have for other agencies currently evaluating email service providers, we’ve asked a couple of our experts to weigh-in on what agencies should keep in mind when it comes to email. HIVE Digital Strategy Can you describe your agency and what you specialize in? HIVE Digital Strategy is an inbound marketing agency. Our specialty is the strategy behind a digital marketing campaign, but we also handle execution, planning, and everything else for each of our clients. We handle all digital marketing tactics such as website design, SEO, pay-per-click, email marketing, blogging, and content creation. We do a lot of high value content, like downloadable content and white papers, checklists, infographics, things like that. Do you guys have a specific type of customer you work with most? How many clients do you work with? I would estimate around 40. We definitely have some target areas, but we’re not specifically focused in one vertical or niche. Our priority areas are education, professional services, and health and fitness. How much email do each of your clients send each month? Most of our clients are at least sending a couple emails per month to each of their segmented contacts, but we also have clients who are sending multiple messages each week. The frequency depends on what their business is, and how much email their recipients want. In terms of the number of recipients, we definitely have clients that are sending to 10, 20, or 30,000 contacts, while other clients are much smaller and only send to 500 or 1,000 contacts. Do your clients send mostly transactional email, marketing email, or a mix of both? Most of them are sending education-focused emails and other marketing messages. We don’t send a ton of transactional email. We have several clients who will do webinars and things like that, so they’ll send out email confirmations and reminders to contacts who have registered. Do you do any email education with your clients? What would be the biggest piece of advice you give to your clients when you’re working with them? Absolutely. For most of our clients, we do a small portion of education around email in general, and why you don’t want to bombard people with emails. For the majority of our clients, we’re helping create the content and the strategy around their emails. The two biggest pieces of advice we give are: Segment your lists – A lot of times, a client will have a giant list they blast with the same message, without considering who that person is or what they’re interested in. We do a lot of education and coaching around segmenting your lists, so that you’re speaking about something that each recipient wants to hear about. Give a call to action – We’ve had a lot of clients come on, and they’ll send us some examples of emails that they sent out in the past. Many times, there’s no action step, there’s no call to action. That’s something we really focus on, not just with their email, but throughout their website, landing pages, and their whole campaign: give the recipient the ability to become a lead by giving them an action to take. “SendGrid is flexible, we can update clients with different statistics, and things aren’t breaking like they were with other email providers.” Dustin Brackett What advice would you give to other agencies about email? Dustin Brackett, Founder and CEO, HIVE Digital Strategy I guess my biggest piece of advice is to really do your research and your homework on software and email providers. We struggled for three years trying to figure out the right solution and really just found it when we signed up with SendGrid. We went through a big struggle trying to figure out the right software and email provider for us. We’re a HubSpot partner agency, so we send a lot of email through HubSpot, but for our clients that don’t use their platform, we had to find an email provider that could handle that email. We tried a few different email providers, but everything felt super basic. We were working and creating these emails, but it didn’t feel like we were really providing value, just because there wasn’t much flexibility with the software. It felt like something the client could have done themselves. Then we moved on to Emma, and it was just a giant mess. The tool didn’t work. We sent out test emails that looked fine, but when they actually sent the email, colors were changing, fonts were changing. It was crazy. After that, we started with SendGrid. Now we have the ability to add value for our clients. SendGrid is flexible, we can update clients with different statistics, and things aren’t breaking like they were with other email providers. Curotec What’s the agency you work for? Curotec is a software and web development company based in the Philadelphia area. We build software tools that integrate business processes with technology. This can include things like patient management systems for healthcare, or online sales tools for consumer brands. We work a lot with ecommerce, and were actually just listed as a top 10 global ecommerce development agency in 2017 by an independent industry research group called Clutch. We really pride ourselves on allowing our clients to be more efficient, and more productive with the information that they’re managing and producing. This way, they’re not only able to streamline their business processes, but also able to make better use of the information they have for business decisions and ultimately a better bottom line. We also get called in on a lot of high-end website initiatives—typically ecommerce systems that have a lot of complex integration requirements, or multilingual websites that have platforms for managing content in many different locales and languages to reach a broad and diverse audience. What are the types of clients you serve? How much email do they typically send? Curotec works with companies of a diverse nature, though we tend to attract healthcare, life science, and consumer brand organizations. We have some clients that are innovative startups, and others that are much larger enterprise groups. We worked with over 200 different clients last year. In terms of the amount of email each client sends, it can really vary. I would say somewhere between 1,000 and maybe 100,000 emails is an average