From Insight to Implementation:

Exploring the Discovery Stage of Custom Solution Development for a Growing Marketing Company

In the rapidly evolving digital marketing landscape, companies constantly seek innovative solutions to optimize their operations. One such company, which specializes in marketing and utilizes extensive code and email communication, has reached a critical juncture. As their clientele grows, their reliance on an out-of-the-box solution has become increasingly expensive.

To tackle this challenge, the company is considering developing a custom solution that can efficiently cover its core functionality. This article explores the client's motivations, the project's requirements, and the strategies being considered by our team in the discovery stage application.
The Need for a Custom Solution
With escalating expenses tied to their current solution, it makes strategic sense for the marketing company to invest in a custom solution. Although their ambition to potentially sell the product lies in the back of their minds, the primary goal is to meet their internal requirements. Developing an in-house solution would allow them to streamline their operations, reduce costs, and have greater control over the functionalities they need.

To expedite the development process, the company aims to allocate a dedicated team to work simultaneously on discovery and development. Rather than spending extensive time on product description, technical documentation, and design, they seek to balance by integrating these tasks alongside the development process. By embracing this streamlined approach, they aim to optimize their resource utilization and expedite the delivery of the custom solution.

Defining Project Requirements
While the company's initial brief outlines several high-level features they require, further clarification is necessary. To ensure the successful execution of the project, the development team is considering two options:

  • Engaging in workshops and conversations with the company to gather detailed information;

  • Examining the functionality of their existing solution for emulation.
This careful consideration aims to avoid potential problems arising from ambiguous requirements and ensure a clear understanding of the project scope.

Assessing Project Challenges
Ascertaining the difficulty level and the required expertise for the project is crucial for resource planning. By understanding the complexity of the tasks and the necessary skill set, the development team can determine whether they need to recruit highly experienced professionals or if internal research and collaboration can suffice.
Assessing Solutions and Managing Expectations for Custom Solution Development
As the marketing company explores the development of a custom solution to address its growing needs, several crucial considerations arise.

Balancing Costs and Infrastructure
One of the primary concerns for the marketing company is the potential for high infrastructure costs. If they opt for an out-of-the-box solution, they may find themselves tied to the pricing of third-party vendors, such as Amazon's services. Careful consideration must be given to calculating the true cost of infrastructure, whether it involves leveraging pre-existing solutions or developing a custom one.

It is crucial to understand the projected email volume and the load level the system is expected to handle, as this will inform cost estimates and infrastructure requirements.

Subscription Model Realism
While the marketing company entertains the idea of selling its solution in the future, it is essential to gauge the feasibility of this aspiration. Considering the nature of code emailing and the availability of alternative solutions, it may not be a realistic endeavor. The focus should primarily be on understanding the immediate functional requirements rather than placing undue emphasis on long-term plans to sell the solution.
Identifying Key Risks
During the discovery phase or Sprint Zero, it is crucial to identify potential risks associated with the solution architecture and mailing services. Understanding whether the company currently utilizes an integrated solution with established email servers, such as Gmail, or its proprietary mailing service is vital.

Maintaining an in-house email server can pose challenges, necessitating significant effort, and resources for maintenance and scaling. Exploring open-source solutions like Mailtrain or Simple Mail System from Amazon, which offers low-cost email sending, could be viable alternatives. However, gathering specific information on the marketing company's functional requirements is essential to determine if these solutions align with their expectations.

Exploring Custom Development Options
While considering open-source solutions as potential alternatives, it is important to determine whether they meet the marketing company's desired functionality. Their requirements may surpass the capabilities of existing solutions, prompting the need for custom development. By gathering comprehensive information about their needs, the development team can evaluate if custom development is the most suitable path forward.
Proposal for a Mixed Solution: Open-Source and Custom Development
To address the increasing costs while working towards a long-term solution, we can propose a mixed approach. Initially, we can suggest implementing an open-source solution to mitigate the rising expenses and quickly resolve the immediate issue. This would allow us to reduce their email marketing costs by configuring and utilizing tools like Mailtrain or Simple Mail System. The setup process typically takes only a few days, providing immediate cost savings.

Simultaneously, we can develop a custom solution tailored to their specific needs. This would involve gathering comprehensive information on their desired functionality and understanding how they plan to utilize the software. By doing so, we ensure that their requirements align with our proposed custom solution while leveraging the cost benefits of the open-source option.

Considerations for Cold Emailing
It's essential to recognize that cold emailing differs significantly from traditional email marketing. Popular email marketing solutions like MailChimp may not adequately address the marketing company's requirements for cold emailing. Cold emailing predominantly revolves around text-based emails, and maintaining deliverability and domain reputation becomes crucial.

We can inquire about their current approach to domain warm-up and reputation management. It's important to emphasize that merely setting up AWS or a custom server to send a high volume of emails won't be effective if the bounce rate and complaint rates are too high. Managing domain reputation is a critical factor in cold emailing success. We can offer guidance and insights on maintaining domain reputation effectively while using our proposed solution.
Technical Challenges and Domain Management
Running multiple domains concurrently to distribute the load and reduce bounces is indeed an exciting challenge. Their current solution may have addressed such technical challenges effectively. The price of their solution could be justified not only by the application's functionality but also by their ability to handle these challenges.

They may have implemented practices such as frequent IP address changes or domain rotation to maintain deliverability and reputation. It would be beneficial to discuss this further to gain insights into the current approach and evaluate the usability and benefits of their solution.

