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Jes Kirkwood on November 15th 2021

Shopify's VP, Growth Morgan Brown reveals how the company's growth team drives results in an exclusive interview.

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Alan Harris on November 9th 2020

There are a number of solid email service providers to choose from. How do you decide which is the best for your team, user base, and budget? This lesson will give you insight into the vendor landscape and walk through some key considerations when it comes to selecting an email tool.

News about email’s death has been greatly exaggerated. Yes, email is one of the oldest digital marketing channels (the first email blast was in 1978!), but the email service provider (ESP) landscape still has a lot of innovation to offer.

Maybe you’ve pulled together enough user emails for your list that personalizing your messages via Gmail isn’t cutting it anymore. Or, you’ve been in the email-slinging game for a while, and you're ready to upgrade your solution. Either way, congrats on hitting your email milestone; you've come to the right place to understand the next steps you should take.

How email has changed in the last decade

In the last 48 years, email marketing grew from a cheeky stunt in the ’70s to a bona fide fledgling industry in the ’90s to the massive ESP industry we know today. The last 10 years, in particular, have been eventful, and the major trends are important to take into account.

  • Larger vendors have cemented their grip. Overall, the major consolidation moves happened a while ago; now, the big players like Oracle, Salesforce, and Adobe dominate.

  • Email tools offer less specialization in exchange for broader appeal. Email service providers for small businesses, like Campaign Monitor, have added pricing options for larger businesses. At the same time, others that were highly specialized, like SendGrid that was focused on transactional auto-response emails, now have more mainstream features.

  • Up-and-comers shaking up the market. Technology outside of the ESP realm threatens to change how the end consumer interacts with their email. For instance, HEY, a new email provider, is looking to filter out unwanted emails, while Front wants to corner the customer communication market.

Yes, email is still a big deal

As we mentioned above, there have long been bold predictions that email might die. Five years ago, John Brandon at Inc. predicted by 2020 it would be time to “stick a fork in your email.”

Of course, that hasn’t happened. But email still has a bad reputation as being a spammy, unhelpful marketing channel. While that can be the case in specific circumstances, it’s just not true in the aggregate.

Two shining examples of why email is a viable communication channel include:

  • The rise of Substack, proving that people still read email if it’s valuable and relevant to them. In fact, the Washington Post says that “More than 100,000 people pay to subscribe to writers.” People still read email—and they enjoy it.

  • According to HubSpot, throughout 2019, marketers saw an overall 78% increase in engagement. In general, people find email a helpful and necessary part of their daily routine.

4. Considerations for choosing an email service provider

1. Size of contact list

In this lesson, we'll share which ESPs are best suited for various contact list sizes—ranging from smaller ESPs for small and medium-sized businesses (like Mailchimp) to massive enterprise ESPs (like Salesforce). The size of the email contact list usually coincides with the number of features the ESP has. Tools that can handle large lists are usually very sophisticated with complex drip-nurture and trigger-based logic, while smaller tools may focus on user-friendliness.

2. B2B vs. B2C

Besides the size of the contact lists, the other big differentiator is the ESP’s target audience. B2B-focused ESPs tend to center on lead nurturing, while B2C-focused ESPs put an emphasis on events, sales, announcements, and more.

3. Cost and ease of use

Naturally, it's also prudent to look at the cost of the ESP, as well as how much time your team will need to invest in learning all the bells and whistles. As mentioned above, Mailchimp is known for user-friendliness but lacks deep trigger-based logic. Salesforce's Pardot, on the other hand, is much more technically advanced but requires some HTML knowledge to design the emails exactly how you want them.

4. Integration within your tech stack

Look for an ESP that plays nicely with the tools you already use. In particular, pay attention to how well it integrates with your customer relationship management platform (CRM). This is such an important factor that CRMs and ESPs are often blended together into one product, like HubSpot and Braze.

9 top email service providers

1. Twilio SendGrid

Like Segment, SendGrid is a subsidiary of Twilio and is one of the most trusted platforms for transactional email and email marketing.

