7 steps to help you prepare for a marketing cloud/email service provider transition

Is the prospect of moving to a new cloud or email service provider daunting? Columnist Jose Cebrian shares tips to help you prepare for and implement the new technology to ensure it goes smoothly.

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When making a move to a new provider of cloud or email services, the number one consideration is to leave yourself enough time to administer the procurement process and create an orderly transition.

For large companies, a migration tends to include several interconnected dependencies and systems. Too many times we see request for proposals without enough consideration for when the existing contract is up — or no RFP at all. This puts everybody in a bad position. You, the client, are likely coming up on a contract expiration that is immovable. The time of 30-, 60- or 90-day extensions seems to be in the past.

If you’re planning to make a move, you must be ready to leave your existing platform behind on the day your contract ends.

In general terms, you should allow at least eight months to prepare for and implement this transition. For some, it will be even longer. For others, it may be shorter. Following are the key components.

1. Budget enough internal time to devote to the RFP

You will need a lead business person, technical input, a project manager, procurement, legal, finance and so on. It’s a lot to get done. The person who is accountable needs to have enough time devoted to the project to manage it.

In addition, it often makes sense to get help from a consultant — someone who is aligned to your goals, who can help you organize the RFP, manage vendors’ submissions and apply a proven process. While I don’t always like it from the vendor perspective, an outsider can often see what those inside cannot in order to run a proper process.

As Chris Marriott of Marketing Democracy once told me, you are going to have to go to the doctor — do you want to go when you have symptoms or a full-blown disease? You need to have an orderly way to make a good decision.

2. Run the RFP

This includes defining your requirements. Don’t just replace what you have; anticipate what you will need.

In addition, you need to allow enough time to select vendors for the RFP and allow them to give an initial response that lets you eliminate some respondents and focus your attention on a remaining few. In my opinion, the absolute minimum is two weeks (and preferably more if you want well-measured answers). After the first round, you will still need time to down-select vendors, allow for in-person presentations, assess demos based on specific use cases, choose the top two vendors and allow for the contracting process, which is specific to the organizations contracting but can be protracted.

Consideration: In many cases, today, the technology vendor and the services (implementation or ongoing) vendor are not the same, so you need to account for that separate procurement process as well. Some vendors are platform-specific, and others can work on a range of platforms. Your needs and the platform(s) chosen will narrow the list of partners quickly.

3. Allow for a proper implementation process

Unless you have a simple program, a proper implementation will take at least a few months. In certain cases, it can be done more quickly, but you cannot assume best case.

Presumably, your motivations for moving to a new platform are to take advantage of advanced functionality and enable new requirements. To facilitate that, you need to allow appropriate time and budget for re-envisioning your program.

In addition to a basic lift and shift of the existing program, you should welcome a vendor to come in and understand your vision so that targeting and automations can be reimagined in the context of the new platform vs. fitting into what you used to do.

Be open. Not all platforms function the same way. Each platform was developed with specific use cases in mind and will handle different situations differently.

Do not get wooed by vendors who are there just to get the basic requirements down and get a platform configured for a low price. The best outcomes result from transitions in which the programs are looked at anew and sufficient time is given to a full requirements gathering by people who understand the ecosystem beyond just the ESP (email service provider).

If the RFP is in the context of an organizational transformation, ensure that you have support to manage the change inside of the organization. An example of this is when companies consolidate certain marketing responsibilities to create a center of excellence. There are a lot of new processes to be defined, key decisions to be made, roles to be defined. It is not just a technology switch.

4. Don’t shortchange IP warming

Presuming email is one of the channels for this new technology, don’t shortchange IP (Internet Protocol) warming from a timeline perspective. At the minimum, you have to allow six weeks to gradually increase the volume of email being sent from your dedicated IP address. It may be shorter or longer than that in actuality, but it has to be considered and predetermined, from both a timeline perspective and a budget perspective.

The budgeting piece is often hard to forecast, because it has one of two main impacts: First, if you are running your program on two platforms, there will be additional costs from running the same or similar campaigns on two platforms; and second, you will have to cut over fully to the new vendor during IP warming. During this time, your total volume will likely decrease, which will require you to budget for reduced revenue from email.

5. Allow enough time for your vendor ecosystem to deliver their portions

Depending on how complex your ecosystem is, you may have several partners that need to provide or receive files/data from a new marketing cloud. These might include your marketing database provider, your ecommerce provider, internal stakeholders/systems and your compliance management systems.

The point is that all of these systems need time. They may have similar feeds today, but they need to be validated in the context of the new system. Scope this out in advance. Preparing for a migration takes time.

To be safe, take the following two steps, regardless of your timeline and the complexity of the program.

6. Add migration services to your existing contracts

Ensure that you will have adequate support throughout the migration. This must go beyond the support model you have for ongoing services. It will entail some additional technical services, possibly handing over requirements documentation, and in some cases, the transfer of agency-held software licenses.

7. Make sure you have the right language in your agreement

In the context of email, ensure that you have language in your agreement that considers collecting and sending back email opt-outs for a specified legal amount of time. This will prevent a situation in which you need to extend your license agreement for a year, when you only need it for, say, a month.

An alternative is that your company could host an opt-out page, which leverages an application program interface (API) to insert the opt-out to the proper marketing cloud/email service provider.

Gone are the days of a simple migration that takes a couple of months. Email programs at major companies are complex, and timelines need to be adjusted accordingly. At its best, rushing the process results in a lift and shift, which may be what’s needed at the moment but is ultimately short-sighted.

Think about how to use your new technology to your greatest benefit versus just doing no harm to business as usual. Otherwise, you will have a brand-new platform with enhanced capabilities doing the same old thing.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Jose Cebrian
Jose Cebrian is Vice President and General Manager of Email and Mobile Messaging for Merkle. He came to Merkle after spending nine years at Acxiom, where he grew to Managing Director, Global Client Services for Digital Impact, Acxiom’s email and SMS division. Jose led a global team responsible for optimizing interactive direct marketing campaigns across the web, email, and mobile.

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