Proposed approach
During previous discussions, the client expressed interest in starting with an open-source solution that offers API integration, allowing us to plug in quickly and begin working. This would provide immediate cost reduction and alleviate the need for them to pay for a dedicated team to build a custom solution from scratch. Instead, we can gradually transition to our custom solution over time.

This approach minimizes the financial burden on the client and allows us to deliver results more efficiently. As part of the discovery phase, we can deploy the selected open-source solution, gather feedback, compare it with other potential solutions, and run demos to identify the most suitable option. This process can be completed within one to two weeks, depending on their feedback, while simultaneously considering the required infrastructure.
Suggested Open-Source Solutions
We recommend exploring open-source solutions such as Mailtrain or Sendy, which align with the client's provided requirements. These platforms cover critical aspects such as campaign management, segmentation, email templates, etc. However, the domain reputation and deliverability components, which are vital for successful cold emailing, would need to be addressed through a custom solution. Content, list quality, and server configuration play essential roles in cold emailing success, and we can propose taking control of these aspects.

Considerations for GDPR and Data Storage
Given that the company is distributed across various locations, including Europe, it is crucial to ensure compliance with GDPR regulations and consider potential issues related to data storage. These factors should be considered during the design and implementation phases to guarantee adherence to legal requirements.

Whether the agency has specific metrics or indicators to measure campaign success would also help us design a reporting system that meets their requirements and provides them with the necessary insights.

To summarize the key considerations:
Selling the solution
  • Potential for additional revenue streams
  • Provides flexibility in business strategy
  • Can attract new clients
  • Increases market presence
  • Can distract from focusing on meeting internal business needs
  • Requires additional resources and effort to establish a separate selling venture
  • May deviate from the primary goal of reducing costs
    Open-source solutions
    • Access to a wide range of existing features.
    • Cost-effective solution
    • Community support and updates
    • Opportunity for customization
    • Potential to reduce development time and costs.
    • Limited control over the development and improvement of specific features
    • Email editor functionality may need improvement in some cases.
      Domain reputation
      • Custom solution ensures control over domain reputation and deliverability.
      • Ability to implement specific strategies to improve email deliverability.
      • Enhanced email marketing performance and better chances of reaching the recipient's inbox.
      • Requires dedicated effort and resources to maintain and monitor domain reputation
      • Open-source solutions may not fully address these critical components.
        Scoring system
        • Optimizes email content and improves deliverability.
        • Reduces the risk of emails being classified as spam.
        • Provides insights for content optimization.
        • Potential integration with external scoring services for advanced capabilities.
        • Requires additional development and integration efforts.
        • External scoring services may have associated costs.
        • Accuracy and effectiveness of scoring systems may vary.
          Email template editor
          • Enhances user experience.
          • Facilitates easy customization.
          • Improves efficiency in creating email templates.
          • Enables adherence to email markup standards.
          • Development and implementation effort required.
          • Usability and functionality need to align with the client's specific requirements.
          • Testing and refining may be necessary.
            Detailed campaign reports
            • Provides valuable insights into campaign performance.
            • Enables data-driven decision-making.
            • Helps measure success and optimize future campaigns.
            • Aligns reporting with the client's specific metrics and requirements.
            • Requires careful consideration of the client's specific metrics and reporting needs.
            • Development effort to implement tailored reporting systems.
              It would be beneficial to address these points, seek further clarification, and gather more insights to shape the proposed solution effectively.
              Setting Up Communication
              Before the start, we ask about the team members who will be involved from the client's side, their desired level of engagement, and their expectations for project reporting. This will help us align our approach and understand their preferred collaboration style.

              Regarding the potential in-person meeting with their CEO, it's essential to clarify this with the client first before taking any further steps. Maintaining open communication and gathering relevant information during the calls or meetings give us a better understanding of the client's requirements and enable us to prepare a tailored proposal for their custom solution.
              Sprint Zero for Effective Solution Development
              Sprint Zero often brings much more value than providing a separate estimate for discovery and development.

              Key benefits of the Sprint Zero include:

              • Sprint Zero allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the project requirements, alignment of goals, and a solid foundation before diving into full-scale development. It enables the team to gather requirements, assess technical feasibility, create a high-level project plan, and address any uncertainties or risks upfront.

              • Sprint Zero is not just a preliminary phase but also a valuable provider of tangible deliverables. After Sprint Zero, the client will receive specific outcomes such as a refined project plan, architecture design, and a roadmap for the subsequent development phases.

              • Sprint Zero showcases the team's expertise in understanding complex projects and aligning with the client's vision. Starting with Sprint Zero, a team demonstrates a commitment to delivering a customized solution that directly addresses the client's needs and challenges.

              • Sprint Zero is an opportunity to showcase the team's value and differentiate from competitors. The sprint allows to provide a more accurate estimate and proposal based on a deeper understanding of the project, ultimately leading to better pricing accuracy.
              Thus, we can look at the whole Sprint Zero picture:
              Table 1. Benefits of Sprint Zero
              Immediate problem-solving capabilities, reduced technical risks, cost-effectiveness, and adaptability to the client's preferences will make the project more enticing, both professionally and financially.
              Final Thoughts on Custom Solution Development for a Growing Marketing Company
              It is possible to start the development of separate parts of the application, such as email management, without extensive discovery. However, this approach allows us to confirm the technical solution, address current problems, and reduce costs associated with the existing solution. By validating and leveraging existing standardized solutions, we can initiate development promptly, avoiding the need for extensive customization.

              The overall development plan depends on the specific architecture and requirements, which will be determined in the discovery phase. The primary goals of the discovery phase are to solve technical challenges, confirm the architecture, and establish a suitable workflow.
              See also