number per month. Do your clients send mostly transactional email, marketing email, or a mix of both? For the most part, our clients aren’t really doing marketing emails, though some do, they’re definitely doing more transactional messages to update users and send confirmations. As a result, those emails don’t get flagged and blocked as much as promotional messages may tend to get blocked at a spam filter. We still do research and help them implement best practices so those transactional emails get delivered to the users properly. We haven’t really had that many issues with spam or non-delivery, because it’s mostly customers who are signing up for a service, or employees of a company that are expecting emails from their employer. “In the past, we worked with other email providers that ended up changing their business model, and they stopped offering transactional email services, so we were forced to migrate on short notice. Since then, we only use SendGrid and have had a great experience.” Brian Dainis What advice do you give to your clients about email? We generally educate our clients about the importance of sending quality emails. Nobody wants to get spammed with a bunk of junk emails or system alerts every 5 minutes. In order to ensure users are getting value out of our clients’ email communication, we discuss things like the content, frequency, and overall value the email is bringing the user. What role does email play in your clients’ businesses? Email is generally a simple communication tool to our clients. To be specific, it would be used for things like transaction receipts, requests for users to perform certain actions (like take a survey or update their account information), reminders and alerts, and system related messages (security, performance, thresholds, etc). What advice would you give to other agencies about email? What should they look for in an email service provider? Brian Dainis – CEO, Curotec Make sure that the email service provider you work with has a great reputation, and is going to be around for a long time. In the past, we worked with other email providers that ended up changing their business model, and they stopped offering transactional email services, so we were forced to migrate on short notice. Since then, we only use SendGrid and have had a great experience. The next thing I would tell an agency that’s using an email service provider, is to look at the endpoints, what the integration looks like, how flexible and scalable the service is, and how they handle compliance. All those things are important in the consideration process. That was what we used to evaluate email services. That’s how we ultimately ended up with SendGrid. I would say that those are all very important factors since your email service is a core component of your application. What’s the biggest challenge your clients face in regards to email? None of our clients really have any direct pain points with email, because they’re contracting us to build them an application or business system. To them, email is a subset feature of the overall platform. Many of our clients just think of it as a small feature rather than its own micro service. I think a pain point for them would be if it didn’t work in general. They would probably look at that as a failure of the product we delivered to them, which is why it is critical we find vendors like SendGrid that we know will deliver a great service. Neticon What agency do you work for? What value do you provide to your clients? I work for Neticon, an agency based in Milan, Italy. We offer tailor-made solutions that focus on enabling brands with their presence online. We work with clients on their digital path like digital marketing, personalization, ecommerce, and the overall customer experience. Our flagship products are a product personalization platform and an email marketing solution. What are the types of clients you serve? We provide solutions and services to a variety of industries, but our main focus is on clients exploring their ecommerce journey particularly in the eyewear manufacturing, fashion, and luxury product sectors. How many email messages do you send each month? The sending volume depends on seasonality, communication strategy, and preferences of individual clients. Currently, our clients send anywhere between 7 million to 10 million marketing emails each month. How important is email to your clients? Email is an integral part of our clients’ marketing strategy. We work with marketers to help them leverage the highly personalized communication potential of email marketing. For them, email has become an excellent channel for providing valuable content to their recipients. Email also provides them with a way to measure engagement and their return on investment. “Email is an integral part of our clients’ marketing strategy… Email also provides them with a way to measure engagement and their return on investment.” Diana Avelar What’s the biggest challenge your clients face in regards to email? Some of our clients have difficulties segmenting efficiently. Often, they’ll send emails that fit their expectations, but they don’t always achieve communication with their recipients. Another difficulty is time. Conceiving, creating, and sending a successful email campaign takes time and expertise. Do your clients send mostly transactional email, marketing email, or a mix of both? We send mostly marketing emails, with the emphasis being on recipient conversion. What advice do you give to your clients about email? Diana Avelar, Head of Digital Marketing We encourage our clients to know their customers and recipients as closely as possible. With this knowledge, they can send more relevant emails that speak to those people directly. We also let our clients know that they should only be sending emails their recipients want, and expect, to receive. When a campaign has been sent, they should continuously analyze their performance to see if there are fine tunings to be made to adapt to the constantly evolving communication strategies. What advice would you give to other agencies about email? It takes time to build and run successful campaigns, it is a continuous job to analyze recipient engagement and behavior, and then