Best PracticesOpinions & Advice

Should a dealership host their own email server?

I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on a dealership hosting their own email server as opposed to having email hosted by a large ISP (like GoDaddy)?

The ability to maintain robust and reliable email communication is increasingly important in this time where few leads are walking in the front door of our dealerships. Each time our email “goes down” we experience a loss in productivity and therefore sales.

I am the CRM Administrator and also help design and maintain the web presence for a small dealer group in the Northeast. I am not network or exchange certified so we rely on the “expertise” of our IT consultants (an outside firm that we contract that specializes in Automobile Dealerships). We tend to do 3-4 email campaigns per month using our AutoBase CRM system. We host our own email through a MS Exchange 2003 Server and seem to run into problems that crash our mail system company-wide regularly. Our current Primary ISP (Paetec) is set up to relay the mail and they do not like to see more than 2,500 emails/hour send rate during an email “blast”. Paetec has “shut us down” temporarily because of exceeding that send rate. Our IT consultants tell us that we need to maintain a send level of under 2,000 emails/hour to stay active with our current Primary ISP and that, although AutoBase claims they “buffer” their email “blast” sends, from what our IT consultants can tell, these are not buffered enough to stay below our ISP’s max send rate. Our IT Consultants are constantly tweaking the firewalls and are planning to configure an automatic rerouting (to a back-up ISP – BandWave) when an email “blast” occurs.

In my opinion, hosting our own server seems to be not worth the trouble. I do not know if we would be losing any capabilities in going with hosted mail services though. Reliability and the ability to continue our email campaigning is very important to us. I am looking for expert opinions from people who have been in similar situations or who currently run frequent email campaigns through their ISP hosted email solution. With maintenance fees, equipment depreciation, email firewall tweaks and the servicing cost associated with fixing email server problems, the costs of hosting mail ourselves really adds up.

What are your thoughts and experiences?

Gene Smith
CRM Administrator

Founder of DealerRefresh - 20+ Years of dealership Sales, Management, Training, Marketing and Leadership.
  • C
  • December 11, 2008
There's a few things to consider about mail, but they all boil down to incoming mail and outgoing mail. Incoming mail is easy to deal with whether hosted on your own or through a provider, however there are benefits of hosting your mail server locally, especially if you are running Exchange.

1) Active directory integration and ease of setup/use.
2) The mail store is local, so send/retrieving is always instantaneous, no issues with having to use cache mode or tieing up your bandwidth when you send out an attachment to your entire company and they all have to download it individually.
3) Shared contacts and calendars are easier when you can utilize the full features of Exchange and active directory.
4) You can make sure your reverse DNS is setup correctly, which is not always the case with a hosted solution.
5) If you sign up for something like Postini ($1/month/user) you now have a backup system in case your mail server goes down - your emails get queued up, you get a VERY good SPAM filtering service and you have the option for them to do archiving for a slightly higher price.
6) In all reality, your ISP should NOT be telling you how many emails per hour you can be sending. You're on a business line and you're conducting business practices. Dump them if they push back on you - however if you're using your Exchange server and not theirs, I can't imagine they'd say anything.
7) You get control over everything.

1) You get control over everything. In the wrong hands, a very bad situation. Exchange is a very "set it and forget it" application, however everyone has a tinkerer in their company and that can lead to trouble. We run Exchange 2003, and aside from updates, we haven't touched the configuration since 2003.
2) If you're sending out your newsletters/bulk emails from the same box and IP address as your day to day mail, there's a good chance your IP is going to get mistaken for a SPAMMER and you'll have to work very hard to make sure your day to day emails end up in inboxes and not junk/spam folders. In the six years we've been in business, we have not sent a single email to our user base and we still struggle with email reaching people correctly.
3) There are hardware and software expenses that are paid up front. A typical server will run about $2000-$3000. An offsite backup solution will run about $45/month per gigabyte of data. Smaller businesses can get away with something like Windows Small Business Server which integrates Active Directory and Exchange for about $1200 plus Outlook licenses for each user - however for bigger organizations the cost does add up fast.
4) You will need an IT guy or a Managed Services firm. You'll want someone responsive if anything should happen.

If it was my company/dealership, I would be hosting our email locally at our dealership or at our BDC. I wouldn't be sending our newsletter/bulk emails through that server, I'd want to keep it as "clean" as possible. I'd find a service whose sole job is to do that and who takes SPAM very seriously, like Constant Contact. The last thing you want is for your lead follow up emails to not make it to your potential customers.

This is a good question.

Configuring a mail server is a pain in the rear. You have to worry about things like DomainKeys, SPF records, DNS records, SPAM filtering, Virus scanning, and all sorts of other fun stuff.

I wouldn't recommend doing it in house unless you have good IT resources available.

There are a lot of companies that offer hosted exchange services that you can look in to.

