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The Basics

September 2023 – Since originally publishing this article, a key issue has begun to surface in the world of email marketing. It seems that email hosting companies have begun taking steps to reduce spamming that are so arcane, nearly every company using a third party email service other than Microsoft and Google as their email hosts will be impacted. And Microsoft and Google will be watching you. 

They are doing this in a number of ways:

Email servers (primarily outlook/microsoft and google/work space) are getting better at identifying spam – or what they think is spam.  Even if the MX servers are not sure, they will mark your email in some way – “Sender Can’t be verified”, “show blocked content” and “I trust blocked content from [sender email]” are just some of the alerts we’ve seen.

We have also seen reference next to real person email accounts of the service being used to orginate the email. Something like “jsmith@careernet.com via sendgrid”. They may be designed to alert the receiving party to spam, but it most certainly has an impact on your deliverability. 

If you really want to dig deep into the current state of email marketing, much can be learned from this video. But fair warning, it’s long intended for for intermediate level email marketers. 

Beyond recommendations, this article offers a guide to the proper uses of email marketing services and email marketing generally.

Much like our article on best ATS , there has bee significant feature set creep in email marketing live chat in a raise to be everything to everyone. By way of example, not every company needs an inventory control and monitoring fuction built into their chat solution. Not every company needs a Help Desk Knowledge center or Library updated by AI. Not every Company needs omni channel to a centralized desk top app. But some do. The point is there are so many option in feature set and integrations that you can really pick and choose the features most important to your organization.

What is an Email marketing service?

An email marketing service is a software platform or online service that allows businesses and individuals to create, send, and manage email marketing campaigns. These campaigns typically involve sending targeted and personalized emails to a list of subscribers or customers with the goal of achieving various marketing objectives, such as:

  1. Promotions: Announcing product launches, special offers, discounts, and sales.

  2. Customer Engagement: Keeping subscribers informed about company news, updates, and events.

  3. Lead Generation: Collecting email addresses and other contact information to build a list of potential customers.

  4. Customer Retention: Nurturing existing customer relationships through valuable content and personalized communication.

  5. Transactional Emails: Sending automated order confirmations, shipping notifications, and other transaction-related emails.

Key features and functions of email marketing services include:

  • Email Campaign Creation: Tools for designing and creating visually appealing and responsive email templates.

  • List Management: The ability to import, segment, and organize email subscriber lists.

  • Personalization: Options for customizing emails with recipient names, preferences, and other relevant data.

  • Automation: Setting up automated email sequences based on triggers, such as user actions or time intervals.

  • A/B Testing: Running split tests to determine which email subject lines, content, or designs perform best.

  • Analytics and Reporting: Tracking email open rates, click-through rates, conversion rates, and other key metrics to assess campaign performance.

  • Compliance: Ensuring that emails comply with relevant email marketing laws and regulations, such as CAN-SPAM Act (in the United States) or GDPR (in Europe).

  • Integration: Connecting with other marketing tools and platforms, such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems or e-commerce platforms.

These services are widely used because they simplify the process of creating and managing email marketing campaigns, provide valuable insights through analytics, and help businesses maintain good email sender reputations, which is crucial for email deliverability.

If you haven’t yet, have a look at The Basics (above) for a quick way to gain some perspective on this massive landscape.

The Real

Our contacts and customers are businesses. This comes with a special set of security and fire walls designed to prevent questionable or unsolicited emails through corporate servers and into email boxes.  Most any email services provider will deliver email to gmail accounts and, based upon the number of emails sent and the interaction (openings or clicks) of these emails will determine the importance of your emails quickly.  Servers it seems determine the viability of your email campaigns.

An easy example, and perhaps the most extreme, is emails with @yahoo.com extensions. Marketing to users with an @yahoo.com extension is like not marketing at all. Unless you have a history of exchanges with @yahoo.com email users, your cold email will likely go into a spam folder, if it even makes it through the servers. See our forthcoming article on 5 Best email practices for B2B.

What we’ve learned.

Which brings us to what really matters, deliverability and internet reputation as determined by both email servers and recipients of your emails.

By using a number of services, encountering disappointing results, and speaking at length with the providers of these services, we learned that certain providers are focused on deliverability and certain are focused on providing a platform while protecting their own reputations with email server hosts.

Which means as a user of these services, you are in effect, renting their reputation, not developing your own.

It may seem that using an email marketing service provider that focuses on its reputation first is a good way to establish your own. After all, it’s easy to be looked upon as a spammer. We’ve found that when using these types of service providers, your company is drastically limiting its audience.

Take an example we discovered. Using a known premier service for 2 months, a few emails to our current customers weekly, we found that many were not seeing our emails at all. Their servers identified our emails as emails sent from the service provider, regardless of our email address appearing in the From line.