identify the most successful elements of a campaign. It is a long journey, and not all clients are prepared to shift from the “email blast” approach to the personalized communication approach. What do you look for in an email service provider? A reliable platform with solid API, comprehensive source of information and case histories, stability and scalability potential. Switch Digital What’s the agency you work for? Switch Digital was created and developed as a personal project of mine. I’ve been developing websites for more than 20 years for different customers. Over time, I began offering cloud infrastructure management and consulting, and we started helping clients manage their emails. Right now, I work mostly on system integration and helping customers set up and send email newsletters. That’s how I came across SendGrid. What are the types of clients you serve? We work with many different types of clients on the infrastructure and technology of their business—we do not have a specific customer type. Our typical customer has some kind of presence online, and we help them support the applications they develop, from security to performance, or helping them with technical support, that’s mainly what Switch Digital does for them. How do your clients use email? We have some customers who send some newsletters, some need to send receipt emails, and some of our clients send notification emails to other customers of theirs, so we help them send whatever messages they need to. We discovered SendGrid because some of our clients were getting blocked and having a hard time getting email delivered. “We have many clients who think email is just like the post office. You get some addresses, you put together some messages, and they get sent out to those people, and end up in the mailbox. This is not true. You need to be careful about how you get email addresses, how you create messages, and how you configure your email infrastructure.” Jose Barros What advice do you give to your clients about email? Jose Barros, CEO/Solutions Architect We have to cover a lot of the basics of email with our clients. We have to tell some to include more than just an image in their messages. With others, they come to us saying that all their email is going to the junk folder. In that case, we have to review authentication like SPF record, DKIM, and DMARC so that they can get their emails delivered. We help them with the technical authentication issues when they come up. What advice would you give to other agencies about email? I would tell them to be very careful about the messages they send. Any email that is not properly authenticated, and doesn’t meet the requirements of Google, Yahoo, and other inbox providers, will start to get blocked. When that happens too much, no email will get delivered. If this happens, then you might be spending money of sending emails that are never actually delivered to recipients. Why do you prefer to have your clients use SendGrid? I began using SendGrid for myself and found it very easy to use. Having our customers relying on their own mail server to send newsletters and other mass email was becoming a big headache, due to the issues it was arising. We show our clients that’s not the right way to handle their email, and why using SendGrid is better. We have also shown that they have more insight into the performance of email as a channel, and their personal email is kept protected. Advice From SendGrid Experts Louis Driving Hawk, Email Deliverability Consultant I think that agencies should define their baseline metrics for each of their customers or clients. So, if you have customers A, B, and C, as their agency, you should know how each of those customers trend with their email engagement. If there’s a drop in those metrics, it may signal an issue those customers are having, and it’ll let the agency put out a fire before it really spreads. Seth Charles, Sr. Email Deliverability Consultant Agencies tend to have a lot of subusers that are sending email to their contacts, so my advice for agencies is to be as agile as possible. Businesses can get too stuck on what they want to do, and are less open to feedback. Agencies should be receptive to the needs of their customers and be ready to make email infrastructure changes as quickly as possible. The Importance of Email for Agencies For many agencies, email is one of the pillars that their business is built on, which is why it’s so critical for it to function correctly. As each of the experts above said, the email service provider you build your agency with needs to be reliable, scalable, and able to handle the nuances of sending many different types of email. Some of the other key takeaways you should keep in mind if you’re sending agency email include: Take your time when building and running campaigns. It’s a continuous job to analyze recipient engagement and behavior, and then identify the most successful elements of a campaign. Agencies should define their baseline email metrics for each of their customers or clients so that they can jump on problems if they arise. Do your research and your homework on software and email providers. Find someone that is flexible and adds value for your clients, not someone that offers a bunch of features that may break email campaigns. Be careful about the messages you send. Any email that isn’t properly authenticated, will start to get blocked. When that happens too much, no email will get delivered. Make sure that the email service provider you work with has a great reputation, and is going to be around for a long time. Agencies should be receptive to the needs of their customers and be ready to make email infrastructure changes as quickly as possible. Get Started With SendGrid SendGrid helps you focus on your business without the cost and complexity of owning and maintaining an email infrastructure. Our Delivery Experts can help you with all technical details (from sender authentication to DKIM) and offer world-class deliverability expertise to help your emails reach the inbox. And with a full-featured marketing email service that offers an intuitive workflow, effortless list segmentation, and actionable analytics, all of your email needs are met in one simple platform.