Data-driven 10X Digital Marketing

In our digital world, we have more ways to contact our customers than ever, and yet email marketing remains one of the most successful channels. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 87 percent of marketers use email to distribute information. If you’re reassessing your email strategy for 2021, you may be wondering what platforms can help. In a landscape where endless email-optimization software options exist, how do you choose the best email testing tools? Also, do you need an email testing platform, an email service provider (ESP) or an all-out customer relationship manager (CRM) that includes email functionality? What’s the difference between the three?

You’re not alone in asking these questions. Prospective clients often reach out for help in the confusing world of email marketing. That’s why we’ve broken down the ins and outs of email testing platforms, email service providers and customer relationship managers.  

Email testing tools, ESPs, CRMs: What does it all mean?

Here’s where we’ll explain a basic overview of email testing platforms, ESPs and CRMs.

Email Testing Platform

The experts at G2 define it well: “Email testing software helps businesses preview and test emails before they are sent to recipients to help build the most effective email campaigns and maximize ROI. […] email testing software provides an editing platform for checking an email for potential issues prior to distribution. Common error inspections include spelling, grammar, formatting, design, and coding.” 

The software can also inspect issues like spam and deliverability, or forecast campaign performance. One of the top email testing platforms is Email on Acid

Email Service Provider (ESP)

Email service providers allow users to send email campaigns through their platforms to a list of subscribers. The experts at Active Campaign describe: “…at the most basic level; an ESP needs to do two things: store email addresses and send emails. A more advanced email service provider offers additional features, including dynamic content in emails, email and marketing automation, lead capture forms, A/B testing of email subject lines and email content, website tracking and segmentation.” 

Top ESPs include MailChimp and Constant Contact. These platforms offer both email marketing capabilities (i.e., create your email campaigns) as well as email testing tools. These allow you to send a limited number of ‘test’ emails to check your campaign and function as a basic email testing platform. What’s more, ESPs generally offer an analytics dashboard to examine effectiveness. 


Admittedly, there is a crossover between email testing platforms and email service providers, as many options have similar offerings. Initially, many companies focused on one service (testing, data, analytics) or the other (building and sending campaigns). Most companies evolved to offer both. This can confuse users when trying to understand the difference between the two commonly used phrases.   

Customer Relationship Manager (CRM)

Customer relationship management software allows a business to manage all customer data and integrate multiple facets of their sales and marketing strategy into one platform. As Salesforce experts explain, “…it supports sales management, delivers actionable insights, integrates with social media, and facilitates team communication. Cloud-based CRM systems offer complete mobility and access to an ecosystem of bespoke apps.” Top CRMs include Hubspot, Pipedrive CRM, Oracle CRM and of course, the industry leader, Salesforce. 

Here’s the tricky part, many CRMs also have email functionality—even more crossover! However, their email platforms offer robust and complex automations that play into your sales and marketing goals (more on that later).

But, what’s the difference?

Theoretically, these three service platforms perform three separate functions: email testing platform to test your email’s effectiveness, ESPs to actually send email campaigns, and a CRM to track and manage customer data and sales/marketing goals. In practice, this is no longer the case. As digital marketing software has evolved, every company wants to be your “one-stop-shop” platform that offers all the email (and marketing and sales and data, etc.) tools that you need. 

What does your business need? 

We completely understand that this can be a confusing situation to navigate. How do you choose one of the three options, then weed through the hundreds of companies under that “umbrella”? What functionality does your business need? We’ve walked you through a few common situations below. 

Scenario 1: I’m a one-(wo)man marketing team getting my feet wet in the world of email marketing. 

In this scenario, we’d recommend an ESP with email testing functionality. (Again, most ESPs these days offer testing options, and vice versa—email testing software offers campaign building and sending. So you can go with just one solution that meets your needs).

Look for an option with comprehensive testing capabilities. This comes in handy, not just with email performance, but those small details as well, i.e., proofreading your emails. 

Refer to the above lists that we linked to and browse through the most popular options: Mailchimp, Constant Contact, Mailerlite or Email on Acid. Check for user-friendliness (don’t opt for a solution that’s too complicated for your one-person operation) and make sure it’s within your budget.

Scenario 2: I have an established email marketing campaign, but I’m hoping to streamline my systems and venture into automation. Budget is still an issue, though, so I’m looking for cost-effectiveness and ease of use.

For this situation, an ESP with sales funnel assistance and automation would be best and Campaign Monitor is a great option. In addition to storing emails, the provider offers a visual customer journey builder, smart engagement sections and other features. It’s not an all-in-one platform, but it’s a fantastic email testing tool if you’re looking to take your email marketing to the next level and incorporate automation. 

Scenario 3: I have a dedicated person within my marketing team who manages email efforts. I want to refine our strategies, connect our marketing efforts and drive more results.

As you can imagine, this is where a CRM will come in handy. CRMs offer a ton of data and insights into audience behavior. For example, offering email open rates, landing page activity, and integrating social media or PPC campaigns. Hubspot is an industry favorite. It allows you to customize your emails to each customer and set up ‘triggers’ that send automated targeted communications to a customer if they perform a specific behavior. However, Hubspot has a bit of a learning curve, so be prepared to onboard and train on the software. 

Integrate Email Marketing into Your Business Strategy to Drive Results

For all of the above scenarios, as well as any email marketing needs, an agency can guide you through the process. At 10x, we provide clients a customizable data dashboard that incorporates all marketing activities and shows real-time data to gauge ROI. 

Moreover, our team has experience with email testing platforms, ESPs, and CRMs— we know the differences, the pros, the cons and the nuances of each system. We can work within your current software stack or suggest the best solutions for your unique business goals. 

Email marketing can be tricky—the plethora of digital tools available can make your head spin; contact us today for a free consultation.