Two of the biggest benefits of SendGrid are deliverability and scale. Their deliverability features (domain authentication, proactive ISP outreach, etc) help businesses record an open rate improvement of over 6 percentage points. This can also be performed at significant scale. The SendGrid platform sends 70 billion emails every month with 99.999% uptime so you can rest assured your email will reach your recipients.

Top features:

  • Purpose build Mail Transfer Agent that can scale to billions of emails

  • Powerful email marketing automation via SendGrid Automations

  • Artificial intelligence that continually adapts to changing ISP rules

  • Multi-channel messaging (SMS, MMS, WhatsApp, and chat) via the Twilio platform

SendGrid is great for:

  • Developers and marketers

  • Promotional and transactional email

  • High volume senders - reliable email delivery at scale

2. Braze

Braze (formerly Appboy) first established itself as a mobile-first CRM with powerful text and push-messaging features. With recent enhancements to its email marketing functionality and the addition of a visual journey builder, Braze has become a lifecycle engagement platform with an emphasis on highly personalized, targeted customer messaging across many channels.

Top features:

  • Push and SMS notifications

  • Visual customer journey builder called Braze Canvas

  • Automated multi-channel messaging

  • Strong customer support

Braze is great for:

  • Marketers using push notifications and email

  • Mid-market to enterprise businesses of any industry, but Braze is especially useful for push-centric B2C brands

  • Contact lists of any size

3. Customer.io

Customer.io is a data-driven marketing platform for newsletter creation, transactional emails, SMS notifications, and customer profile-triggered messaging. Its focus is to provide a flexible and easy-to-implement solution for data-driven startups and SMBs.

Top features:

  • Flexible customer behavioral data mapping

  • Integration with Shopify's open-source Liquid logic

  • Sophisticated activation and retention-oriented email campaigns from real-time triggers on customer behaviors

  • Orients around the user and how they've interacted with sent messages

Customer.io is great for:

  • Marketers looking to implement a seamless plug-and-play tool for customer messaging

  • Ecommerce SMBs and startups

  • Contact lists of any size

4. Drip

Drip is an email marketing automation platform well suited for B2B marketers. The visual campaign builder offers customizable triggers, actions, and integrations to create automated campaigns based on customer behavior.

Top features:

  • Ease-of-use

  • Workflow builder

  • Can resend emails with a different subject line to users who didn't initially open

  • Integration with Shopify, WooComerce, and Magento for a unified ecommerce experience

Drip is great for:

  • Marketers looking for advanced marketing automation with a lean team

  • SMBs and startups of any industry, but particularly those focused on ecommerce

  • Relatively small contact lists to mid-sized lists

5. HubSpot

More than just an email service provider, Hubspot is a full-blown CRM that also helps manage social media, lead generation, and content. As the original and self-proclaimed "Inbound Marketing Platform," HubSpot helps marketers both create demand through content and nurture leads through email campaigns. HubSpot is known for being easy to use and navigate and, as such, is appropriate for large and small businesses alike. However, the pricing model is dependent on the total number of contacts in your database, so it becomes cost-prohibitive for very large-scale businesses.

Top features:

  • Many built-in API integrations

  • Visibility across additional touchpoints on social media platforms

  • Lead-generation identification capabilities

  • Integration with inbound marketing and demand-generation processes

HubSpot is great for:

  • Marketers looking for a full suite of marketing automation solutions and tools for inbound marketing

  • B2B and B2C companies of any size, but HubSpot can become cost-prohibitive for large B2C lists

  • Contact lists of more than 25K

6. Iterable

Iterable is a multi-channel customer engagement and marketing automation platform. It focuses on offering less-technically savvy marketers access to intuitive yet powerful drag-and-drop automation flows, dynamic personalization, and segmentation features that would typically require more in-depth engineering support and resources.

Top features:

  • Ease of use

  • Multivariate testing

  • Omnichannel campaigns

  • Deep personalization capabilities

Iterable is great for:

  • Marketers looking to unlock multi-channel marketing automation with minimal engineering support

  • Mid-sized B2C companies, though B2B companies might find use for Iterable

  • Contact lists of more than 100K

7. Mailchimp

Mailchimp is a fan favorite for many startups with small marketing teams. Not only is it quick to get up and running, but the templates are intuitive and straightforward to navigate, too. Though it still lacks some features, such as allowing the creation of automated A/B split tests into subject lines, it has recently added new functionality along with its rebrand.