We offer free email hosting for our customers. We host email for several hundred dealers.
  • G
  • December 11, 2008
I would have to agree, it would be terrific to have the capability, but only if there is a dedicated IT staffer to assist, and in this day and age of many dealers shrinking, that resource is a rarifying commodity. My organization just let 1 of our 2 guys go, and now the 1 is overworked.

The ability to keep your email server clean of SPAM is an excellent point, one I think that is constantly overlooked. I have been harrassed into mass-emailing our customers when our sales have slowed, but no one seems to care when I tell them the potential risks. Oh well. In a perfect world, I would definitely go with in house email server.
If you are doing mass mailing using your own campaigner software... then it is best to setup the server in house... I know that we,, do not allow mass emails from client software... most hosting providers will also not allow that... ones that do allow, you don't want to be on their network or be sending from them... as one bad sender will block the emails for legitimate senders.

I would recommend two solutions...

1. Move the email blasts off your network to third party... as this would give you better open rate... better list management and all the other features that a company in this field can provide.

2. If your ISP allows setup of Mail Server... then setup Postfix or Sendmail or Exim or any other mail server on your internal network that is used just for outgoing blasts... have your regular emails at the same place as now... so you don't have to worry about security, spam, viruses, blacklisting and all the other headaches that come with full blown setup... to get started you need to get a static IP from ISP... would need a reverse DNS on the IP (AOL, Hotmail may block without RDNS)... update the current SPF with new IP address, very simple thing to do... and install DKIM or DomainKeys if you want to get white listed on Yahoo... should not take more then 1 hours to setup. Then signup for AOL FBL (Feedback Loop), Hotmail SDNS, Comcast FBL and you are all set.
Ok here it is non-geek speak (and I speak it fluently)
Don't send blast from your main company email domain. You will get flagged as a spammer and have a hard time communicating with your customers by email.
Godaddy has the best deal going based on price/features. They give you a free email account with every domain you register. If you are doing microsites you should have a bunch. It has a pop3, smtp and web access.
Our web site provider (ebiz) offers free mail with our sites, check your provider.
Our CRM system (Cardone/Dealerpeak) uses it's own mail system to trickle out email so that it is not blocked as bulk or spam. 2500 emails will generally take 4 to 6 hours to send. There are many remailers out there.
Keep it simple, make your technology work for you. Many times we get dazzled by all the new great features offered to us and then no one in the dealership can understand how to use it. If you need any other assistance feel free to email me with your questions.
Matt Young
Director of IT
Jack Ingram Motors
[email protected]
Our dealership does host our email onsite and I manage our spam filter. It is a hardware solution called a Barracuda - it really does wonders!!!

Regarding the broadcasts, I would alsways stay away from using your own mail service or your ISP's server for that. I have run in to problems being listed on spam lists because our DNS records were incorrect. A real hassle, I promise. Most ISPs do not allow braodcasts because they have timers on their servers and if too much mail goes out at the same time, you get flagged. You can get around this, by setting timers yourself to mail in smaller bunches, but it is a hassle.

In addition, the good mail handling services including your CRM should have a working relationship with Google, Yahoo and other mail services, so their mail does not get listed as SPAM. Always keep an eye out on mail being returned a lot from one specific provider, because that could be a SPAM problem. I had this happen in the past when using AVV where Yahoo was blocking our email.

Anyways, having your own mail server is a cost effective way to run your mail - we use a windows XP Pro Box (cost less then $1,000), but braodcasts you are better of running through a third party.
  • B
    Brian Cole
  • December 19, 2008
We also have our own MS Exchange Server; however we NEVER use it for sending our Broadcast Emails. We have run into the problem of the server being shut down for a long period of time or being black listed by ISP’s. If you want your own mail server I would recommend using your CRM/ILM Providers server to send out your broadcasts. Additionally I would check with your CRM/ILM provider and make sure they have a rock solid Broadcast procedure in place including how they deal with Opt Outs and unparsed Emails. There is nothing worse than trying to send out emails thru your CRM/ILM and the customer never getting them due to being black listed.
Just a little something about email your prospects. We have noticed that simple text emails have been getting a better response than elaborate html emails. It's the same concept as snail mail. If you get a personal letter vs. bulk mail you are more likely to open it. We've done the same for our email campaigns and have had great results.
If you have the staff and expertise to setup your own email marketing campaigns I would suggest a hybrid approach that involves renting a dedicated server.

This can run $300-$500 a month but can give you unlimited emailing, domains and database management without the headache of hosting your own server inhouse and dealing with firewalls and software upgrades.

Setup a domains outside of your main URL that can be targeted for various promotions; service, parts and sales.

The issue with Godaddy is that they charge you for large emails list capability (you have to buy additional SMTP relays) so you can be paying a few hundred dollars a month if you want to send out 5-10K emails in a 1-2 day window. Their default free mail account is 250 a day.