To place the proper emphasis on the importance of improving email deliverability for B2B marketing, it is important for marketers to understand the potential impact that successful delivery has on their long term B2B lead generation results. Targets that don’t receive your communications never get the opportunity to engage with your message. You can spend time and effort developing the right offers for your audience, but if the right people don’t get the message, the offer won’t get seen. It is critical that the templates you use in email marketing get past corporate spam filters.
Corporate spam filters are frequently multi-layered, many companies utilize the following approach:
- An external email security service – this will scan the entirety of the company mailstream for spam and viruses before the mail ever gets to the mail server. These services tend to be the most intelligent and adaptive.
- A firewall level spam service – usually contained on the company network, a firewall level spam service is either integrated directly with the corporate firewall or running as an appliance just outside of it.
- Mail Server anti-spam – Many mail servers offer built-in anti-spam protection, these tend to be rule based, and less adaptive to immediate email sends
- Email Client Anti-Spam – Clients like MS Outlook also offer their own junk mail protection, also rule based, partially informed by your prior conversations, replies and analytics performed within your mailbox.
- Cloud level protection – with an increase in the adoption of Cloud Email offerings, including Office365 and gmail for businesses, these corporate offerings can directly adapt their spam flagging to large mailings as they are being delivered.
Frequently, people will look at sales and marketing as a simple numbers game and push that logic into their email marketing program. Add more people to an audience, push more communications to the audience, and if the percentages hold, they see more results. However, with B2B email marketing, that logic does not always hold up, and frequently, we see cases where a larger audience can dramatically lower the results of your email program.
Opt-In programs are largely recommended throughout the industry, and do drive the best engagement rates and long term numbers. However, using B2B email lists is still something B2B marketers will need to do, particularly when just starting out or entering a new target market. The comments in this article reflect the common reality that many B2B marketers face, and assumes that the vast majority of the targets in your list are using corporate email addresses (gmail, hotmail, & yahoo addresses work a little differently). Of course, we’re also working from the assumption that you and your team are also following all applicable laws within CANSPAM, CASL, GDPR or whatever regulations may exist in your country or the countries you are targeting.
Note: With Office365 enabling the Focused Inbox, and gmail adding categorical tabs to their email clients, there are new considerations to address. Clearing the spam folder is just the beginning of the delivery process. Now, reaching the inbox could simply leave you on the “Other” tab with dozens of other messages that tend to be reviewed/dismissed quickly. Taking extra steps to ensure your messages are designed to reach the focused side of the inbox is imperative to drive engagement.
Sender reputation matters for delivery of your messages. Corporate spam filters are very sophisticated and if they decide to block your message, not only will your targets not get the communication, you won’t receive bounce notifications for people who are no longer with the company. Sometimes, blocking is based simply on your domain IP or domain name reputation (see low cost providers below). However, more frequently, we see corporate filters adjusting to how many messages are coming into a domain within a certain time frame. If you’ve purchased a list that has good target companies for your solutions, but haven’t taken the time to properly identify and target fewer than 5 contacts for each company, many of the contacts on your list won’t see your message. The first 2-3 messages may get through, and the rest will be blocked as spam.
Low Cost Email Providers
If your organization is using a low-cost, shared IP address email solution, you’ll find yourself hitting some real limits with this practice. Shared IP address solutions, and there are many in the marketplace, frequently prohibit the use of lists in marketing programs because the overall reputation of all senders can be impacted. Prominent providers in this space include Constant Contact, iContact, Campaign Monitor, and Vertical Response. It’s worth noting that some Marketing Automation providers will also follow this practice, though they may also have an additional option to obtain a static IP address for your blasts. While they provide their solution at a very reasonable price, the low cost email delivery solution can wind up limiting your reach due to reputation factors, and the behavior of other customers of that provider (customers who share your sending IP) can negatively impact your campaign delivery.
A second type of shared IP provider is a channel owned email marketing tool. This type of solution is typically provided by a large organization to their channel resellers, and allows those partners to run pre-packaged email campaigns, with some variation for each partner. The partner can load their list, pick their campaign, and hit send. The problem? Many people don’t follow good hygiene and targeting rules, which means you wind up with a lot of messages getting blocked, even if you are following good practices with your target lists.
A second consequence of having a shared email provider with a poor reputation? Your message might get to your prospect, but a web surfing filter could kick in and prevent your targets from actually responding and clicking through to your call to action.
