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How to Choose the Best Email Marketing Platform for Your Small Business

By The Leadpages Team  |  Published Jun 19, 2019  |  Updated Oct 06, 2023
Leadpages Team
By The Leadpages Team
Website templates

Email marketing might be the most powerful marketing tool you have at your disposal. It's the best way to establish relationships, keep your leads warm, build loyalty, and ultimately win conversions. As a business owner, having the right email service provider (ESP) is critical to ensuring that your email campaigns actively nurture your leads, lead to more customers (revenue), and don’t zap your bandwidth.

But, as more ESPs emerge and promise to "do it better" and "do it all...better," it can be more than a little overwhelming to sift through the options and choose the right service for your business.

Of course, you can certainly get your business off the ground with just your Leadpages subscription. However, as you grow your email list, you'll probably want to connect your Leadpages account to an email service provider so that you can seamlessly store and follow up with your leads.

Integrating Leadpages with your email service provider
Your account can seamlessly connect with dozens of email platforms, making it easy to add subscribers, update contact info, and assign them to lists/ segments every time your Leadpages form receives a submission.

Learn how to connect Leadpages integrations

Many small businesses initially start with a free (or freemium) email service provider, but quickly realize that, as their business grows and scales, their needs change.

Changing email service platforms is something that digital marketers don’t like to do. ESP migration can be complex, time-consuming, and all-too-easy to let precious leads (and data) slip through the cracks.

These are reasons why it's important for your business to select the right ESP from day one. But, when you're unsure of what the future holds for your business, how do you go about selecting the right ESP platform? Consider these initial questions:

  • What are your email marketing goals?
  • What do you need from your email service provider?
  • What are the most popular email providers? How do they stack up?
  • Which email marketing tools integrate with your Leadpages account?
    (spoiler alert: almost all of them!)

In this article, we’ll go through what an ESP is (and what it is not), we'll offer insight on how to choose the best ESP for your small business, and we'll address the first steps to setting up your ESP integration with your Leadpages account.

What is an ESP?

ESP stands for Email Service Provider. An ESP platform (or ESP software) is a digital service that sends out emails you create to contacts you have collected via lead generation. ESPs allow you to build, send, and (sometimes) automate email marketing messages to your leads and customers.

Some of the functionalities of an ESP include the capacity to:

  • Import your current contact list
  • Integrate with lead generator tools
  • Maintain a subscriber list
  • Segment subscribers for different email campaigns
  • Offer pre-made templates
  • Give you the opportunity to design and construct email templates
  • Auto respond to customer inquiries or responses
  • Deliver statistics, analytics, and reports about email campaigns

So what does ESP mean in marketing? Basically, an ESP automates your email marketing campaigns to simplify and improve the overall marketing process. Whether you’re looking to market your business to new leads, build relationships with recent customers, or respond to questions and inquiries, an ESP streamlines the correspondence between your business and your audience.

What's the difference between an ESP and a CRM?

As a business owner, if you've heard of an ESP, you've probably heard of a CRM.

As mentioned earlier, ESP stands for Email Service Provider. This is a digital service that sends out emails you create to contacts you have collected via lead generation.

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. This, too, is a digital service, but it focuses on cultivating and maintaining the customers you have.

CRMs and ESPs work together to create in-depth profiles on the customers you communicate with.

Do I also need a CRM?

Unless you’re a large-scale business with a massive contact list, you probably do not need a CRM. The main question to ask is: "Do I have a manual sales process?"

Manual sales process, in this instance, means speaking to someone in order for a sale to happen. If you make sales by talking to someone on the phone or in person exclusively, then you should look into getting a CRM.

Typically, professional service providers (agencies, brokers, insurance salespeople, realtors, dentists, fitness trainers, etc.) need a CRM because the system specializes in maintaining relationships through extensive notes and customer monitoring.

A CRM has three main functions:

  • Maintain Database: A CRM is unrivaled in its ability to sort contacts and make information readily accessible.
  • Score Leads: A CRM can tell you if a prospect is hot or cold, and can tell you exactly where they are in your marketing funnel. With this information, you can offer more tailored messaging to any one person depending on their status in the CRM.
  • Keep Records: Knowing your audience is a big part of marketing. With a CRM, you can leave individual notes on a person-by-person basis. (Is someone a difficult personality? Leave a note so you can preemptively cut out any trouble.)

A CRM can do all of these tasks because it merges with an ESP. It takes the contacts from your ESP list, segments them out based on their engagement (opening emails, using the product, etc.) and offers suggestions on how to message your contacts. The two work symbiotically, which gives you a whole other level of marketing power.

Why do I need an ESP?

Email marketing has (and will continue) to survive as the most reliable, cost-effective way to reach your audience.

Some marketers and business owners presume that email marketing is “antiquated” or “outdated,” especially considering the merry-go-round of new social media platforms popping up around the globe. Wrong! Email marketing is still the most reliable way to maintain a database of leads and customers and nurture those relationships.

Social network platforms go in and out of fashion at different times. Remember MySpace? Or what about AOL instant messaging? But email has persisted as a cornerstone of personal and professional communication since the 1990s.

