E-Mail Deliverability Is a High-Risk Issue

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Every e-mail marketing program, be it business-to-consumer or business-to-business, hinges on three factors: list quality, content and deliverability. Yet until recently, BTB marketers have been less concerned about deliverability than those in the BTC realm. Federal legislation targets consumer abuse explicitly. BTB, however, remains a frontier, full of all the Internet's risks and potential benefits.


As BTB companies increasingly turn to e-mail to communicate with potential and existing customers, deliverability grows increasingly critical. The most legitimate, honest and forthright marketer can do everything right, but if 20 percent of the e-mails fail to reach their target, the marketer misses excellent opportunities to increase revenue and decrease the cost of sales.


BTC or BTB, every e-mail counts. Regardless of whom you market to, capturing an opt-in and confirming it, sending relevant content and using a service provider with a good reputation are key. The large size of typical BTC files makes the cost of mistakes higher, necessitating a discipline of constant testing of list segment, content and offer variables. Yet the complexities of the BTB market demand a greater focus on the individual recipient.


The high value of individual BTB prospects and the risk associated with a mistake in communicating with them place a premium on tracking the interest level and needs of each prospect and ensuring that spam blockers don't prevent e-mail from reaching them. High value is driven by larger lifetime purchase amounts, higher cost-of-lead acquisitions and higher referral value.


Many businesses cannot afford to lose even one of their major corporate customers. When crucial e-mails are not received, customer defection becomes a possibility. BTB marketers tend to mail to lists of customers that they have done business with for a long time, or to opt-in files that they rent, making them feel more secure. However, most companies have a filter or a range of filters that prevents "likely" spam from reaching the inbox.


An average of 20 percent to 30 percent of legitimate e-mails do not reach the target inbox, according to Deirdre Baird, CEO of Pivotal Veracity, an independent e-mail delivery and audit company. Enterprise IT departments tend to be more aggressive at filtering e-mails than most of the major consumer ISPs, making deliverability tougher to track and introducing significant risk regarding client satisfaction and retention. In BTB, where more marketers use e-mail as a cost-effective means to identify, nurture and generate higher response rates and further qualify leads before sending them to sales, every e-mail communication counts.


Common deliverability traps. When it comes to deliverability, BTB marketers have much to be concerned about, and many are less careful than they should be about the content they send and the way they send it. Common errors revealed in e-mail deliverability tests in simulated corporate inbox environments include: specific content that activates spam detectors; unauthorized/no opt-in contact; improperly configured sending infrastructures; errors in e-mail header construction; html design issues; and multiple recipients in "To:", "Cc:" or "Bcc:" lines.


The findings underscored that even legitimate e-mail marketers often include words or images that automatically trip anti-spam filters, and the problems worsen from there. Many companies miss sales opportunities because e-mail campaigns become lost in the bulk mail folder at the start of the process or hot customer leads get lost within a batch of general prospects during the marketing-sales cycle.


"We've received some pretty panicked calls from businesses that are failing to get their e-mails delivered," Baird said. "We know of one company, specializing in online direct marketing strategy, that was at risk of losing a client because its e-mail statements were being rejected by the customer's e-mail system.


This led the client to question the company's ability to effectively direct any communications strategy. They figured that if their service provider company could not get its own e-mails through to them, how could they rely on the company to deliver their own communications and reach their customers. At least this company knew they had an issue. Unfortunately, most only find this out after they have lost or damaged a customer relationship."


Marketers even lack the desirable level of control over the identity of e-mail senders. Many BTB companies often have a sales force, and individual salespeople may unwittingly send e-mail to prospects that have not opted to receive these messages, which may tar the organization with a spammer label, compromising its deliverability scores, customer relationships and corporate brand.


Deliverability standards: learning from our mistakes. When it comes to e-mails reaching their target, the stakes are much higher for BTB organizations, which tend to carry content of higher importance on a more regular basis. BTB organizations don't simply send marketing and sales collateral. They also send invoices, sales proposals, project plans and reports. Late or non-receipt of these crucial messages can jeopardize the client relationship, risking financial penalties.


BTB marketers need to take control of their e-mail programs to minimize these risks and generate more profit per deployment. They must seek to track all aspects of their program, from what recipients view in the e-mail body and on the subsequent Web site click-through, to testing the master list and each message for compliance with spam filters.


If this level of discipline is followed, the massive potential of BTB e-mail marketing may be realized. As the e-mail marketing category matures, we must develop deliverability standards that serve as a best practices foundation for BTB marketers. By leveraging these best practices, good BTB marketers can look to these tenets when evaluating marketing service providers.


Tips for Optimizing Deliverability


DMers should use the following six tips for optimizing business-to-business e-mail marketing deliverability:


1. Deep tracking allows a personalized, timely response. In BTB marketing, it's important to track not just e-mail opens and click-throughs, but also deep Web site activity. For example, knowing that a big customer investigated a new product on the Web site can be crucial for generating a quality sales appointment with the customer.


2. Deliverability testing helps maximize marketing response. The content and the house file should be tested continuously against major spam filters in a simulated environment to predict and optimize deliverability success.


3. Eliminate obvious spam trips. E-mail addresses like "nospam@..." and "postmaster@..." should be removed from the list and from inbound form submissions. Can the "spammy" terms, specifically phrases like "click here to ..." and "free," and limit the use of overly promotional words. Avoid other spammer practices such as using all caps, multiple exclamation points, underlining and overuse of various font sizes and colors.


4. Be scrupulous about building a permission-based file. Use every channel - Web site form submissions, telesales, direct mail - to build the opt-in e-mail file, but never resort to buying bulk e-mail addresses. The cost of non-deliverability of legitimate e-mail is too high if the purchased addresses have been harvested. If it sounds too good to be true, in this business it almost certainly is.


5. Monitor volume control. Check your volume because sending too many e-mails at once is a sure way to set off spam filters, especially those of large ISPs. Filters are volume-sensitive, designed to respond to high volumes of messages, which are a sign of bulk, unsolicited e-mails.


6. A good reputation counts. Use a service provider with a solid, credible reputation. If your e-mail comes from a domain previously flagged for its e-mail practices, that e-mail, regardless of content or consent, may get automatically blocked, destroyed or rerouted as bulk. It just takes one bad client in an e-mail vendor's client list or out-of-date best practices to harm the deliverability of everyone's mailing and damage the effectiveness of multiple efforts.


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