Worse, when we uploaded our full customer list, and agreed to pay the additional costs per month, our account was locked up. Then we began to receive inquiries from this service provider as to the origination of our email list.

It was acquired over 20 years of business. That didn’t seem reasonable to the email service provider.

So we started doing our homework. Speaking to experts in the email deliverability field and found that enterprise class solutions when you are marketing legitimately, are not only more effective, but understand enterprise marketing practices.

Choice for Enterprise

Best for Most

Best for B2C

Reliable delivery and feature set.  Set up may be challenging for some, but service is patient. This is the pro choice for B2B email. Their primary meter is Reputation. Says it all.

Delivery and a dashboard with honest stats that allows for super quick changes in strategies and similarly quick understanding of the results. Plus top social media integrations that work.

The choice for established companies growing their customer engagement through multi-channel marketing with a focus on email and sms. New superb Enterprise class service.

How an email marketing platform works.

As a B2B company, we focus on the B2B experience where it matters. Here are some basics for new adopters.

Most email services companies have a free service or trial period which enables you to learn the system before beginning your subscription. Customer service varies during ghtis trial period and as wer have written in the past, a dedicated adopter will quickly reach the limitations of the trial feature set and functions.

For any subscription service we would recommend spending the higher month to month fees and determining the services suitability to your business before paying for the discounted full year rates. Until you are using the service in the real world, week to week at scale, you’ll never know.

There are two steps to quickly get up and running with your selected email services provider. The first is to upload your existing client email list and information. Once uploaded most email service providers run your list through a filter to determine any number of factors, but primarily to see which emails are still in use. More on this below.

The next step is to create an email or what is typically referred to as a marketing campaign. This is where the builder and templates come into use. You simply assemble a form, generally by on-screen drag and drop functions, add your own images and language, and then send a test email to yourself or your team members to see what it will look like. When you are satisfied with the results, you start your campaign. At this point your email is sent to every email found in the group or segment that you have selected.  Mailchimp is best known for its builder, but in truth each email service provider has designed a builder that suits their typical client and, by extension, their client’s clients.

Another feature most every email service provider offers is a way to build your client email list through form capture. There are templates for these too. Some are called opt-in forms. They may be embedded into your site in aa number of ways. The most effective will be determined by each company website. We’ve all been asked to sign-up for newsletters or marketing content in the past. We know what this looks like.

What Email Marketing Platforms does CareerNet Recommend?

1. SendGrid

SendGrid is at once the best of email marketing platforms, and the most daunting if you do not have a reasonably experienced IT person on your staff. Set up and testing can range from 1 – 3 days based upon your in-house expertise. Next the real fun begins. Upon configuring your email and sending out your first mail be prepared for a reality check. Your mail will be delivered, the stats will be accurate, your campaign performance will immediately reflect in your on-line reputation. You can’t get deliverability without impacting your on-line reputation. Which is why spammers should for sure not select SendGrid.

For the rest of us, SendGrid is one of the few email marketing platforms that does everything it says it will to standards that continue to amaze us month after month. Your email discipline and compliance is maintained. Your email design or over design is kept in check. You almost do not have to A/B test (although it’s offered) because it will be obvious immediately whether your latest campaign was effective or not. Plus, once you are set up, it’s super simple to add users and monitor their every move in an affiliate or external marketing arrangement. We only have one complaint, and it’s always a big one for us, the pricing scheme gets complex and convuluted quickly. We hope that SendGrid will work on the price key.

Recently we have seen a bit of a drop off in both the service and customer service from SendGrid. We still use them but are pursuing other solutions. We will update you either way!

 

Learn to use and prosper with email marketing platforms

Pros

Near perfect deliverability.

Superb email designs for the qualified user.

Once configured (see above) anyone in your organization can use it like a pro.

Cons

There are no brakes, you send it you own it. Miss use it (spam) and you’ll need to start looking for a new URL.

Don’t know what MX records are or how to manage your DNS settings? Look at our other recommendations.

Customer service has become spotty in the last few months.

Confusing pricing.

This is the choice for B2B companies just starting a true email marketing strategy through email marketing platforms. We think its ease of use combined with its feature set and impressive deliverability ratings make it a natural choice for small to midsized businesses. As your segments grow, so will your use of Constant Contact.

Deliverability as discussed above is the primary metric for success. This can only occur through active monitoring, current knowledge of email servers limitations and proper authentication practices. 

These are managed by Constant Contact in ways you’ll never know are happening. It’s like having a nanny and email marketing expert watching your every move. Which is a good thing.

That comes with a cost that is a bit higher than other typical competitors, but really, there are none – For sure we’d recommend Constant Contact for B2C companies.

Pros

Among the industry leaders for deliverability.

A corporate focus on email compliance which doesn’t impact your marketing.

A simple dashboard that gets to the point.