And, in many cases, a business's email list functions as its customer database. If you’ve ever heard the phrase "your network is your net worth"—the same holds true for your email list. In fact, if you were to sell your business, the size and quality of your email list would be a significant part of your business’s valuation. This is because the customer emails you retain are the most direct form of contact you have with your audience. If all social media and marketing channels were to crash, change their policies, or kick you off, you’d still retain a list of customers who you could email and continue selling to.

While there are a lot of emails swirling around the world and hitting inboxes on a daily basis (fun fact: there are approximately 5.6 billion email accounts around the world with a 99% daily utilization rate), people actually want to receive emails from their favorite businesses. An estimated 73% of millennials prefer communications from businesses to come via email.

And, while we're on the topic of statistics, email marketing shows results. Approximately 59% of respondents say that marketing emails influence their purchasing decisions, and 59% of marketers claim that email offers their highest return on investment amongst their marketing strategies.

Now that we've shared the reasons why your business should use an ESP, let's address another important business factor: legalities.

Sending mass emails to your customers, no matter how informal your business may be, is often in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act. With penalties up to $42,530, it’s not worth fighting the CAN-SPAM Act by attempting to host company email marketing on your own.

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Professional ESPs know how to handle these regulations to ensure that your business is always in compliance with laws. For example, your ESP templates will always include an unsubscribe link so that customers can choose to opt-out at any time.

And, think about this: if your business did decide to violate email-related policies and laws, your email hosting company could choose to give you the boot, which could result in the loss of your business's contact list and marketing platform altogether.

Get the goods
Now that we've scared you into being a law-abiding online business, let's take a look at a few of the advantages of utilizing an ESP platform versus manual emailing.

An ESP is automated
You and your team can’t afford to waste hours upon hours crafting, sending, and responding to emails. An ESP handles all of the day-to-day email marketing for you. An ESP will automatically add new subscribers, segment lists, and even send event-related emails. With its savvy automated processes, you'll save time (and your sanity!) while improving your campaign.

Check out the 3 marketing automation workflows your business needs for more tips on automation and email marketing.

ESPs are customizable
Although ESPs automate the marketing process, you’ll still maintain total control over your email marketing. As opposed to completely outsourcing email marketing to a third-party agency, for example, you can still maintain a hold on how you’re running your campaigns. You can customize emails, auto-responses, and campaign activities based on your brand and campaign goals.

ESPs gather data
ESPs handle the tracking and reporting for you. They automatically measure opens, reads, clicks, blocks, subscribes, and unsubscribes. By collecting all of this data, ESPs provide your business with enhanced insights into the success of your email marketing campaigns. With in-depth analytics, you can constantly improve your marketing techniques to see greater success.

ESPs offer quality
In general, ESPs offer a higher quality email than you can create on your own. Most platforms offer pre-made templates that both look and feel professional. Some also offer image, font, and color libraries for even more personalization options. The templates are often mobile responsive as well, so your emails will look gorgeous on all devices.

But you’ll only see these benefits if you work with the right ESP for your business. So how do you choose which email service provider to go with?

Leadpages offers integrations with a number of top-notch email service providers including, AWeber, MailChimp, Constant Contact, Active Campaign, ConvertKit, GetResponse, InfusionSoft by Keap, and Drip. This makes it easy to link your lead generating website and landing pages to whichever ESP you choose.

See a list of Leadpages integrations here, and learn how to connect them here.

How to choose email marketing software

In this section, we'll cover 12 areas to consider when choosing the right email marketing software for your business.

1. Goals

Why do you want an email marketing campaign in the first place? What objectives are you trying to achieve? Are you looking to…

  • Acquire more customers?
  • Convert leads?
  • Improve brand awareness and recognition?
  • Educate your audience?
  • Retain customers?
  • Build a loyal brand following?
  • Promote sales, deals, or launches?

When selecting an ESP, make sure it can help you reach your goals and measure the associated metrics. For example, if you’re looking to convert leads into customers, you’ll likely want an ESP that can track how many click-throughs convert to sales. If you’re just looking to educate your audience, you may care more about your email open rate.

Your business’s email marketing goals might change over time. Because of this, you may need to change ESPs too, and that’s okay. Still, be sure to consider an ESP that meets your current goals as well as projected objectives for the future.

Psssst…if you’re looking to convert leads as a key goal, learn how to create a high-value lead magnet in just 30 minutes here.

2. Size

How many people are you trying to reach? How many emails are you looking to send? Different ESPs are made for different bandwidths and sizes. Calculate how many emails you’ll send, the type of audience you have, and the actual range the ESP offers. The size may also determine the pricing, and your ESP may charge per number of emails sent. Some email service providers offer an “unlimited emails” plan, which may work well if you’re looking to grow your email marketing campaign. But remember to keep your list growth trajectory in mind when making this decision. You could be one good campaign away from 4Xing your email list size—and that could cost a lot depending on which ESP you choose.

