The task of hosting and selling email is often regarded as a thankless one. With the likes of Google mail offered as a free service and many hosting companies providing free (or massively discounted) email accounts with the hosted domain name, MSP salespeople can feel that email is not something worth trying to push. However, the need to move discussions about email along — to shift from seeing email as a commodity to positioning email as a valuable back-end and interaction capability — must be faced up to.

It is estimated that 281 billion emails are being sent around the globe daily, or approximately 8 for every person on the planet. Even assuming that 80 percent of these are spam, results in over 55 billion actual content emails being sent.

Email as an asset

Frequently experiencing difficulties in selling a good email system should not be the case. There are several ways to overcome any issues, from the day-to-day business requirements, through to legal needs, that point to a well-managed hosted email system being a valuable asset. 

Let’s start with the day-to-day business requirements. Firstly, any business that is depending on non-domain specific email addresses will not taken as seriously as one that uses its own domain. “J.Doe@gmail.com” is just generic, while “J.Doe@RealCoDomain.com” indicates to a much better level of certainty that the person comes from a real company.

On top of this, some receiving email systems will weight common free email domains towards being viewed as spam. Any business must bear this in mind when sending out quotes or other important information.

Next, let’s consider the free or massively cheap generic email systems offered by many hosting companies. The user gets a ‘proper’ email address and they don’t have to bother with setting up a server with software and licences themselves. So far, so good.

When things go wrong

Now, let’s assume that they need to find an email from some time back. As good users, they have been keeping a clean inbox from their client of choice. They only keep, say, the last three months of emails for the client. They expect that the host will be keeping all the old stuff for them. In reality, the host is only keeping emails from the last three months themselves, or even worse, is acting as an IMAP or POP3 server and is deleting emails from their server exactly as the customer is deleting them from the client.

How about when things get a little nasty? If the server corrupts, does the host company have an email back up and restore policy and procedure? If they do, has it ever been tested? What impact would there be on the customer’s business if they could not access any historic email?

This then brings us on to the legal side. What happens if an external legal body demands an information disclosure including emails? Pleading that the host doesn’t meet the legal body’s needs is not a defence. Rather, that is something that the customer should have looked at as part of their original due diligence. An issue increasing in prevalence revolves around information security and legal matters. Any organisation that deals with another organisation within the scope of the EU’s general data protection regulation (GDPR) must adhere to pretty stringent rules on how personally identifiable information (PII) is stored.

Gaining the competitive advantage

The vast majority of free hosted email systems pay scant regard to GDPR (or other information security needs). A well-managed, enterprise grade, hosted email system should have all information security needs covered – and this becomes a major sales advantage. However, it must be played sensibly, as a fear, uncertainty and dread (FUD) sales message will put the sales shutters up. It also needs to be played as a positive means of opening up information flows with users being able to enter interactions without being fully trained in GDPR requirements themselves. 

What does this mean to the MSP? Well, it means that you must go well beyond the basic email hosting services of the low-end providers. An enterprise-class email back end is needed; this may not even be something that you host yourself. Microsoft, via its Office365 hosted Exchange email system, enables MSPs to access such a set of capabilities. This also offloads all of the requirements for business continuity, patching and upgrading, backup and restore, legal compliance and so on to a third party.

If you decide to do it yourself, then you will need to carry out all the above list of actions yourself. This can be costly but may still be a competitive advantage when selling to companies who do not want to bet their email farm on a Microsoft or similar strategy. Email is still a key tool to organisations, so MSPs must not let prospects downplay its importance. The commercial and legal needs of the business require a solid email system and hosted email is increasingly the right solution for them.

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Clive Longbottom

Posted by Clive Longbottom

Clive Longbottom is a UK-based independent commentator on the impact of technology on organizations and was a co-founder and service director at Quocirca. He has also been an ITC industry analyst for more than 20 years.

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