Getting Better Email Results
Start by testing your audience with a different provider
If you’ve been using a low cost email service with a shared sending IP address, a great method for determining how your delivery is currently working is to test a message from an alternate provider. We see clients, who have been active with email marketing before working with us, having 10%+ bounce rates when they switch to a dedicated IP email solution (fair disclosure, we utilize the SharpSpring Marketing Automation platform). What does that number mean? It means that a percentage of your audience, actually a number much larger than the 10% of your list that didn’t previously report as bounced, didn’t get your last communication … at all. It was entirely blocked before delivery.
Note: Moving to a dedicated IP address for your email marketing is a good first step, but if you’re not following the rest of the suggestions here, you can very quickly wind up back where you started, with your single IP now having a poor reputation and messages not being delivered.
Build personas & improve your targeting segments
Targeted messaging is nothing new to marketers. Write a better topic, geared for a certain type of contact persona, and your engagement rate should increase, and your opt-out rate decrease. We recommend going a step further. If possible, review your target list and ensure that you are not sending more than 2-3 messages into a particular email domain (ignore company name & location in this case, email all runs through the same domain servers and filters). It is not uncommon for an “installed list” to come with 10-20 contacts with email per target account, and if you’re following good CRM practices, frequently you’ll see that many contacts listed for your customer and former customer accounts. If you don’t take a step to limit the number of contacts per company in your blast, modern external email filtering systems will only allow a few messages in, and in all likelihood, it won’t be going to your best target contacts anyway. The more frequently a filter has to perform this action against your messages, the more likely you are to have all of your messages blocked on future sends.
If you are using B2B lists, consider removing contacts from your targeting if they do not engage after a few sends. Focus your targeting towards contacts and organizations that are seeing your messages. Try to utilize fewer lists in bulk and instead shift to a cold nurture drip program, that reps can add new contacts to automatically. Periodically revisit the non-engaging targets with a communication, but try to avoid including them in the majority of your campaigns. You’ll notice a sharp increase in your engagement with this practice, and start to see results that more closely mirror that of a pure opt-in list.
Test your message
In much of this article, we’re discussing a very macro-level view of your audience and delivery. Your email content & subject line do matter as well, particularly for reaching the focused side of recipient inboxes. Following the guidelines above will help ensure that your messages will get to the content level filters that exist at the edge of company networks, as well within the email servers themselves, but you also want to ensure that your content then appears in the Inbox of your targets. One of the better tools we’ve found for that process is Litmus. Litmus integrates with a number of email delivery platforms (including SharpSpring) and gives you the ability to test your message across a number of corporate spam filters including the Outlook filter and Barracuda. Your email designer can also use this test to view how their message will look in a variety of web, desktop, and mobile email clients. Depending on the service and integration you’re using, the Litmus solution will also track which platforms your email messages are being opened within. If you want to know if it’s worth building a mobile-responsive email design for your audience, this level of tracking can help you with that process.
Understanding your metrics
When customers with little or no brand recognition first go to market, usually hitting a bulk list for the first time, typically, they’ll see results that show a 5% open rate, and a .5% clickthru rate. On those initial sends, they’ll also see something troubling …. more people opting out than clicking through to the landing page along with a 10% bounce rate. Over time, following better practices (and of course, helpful, relevant messaging), you should be driving your inbox brand recognition, and seeing stats grow towards a 10-15% open rate, and a 1-2% click through rate, with fewer people opting out than clicking through… As mentioned above, the audience that isn’t engaging either way, should gradually be removed from the regular audience. The tighter you can get with your targeting, and the more helpful the message is, the better your stats will be in the long run. If you’ve been cultivating a responder-centric list, your metrics will be much higher initially, seeing a 20-40% open rate. The lower stats are much more commonplace for organizations starting out with a cold list of contacts that they haven’t had any engagement with previously.
Tip: if you’re removing non-responsive contacts from your audience, be sure to analyze if this is creating any gaps with the companies you are trying to target. If so, consider an account profiling project to help ensure you have the right targets in place within those organizations.
With the steps above, we frequently see much better performance with a well targeted 5-10k contacts into a similar number of organizations, versus what happens when customers send to their full list of 80-100k contacts across those same 5-10 thousand companies.
Frantz Group has been running email marketing programs on behalf of our customers since 2000. Our experiences come from a variety of tools, techniques, brands, industries, and target personas. If you’d like a consultation on how to improve your email marketing practices, please contact us at 800-707-0064.