What we learned implementing a new ESP at a major charity

In this guest post James Gadsby-Peet, Senior Digital Services Manager at Cancer Research UK, outlines the lessons his organisation learned during the implementation of a new email service provider (ESP).

| 11th Sep 15

In this guest post James Gadsby-Peet, Senior Digital Services Manager at Cancer Research UK, outlines the lessons his organisation learned during the implementation of a new email service provider. 

We’re about 12 months into bringing on board a new email service provider. Being the size of organisation that we are, the importance of this project is only matched by its trickiness to implement.

The core reason for changing from our previous provider was to enable more devolution of email broadcast from the digital team to our various fundraising and information teams. This means that there are even more stakeholders involved than normal and the project supports a strategic initiative as well some very granular capabilities.

Many of these lessons are applicable to any large or strategically important procurement project. A few of them are specific to email, though.

Sales people

Don’t believe the sales people — they won’t be around in eight months’ time, when you’re going back over the agreement to which you now have to work to and holding the supplier in account. I don’t think that any of them are bad people for this — they just have a different perspective from you, the supplier solutions team and your stakeholders.

As such, make sure that you meet the people who you will actually be working with before you sign anything.

Procurement people

If you’re lucky enough to have a procurement team, use them. They are not there to get in the way, make life difficult or make you jump through hoops. Almost everything that is in this list was flagged to us before the project started by Procurement.

Comparing like for like

An obvious one, but watch out for hidden costs when comparing ESPs and think about your future state. In other words, don’t just think about your current list size; think also about what costs would look like if you grow your email list and significantly increase email frequency.

User test as part of the RFP process

We should have done proper task-based user testing on the product as part of the RFP process. We do it on all our public facing digital products and it’s invaluable — saving time, money and resource further down the line, not to mention delivering much better products.

It’s not yet standard within any RFP/procurement processes that I know of, but we’re working to include it within all of ours moving forward. Some suppliers will be up for this, some of them won’t. If they’re not, they know it’s because their product is difficult to use. Simple as that.

Help me to help you. Help me to help you…

Spend as much time scoping the support model as you do the technical requirements. Make the agreement specific to your organisation and get SLAs in place, so that everyone is on the same page. For an organisation as big as ours, this is a serious investment on the supplier’s side and so the cost of the project and the resource management has to take it into account.

Get technical early

Pre-sales supplier teams have to fully understand the technical setup on your side before they can make recommendations for future states. This type of discovery work is worth paying for  — it’ll save you time, money and heartache later on.

Make sure that you’ve got your development team involved in looking over the technical solutions for things like web-form integration. There are lots of ways to do this kind of thing, and it’s worth getting the people on the ground to sign off the tools they’re going to be using.

If you have any other systems that handle data , make sure that you plot a data map as quickly as possible — even if it is just boxes on a piece of paper. Working out the roles and responsibilities of different systems is critical to allowing you to roll out in the way that you need to.

It’s good to talk

Keep talking to stakeholders and keep them involved, even if nothing is actually happening. As with any centrally managed tool, keeping people engaged with the implementation process is key, as otherwise when you come to roll out things will inevitably break. Take the time to send different communications to different stakeholders dependent on their needs and interests. Directors can’t possibly care about the same things that a Marketing Exec will do…

Honesty is the best policy

Don’t expect any supplier to be perfect — regardless of what the sales people tell you. Take time to understand them and their limitations, in the same way that they should do with you.

Project plans are worth their weight in gold

Straight after the business requirements document, get a project plan. It’ll make everything easier.

Have a warmup plan

When you change from one IP address (or set of addresses) to another, then you’re going to need to get it up to speed. Your new provider should be able to advise on all this, but it will definitely mean you need to know every single campaign that’s going out.

Train at the right time and in the right way

Make sure that major areas such as data table structure, processes andfolders are all implemented and finalised before you start training people on the system. This ensures that the training will be much more valuable, as it will show people exactly what they will be doing rather than a broad overview of how it can work with generic examples.

Make sure the training is practical and that staff will be using the system near to when they were originally trained. Although the training will be digital, don’t forget that people learn in different ways and some people really value having a printout of the notes.

Extra value

Whichever supplier you move forward with, try to get a sense of the ‘added value’ that they can bring. Things like events, seminars, white papers and benchmarks can all be hugely valuable in upskilling your team and organisation. Naturally, the bigger the supplier, the more of this kind of thing you can expect, but most of the major ESPs offer something.

In conclusion: Plan. Talk. Plan. Talk. Plan some more.

We’re still extremely excited about the opportunities that our new digital marketing platform provides us — but we have learnt a huge amount about ourselves as an organisation, our new supplier and how to run these projects in getting to this point.

What digital lessons have you or your charity fundraising team learned? Join James and a host of other speakers from within the charity sector and outside, at the Institute of Fundraising’s Digital Fundraising Conference on 28th September