Leaders in SMS marketing and communication.

Simple subscriber management, segmentation.

Social Media integrations that include LinkedIn.

Transparent pricing.

Cons

It’s easy to get lost in data analysis, especially as you grow your email lists.

Massive well integrated feature set will be overload for first time email marketers.

Setup is not as simple as advertised.

Customer service is OK – prepare to go on a learning journey.

 

Think of Brevo (formerly Sendinblue) as a top notch CRM (Customer Relationship Manager platform) for B2C with a top class email marketing platform design focus. Brevo received high marks for usability, time to get up and running, and omnichannel experience. We would rank it equal in performance to Constant Contact. It is not our third choice, it is in fact one of three choices we would recommend.

Specifically, Brevo is excellent for enterprises who are in the B2C space. Brevo excels in user interface, but equally so in maintaining customer feature sets that reflect the latest and greatest UX experience for consumer response.

That means the design elements for things like popups, chat, and even SMS work. Customers like to click on designs built with Brevo.

In B2C marketing clicks are the key KPI for email marketing.

Finally, Brevo is actually passionate about email marketing compliance. They don’t simply maintain internal standards to protect themselves, they do it for the longevity of email as a marketing outlet. This approach is unique and brings nuance to your email marketing that will bring you better results than you may actually deserve.

Brevo screen shot

Pros

Compliance without limiting your efforts.

Seeing email marketing from a CRM approach seems natural, not forced.

All the ways and methods to reach that elusive customer KPI, “Clicks”.

Easier than our other choices to get up and running.

Any size business can start with Lite or Premium level, and develop an expertise, with the knowledge that there is an Enterprise Class ready and waiting.

Cons

Brevo is not a blunt force email delivery service. Do not use it as such.

Use the templates, creating your own designs requires lots of trial and error or an in-house design professional. You already have one right? If not, use the templates.

Patience is a virtue in email marketing. Brevo rewards it.

What we have learned seeking the best email marketing platforms

What really matters: deliverability and internet reputation as determined by both email servers and recipients of your emails.

By using a number of email marketing platforms, encountering disappointing results, and speaking at length with the providers of these services, we learned that certain providers are focused on deliverability and certain are focused on providing a platform while protecting their own reputations with email server hosts. Which means as a user of these services, you are in effect, renting their reputation, not developing your own.

It may seem that using an email marketing service provider that focuses on its reputation first is a good way to establish your own. After all, it’s easy to be looked upon as a spammer. We’ve found that when using these types of service providers, your company is drastically limiting its audience.

Take an example we discovered. Using a known premier service for 2 months, a few emails to our current customers weekly, we found that many were not seeing our emails at all. Their servers identified our emails as emails sent from the service provider, regardless of our email address appearing in the From line. Worse, when we uploaded our full customer list, and agreed to pay the additional costs per month, our account was locked up. Then we began to receive inquiries from this service provider as to the origination of our email list. It was acquired over 20 years of business. That didn’t seem reasonable to the service provider.

So we started doing our homework. Speaking to experts in the email deliverability field, we found that enterprise class solutions, when you are marketing legitimately, are not only more effective, but understand enterprise marketing practices.

Warning: If you chose to use enterprise class email marketing platforms, and you spam, the reputation of your email extension, @yourURL.com, will implode quickly. So don’t do it.

Enterprise class email services systems are more expensive and require certain network and server language knowledge. They expect that you have it and, as such, don’t expect highly responsive level one customer service.

But they actually work where it matters, deliverability to an inbox.

If we could make a suggestion, you might consider emailing the old fashioned way. Single sends to appropriate recipients. You might start your email marketing by recalling haw to use fields to merge contact list data into emails with fields in them – remember Microsoft Office has Mail Merge. Google Workspace has a version too

You might start there sending email directly from your email servers – learning about your cutomer lists and gauging their reactions before jumping into our email services recomendations. You only have one on-line reputation to spend on your company URL.

How we make our recommendations

In truth our marketing group has used more than 6 email marketing services in the last 5 years. Some were long term relationships, some short. We trialed another dozen or more and spent weeks reviewing alternatives in between.

Again, our contacts and customers are businesses. This comes with a special set of security and fire walls designed to prevent questionable or unsolicited emails through corporate servers and into email boxes.  Most any email services provider will deliver email to gmail accounts and, based upon the number of emails sent and the interaction (openings or clicks) of these emails will determine the importance of your emails quickly.  Servers it seems determine the viability of your email campaigns.

An easy example, and perhaps the most extreme, is emails with @yahoo.com extensions. Marketing to users with an @yahoo.com extension is like not marketing at all. Unless you have a history of exchanges with @yahoo.com email users, your cold email will likely go into a spam folder, if it even makes it through the servers. See our forthcoming article on 5 Best email practices for B2B.

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