Top features:

  • Quick to set up

  • Easy to use

  • Built-in design templates

  • Doesn't require a developer or designer

Mailchimp is great for:

  • Marketing teams looking to deploy an easy-to-use email marketing tool

  • Small to mid-sized businesses of any industry

  • Contact lists of more than 100+

8. Marketo

Often thought of as the 10,000-pound gorilla in the email marketing automation space, Marketo became an early market leader for multi-campaign email management. However, more functionality means a higher price tag and sophisticated users to operate it. Marketo is great for mid-market to enterprise-level B2B customers already on the Adobe suite. It might not be appropriate for very small businesses due to the cost or the advanced skill level and training required to operate it. That said, we are a fan—Marketo is what we use here internally at Segment.

Top features:

  • Deep Salesforce integration for advanced lead scoring

  • Easy-to-use user interface and templates

  • High level of functionality and integrations

  • Tried-and-true name brand

  • Ability to manage sensitive lists requiring privacy in the financial or healthcare spaces

Marketo is great for:

  • Marketing teams looking to automate email marketing and integrate with CRMs

  • B2B companies of any size but must be spending at least $3-$5M per year in marketing

  • Contact lists of more than 100K

9. Salesforce Marketing Cloud

Salesforce Marketing Cloud is a powerful CRM and marketing automation platform with ESP capabilities designed with the enterprise in mind. The ESP portions were created with the acquisitions of ExactTarget (for B2C) and Pardot (for B2B). It’s a big investment that will require some work to get set up, but once Salesforce is up and running to your specifications, it can be very powerful.

Top features:

  • Very comprehensive

  • Automation and routing

  • Great for companies that can deploy developers for deep customization

Salesforce Marketing Cloud is great for:

  • Marketers looking to use one of the most comprehensive email suites available

  • Large B2B and B2C enterprise businesses

  • Large contact lists of more than 100K

A few more to consider

  • SendGrid for communication automation within the ever-expanding Twilio ecosystem

  • User.com for heavy personalization capabilities

  • Oracle Eloqua for integration with dynamic cross-channel campaigns

  • Klaviyo for companies that use point-of-sale data to inform email marketing

Choosing an email service provider

These days, the ESP industry is fairly mature, and, as such, each vendor will cover the basics and has a solid roster of customers that you can learn from. While certain tools are much better suited for certain sized businesses and industries, each tool will be able to accomplish the basics of engaging with your user base at scale in personalized ways. This is especially true if you've set up your analytics with a tool like Segment.

For more information on the email service providers that Segment offers, check out our catalog of integrations here.

Sherry Huang on November 9th 2020

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Nicole Nearhood on November 5th 2020

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Tayler Mehit on November 2nd 2020

Sophisticated experimentation programs require the right people, process, tools, and data.

Doug Roberge, Simone Roscitt on October 28th 2020

Segment has developed a Customer Data Maturity Model that will help you understand where you are on your journey and provide specific recommendations on how to take your organization to the next level.

Andy Jiang on September 28th 2020

A tracking plan is a document or spreadsheet used across an organization to standardize how it tracks data. Often serving as both a project management tool and a reference document, a tracking plan aligns multiple teams around one strategy for customer data collection.

Essentially, a tracking plan consists of a list of events (i.e., user actions) accompanied by a description for each event. These events are used to map the most important steps of the customer journey, from free trial sign-up to recurring subscription to churn.

This central list of events can grow and change alongside your company. All the while, it will provide a consistent road map for what data is important, where it’s being tracked, and why. In the end, your tracking plan can help you create an airtight process for scaling data collection across a growing company.

What is the role of a tracking plan?

Your tracking plan serves as the single source of truth across your organization for understanding what data you’re tracking, where you’re tracking that data, and why. A tracking plan usually has columns for each of these values, like this:

In this example, the “what” is the events and properties you track, which are logged in the NAME and PROPERTIES columns above. The “where” (logged under LOCATION) is the location and time at which the event is being tracked. Finally, the “why” (logged under WHY) is a short description of the business purpose that justifies tracking the event.