3. Budget

Different ESPs come with different price tags. While you don’t want to skimp here, you also don’t want to stretch your budget past what you can afford. Be sure to consider the entire cost including monthly expenses, cost per email, and any additional fees.

Note: Cost doesn’t always equal value. Some of the best ESPs are inexpensive because they can afford to reduce costs since their top-notch services attract a larger client base. Balance budget with quality!

4. Templates

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Mailchimp offers users a wide array of email templates.

Mailchimp offers users a wide array of email templates.

One of the key benefits of an ESP is how quickly and beautifully you can create responsive emails. Look for an ESP with a wide range of pre-designed templates so that it’s easy to find and customize the email for your needs.

For example, you could customize a newsletter template to go out every week, and you could have another template to promote sales and deals. Or, you may want a template for a welcome email sequence to pull in more lifelong customers and sales.

You also want your templates to have a responsive design, so be sure they’re mobile-friendly and accessible.

5. Autoresponders

If customers send your business an email, you want to respond efficiently and effectively. While you want to answer their questions and concerns thoroughly, you probably don't want to respond to every email by hand.

The best ESP platforms allow you to customize responses to different sorts of requests, so you can automatically respond to inquiries with comprehensive answers—written in the voice of your brand. This saves time and resources while maintaining a high level of customer service and interaction with your audience.

6. Customer service

Customer service is an important aspect for any business you work with, and it’s no different for your ESP. You want a platform that offers technical support when and how you need it. Some offer 24/7 support by phone or live chat, while others require you to take a “ticket” via email.

Note: “More” support isn’t always better. You want to find the right kind of customer service that will jive with your business and current marketing and tech teams. For example, you may prefer online chat to phone, so you’ll sacrifice weekend support to get that option.

7. Reputation

When it comes to something as important as email marketing, don't take a risk—choose a service that has a reliable reputation.

Do your research. See what clients have to say about the service. Take it all in, but with a grain of salt. For example, one ESP may have great reviews, but a few customers complain that it doesn’t offer unlimited emails. If unlimited emails aren’t important to you, scratch those reviews off your list.

Be sure to also inquire about deliverability and open rates. Most established ESPs have high deliverability rates, meaning the majority of emails make it to the customer’s inbox (without disappearing into cyberspace or ending up in spam).

Some ESPs also boast a higher open rate, which means recipients are more likely to open your emails. This tends to align with how the service formats their emails and can help you write intriguing headlines.

8. Segmentation

Does the ESP let you segment your customer lists based on interests, age, gender, geographical area, previous purchases, etc.? Segmentation allows you to interact more personally with customers, which is an effective way to boost conversion and brand engagement.

Learn how to segment your email list with Constant Contact.

Step 6 Selected And Created Tag

Leadpages AWeber Integration

Create & apply tags to segment your subscribers by their opt-in activity

The Leadpages AWeber integration allows you to create & apply tags to segment your subscribers with expert precision. Organize your subscribers based on their preferences, past content downloads, and more—so you can send targeted content, boost your email engagement, and win more customers.

Teach me to tag >

9. Import/export contacts

Most ESPs will integrate with your primary lead generation methods, like a landing page. But do they also let you import a separate list of contacts? Some ESPs require you to “resubscribe” to your list, which could cause you to lose some of your subscribers. Look for an ESP that makes it easy to gather all of your email subscribers in one spot.

It should also be easy to export your contact list. If you wanted to switch ESPs or show your email list to potential investors, for example, you’d want it to be a breeze to export your contact list from your current ESP.

10. Testing

Some ESPs offer A/B testing capability. This lets you send two versions of the same campaign, so that you can evaluate which variables work best. For example, you might send the same email with two different subject lines to see which subject generates a better open rate. This provides you with insight into the types of subjects your audience wants, so you can plan the design of your campaign accordingly.

11. User interface

Is the ESP software easy to use? Every service provider has its own pros and cons when it comes to the interface. Work with a platform that's easy to navigate. And don't forget to consider your team, since members of your marketing and promotion department may also have to use the platform.

Most ESPs offer a free trial, so take a few test drives around the lot!

12. Integrations

You want your ESP to integrate with all of your other services. If you have lead generation tools or software, you want it to automatically link to your ESP. For example, you may want customers to be able to purchase goods right in their emails, so select a software that features this type of option.

Leadpages offers integrations with a number of top-notch email service providers including, AWeber, MailChimp, Constant Contact, Active Campaign, ConvertKit, GetResponse, InfusionSoft by Keap, and Drip. This makes it easy to link your lead generating website and landing pages to whichever ESP you choose.

See a list of Leadpages integrations here, and learn how to connect them here.

Start emailing

Leadpages websites and landing pages integrate seamlessly with your ESP to collect leads, designate segments and campaigns, and grow your customer list effectively. We even offer Lead Notification emails that notify you whenever someone opts into your form, letting you know when your ESP will be engaged to automatically send responses and add new leads to the list.

Don’t get stressed about how to choose email marketing software for your business. Any of Leadpages’ ESP integrations are top-tier with strong reputations and reliability. Try out a few different trials to see which interface will work best for your business!

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