Not all tracking plans look exactly like this. They’re living documents that are built to suit the needs of the businesses they serve. You might use a different naming convention for event names and event properties, you might be more detailed in your “why” entries, or you might need to add new events. And as your business objectives evolve, so will the data you track. For instance, your naming convention might need to change as you add new features to your product.

No matter how it shapes up in the end or how it changes, the core purpose of a tracking plan remains the same: to coordinate your data collection in a central reference. Every team that touches customer data will be able to access and use this central reference, keeping them aligned with your current business objectives.

Meanwhile, every piece of your data infrastructure—including data warehouses like Snowflake, analytics tools like Mixpanel or Google Analytics, product intelligence tools like Amplitude, and much more—will speak the same “data language.” All these tools will be implemented with the tracking plan in mind, so they’ll all focus on the data you outline in your plan. This ensures your data is more consistent across the tech stack.

Over time, an airtight process will emerge for customer data tracking that’s consistent, compliant, and customized to your exact needs. All made possible with one document.

What are the benefits of a tracking plan?

A tracking plan is a collaborative document, taking input from every department that touches customer data. This process of collaboration forces your business to think of analytics as a team sport, where everyone agrees to play within a certain set of guidelines and work together toward a shared goal. Working together this way will help ensure your business utilizes higher-quality data, gains alignment across teams, and establishes a framework for consistent growth.

In the short term, the quality of your data will improve, and your teams will be more efficient, thanks to a codified process for tracking customer data.

  • Your data will be cleaner because every team is using the same process for collecting it.

  • Your data will be compliant with regulations because you’ve documented the what, why, where, and how of your customer data tracking.

  • The whole organization will gain alignment around one clearly documented and easy-to-understand plan for tracking data.

In the long term, a tracking plan becomes a living part of your company’s infrastructure and one of the primary drivers of growth.

  • Tracking plans are living documents that will provide a flexible framework for your customer data that grows and changes alongside your company.

  • For launches and update releases, a tracking plan will help you set metrics-driven goals that can help your teams build a better product.

A tracking plan is a long-term investment into the future of how your business collects data, the benefits of which are both immediate and long-lasting.

What events should I track?

The specific events you decide to track are unique to your business and depend on a lot of factors, like how your product is designed, who your audience is, your overall business goals, and more.

In short, you should track events that provide answers to questions you have about your customers, like who they are, how they behave, and what they want. To identify your questions, you need to decide on what exactly you want to learn—that is, what questions do you have that, if answered, will help your business grow?

Consider the question, “When do people who sign up for a free trial decide to purchase a full subscription?” In this case, you might start by tracking the events “Signed up” and “Subscription started” to hone in on that conversion rate.

Start broad then narrow in on opportunities for improvement. The first question you might ask could be, “What are the key steps to our customer journey?” Once you have your answer, you can move on to “Where is our conversion funnel inefficient?” Then, you can get really specific with questions like, “How does our new subscriber rate change if we change in-product navigation?”

In the early days at Segment, we started by tracking three simple events:

  • Signed up

  • Project data sent

  • Subscription started

These events provided answers to our questions around who was signing up, how many of them were active in our product, and when to make the choice to upgrade. Over the years, our tracking plan has grown and changed with us. You can check out a basic version of our current tracking plan here.

Ready to get started?

Fair warning: Creating a tracking plan is a lot of work, but it’s well worth it in the end. As we’ve outlined here, start by approaching analytics as a learning process. With this approach, your customer data collection will center around finding answers to important questions.

Once you’re in that mindset, you’re ready to start forming your plan. Here are a few resources to get things rolling:

Geoffrey Keating on September 10th 2020

Learn how to power your A/B tests with clean, quality, and hyper-specific customer data.

Kevin Garcia, Lisa Lawson on August 19th 2020

Are you evaluating CDPs or writing an RFP? If so, we know this can be a daunting task. With so many CDPs in the market and so much noise about the problems they solve, it can be hard to know where to start. On top of that, a CDP can be a foundational investment, and implementing the wrong one can waste resources, frustrate teams, and slow progress. 

After helping thousands of companies—including several Fortune 500 enterprises—understand their cross-functional CDP requirements and write an effective RFP, we’ve consolidated our learnings and battle-tested processes into a CDP RFP Guide that uses a simple 4-step process. 

Within each step, we provide frameworks for identifying use cases and requirements, best practices, and templates to help you get started. Here’s how we can help you:

  • Step 1: We help you identify your project goals, success metrics, and the type of CDP that best solves your challenges.

  • Step 2: We help you assemble a cross-functional RFP team and define and prioritize your use cases, and identify the technical requirements and integrations needed. We provide frameworks and common use cases and technical requirements. 

  • Step 3: We help you write your RFP. We provide an RFP Template, pre-populated with best practices and key business and technical questions you should consider having CDP vendors answer.

  • Step 4: We help you select the right CDP vendor by providing a process to review vendor responses, assign scores with your cross-functional team, confirm technical requirements, and select the right CDP for your business. 

You can download the full CDP RFP Guide & Template here. Good luck on your journey to selecting the right CDP for your business.

Geoffrey Keating on August 12th 2020

To do their jobs, marketing, sales, and product teams need information about their customers. And to collect and manage this information, two types of technologies have developed that are easily mistaken for each other: customer relationship management systems (CRMs) and customer data platforms (CDPs).

Despite their similar names, each serves a distinct purpose that has a tangible effect on the bottom line. In fact, they’re both so important that, according to Salesforce, CRMs rank as the most common technology used by high-performing companies to manage their marketing data, while CDPs rank a close second.

They’re both ranked so highly because they’re not mutually exclusive. They serve different purposes and are often used in tandem to provide a consistent, personalized customer experience.

The difference between a CRM and a CDP comes down to this: CRMs help manage customer relationships, while CDPs help manage customer data. 

Of course, there’s a lot more nuance to it than that. Let’s get into it.

CRM vs. CDP: what’s the difference?

While both CRMs and CDPs collect customer data, the main difference between them is that CRMs organize and manage customer-facing interactions with your team, while CDPs collect data on customer behavior with your product or service.

CRM data will give you a client’s name, their history of interactions with the sales team, and support tickets they’ve filed (among many other things). CDP data, on the other hand, can tell you each specific step that a customer has taken since engaging with your company, from the channel they found you on to how they behave within your product.

Who CRMs and CDPs are for

Most of the differences between CRMs and CDPs stem from who they’re designed to help and how they help them. The two overall camps are customer-facing roles, which are people who interact with customers and prospects, and non-customer facing roles, which are people who impact the customer’s experience with direct interaction.

CRMs are for customer-facing roles

CRMs are mainly designed for customer-facing roles, like salespeople and customer success representatives. According to Capterra’s industry survey in 2015, businesses that use a CRM report that their sales teams use it the most.

Source: Capterra

Sales teams love it because CRMs log interacting data with customers, allowing them to speed up, study, and improve their outreach efforts. They also log things like website form fills, support tickets, and more.

The ultimate goal of a CRM is to help customer-facing employees secure new business and retain existing business by making it easier to manage individual customer relationships. With a running log of interactions, CRMs excel at achieving this goal. Here’s a view of a customer communication log in HubSpot, which is a CRM:

A salesperson can reference this record as they work to develop a relationship with a prospect. Here, we see that Marc from the company IMPACT recently had a baby boy, which the salesperson can then log. Next time they interact with Marc, the salesperson sees this and can reference it without having to remember it on their own.

The customer success team can also use the CRM to quickly gauge how many support tickets a client has submitted and how well those tickets got resolved. This can be used for tailored follow-up communications to keep that customer happy and engaged with the product, which is vital for good retention.

CDPs are for non-customer facing roles

CDPs help non-customer facing roles like marketing, product, and leadership, not just sales.

The goal of a CDP is to manage and understand all customer data to make high-level business decisions. CDPs do this by gathering data from every customer touchpoint – everything from ads to website traffic, to points of transaction, to in-product user behavior – in one place.

This data is then used to produce a single view of the customer through a process called identity resolution. Here’s an illustration of what that can look like in Segment’s Personas product:

Marketing can use this single view of the customer to understand which tactics are effective or to personalize things like drip email campaign messaging. Engineering can get an idea of how users are engaging with the product and prioritize new features over others. Leadership can use this single view to understand the overall cost of acquisition and lifetime value of each customer.

Other teams like sales, using highly personalized account-based selling, can utilize CDPs as well; however, the main focus of the technology is to unify fragmented customer data and make it usable.

How CRMs and CDPs gather and manage data

CRMs and CDPs serve different roles because each solves a different problem businesses face when collecting and using their first-party customer data (i.e., data they own).

CRM data is gathered manually

CRMs are a response to the need for a centralized record of interactions between the customer and the people who represent the business. This central record is something anyone can reference, but it’s mainly used when a customer-facing employee needs to be briefed on the customer they’re going to communicate with.

The data CRMs collect is usually manually gathered, highly specific in its purpose, and hard to automate—for instance, sales notes from your latest demo.

Each salesperson has their own way of taking notes, which is difficult to standardize. Also, the data collected on this demo is solely focused on sealing the deal. These two facts together make CRM data hard to export or use elsewhere.

This data is meant to be used within the CRM only, which means the data you put into a CRM is controlled by the CRM. To get that data out, you’ll have to jump through some hoops.

CDP data is gathered automatically

On the other hand, CDPs are the answer to the fragmented marketing landscape and the need to understand how, where, and why customers engage with the business.

The data CDPs collect is usually automatically gathered using integrations and code snippets. This means you can gather customer data from mobile devices, laptops, the web, and your own software or app into one place, clean it, and send it to where it needs to go.

An example of this in action might be a new landing page you just launched. Your marketing team plugs in a JavaScript code snippet like analytics.identify and analytics.track, which collects data on who the visitors are and what they do on the page. The CDP combines this data with existing customer data to find matches and create new profiles through identity resolution. By the end, you’ll know who your visitors are, if they’ve interacted with your business before, what they did, and why.

To produce these profiles, CDPs collect customer data from many sources, including CRMs. They filter, clean, and match all that data in order to make it usable in many different tools for many different teams. In other words, the data you collect with a CDP is fully controlled by you.

What CRMs and CDPs are for

Between who they’re built for and how they collect data, CRMs and CDPs end up serving very different but important purposes.

CRMs are for improving the personal interactions you have with your customers. They provide historical data on the relationship between your business and the individual customer in order to inform future interactions with that customer.

This a useful but limited view of the customer because it only takes into account your interactions. Because of this limitation, CRMs are laser-focused on their one job of managing customer relationships.

CDPs are for understanding your customers and their behavior. They consolidate and manage all customer data across all touchpoints to gain a single, unified view of the customer. In aggregate, these “unified views” of many customers will reveal the entire customer journey.

You’ll know, for each customer, if they:

  • Clicked a Facebook ad to reach this landing page.

  • Scheduled a free trial on that landing page.

  • Upgraded the free trial to a paid plan one month later.

With this insight, all teams can make better, more data-informed decisions. Marketing knows which ads work, product knows what actions led to an upgrade, engineering knows if a feature breaks and leadership understands customer acquisition costs and lifetime value.

CRM vs. CDP: Which one is right for you?

For most companies, it’s not an either/or decision between CDPs and CRMs.

Use a CRM if you need to manage customer relationships in a more efficient and personalized way. They’re great for teams of all sizes and can prove invaluable in a pinch. Often businesses will start with a CRM and realize that, while it’s an effective tool, it’s simply not enough.

Unlike CDPs, CRMs can’t provide a single, unified view of everything you know about each customer. The data is designed to serve the specific purpose of aiding future interactions with customers.

Use a CDP if you need to better understand who your customers are and how they engage with your business. This provides a broader view of your customers, which you can apply in many different ways—from marketing to product to larger business decisions.

The other technology CDPs are commonly compared to are DMPs. Read our breakdown on how DMPs and CDPs differ here.

If you’d like to get started with a CDP today, sign up for a free Segment account. Or, if you’d like to explore your options, check out our CDP Buyer’s Guide.

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