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Deliverability

Why I just marked your email as spam

by Ryan Phelan

Mar 13th 2018

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If you’re a B2B marketer who wants to send me a cold prospecting email, I have this warning for you:

I’m going to mark it as spam. If you send that email to other people at my company, they’re going to mark it as spam, too. That could get you and your company shut out of communicating with any of us.

Is that cold email worth it? I say no, because there are better ways to reach out.

Sending cold emails is riskier than ever

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation goes into effect in less than 100 days. Marketers are talking about how to prepare for it and what the consequences of non-compliance will be, but survey after survey shows most are unprepared.

Based on what I see in my inbox every day, a lot of B2B marketers will run afoul of GPDR by sending unsolicited email, even if it’s a one-to-one message instead of a broadcast email. That includes U.S. marketers, who must follow GDPR’s rule on acquisition and permission if they have data on customers in any of the 28 EU member nations, such as France, Germany and the UK.

Recently, at the same time I was speaking with some smart industry people about GDPR, a B2B spam email slipped past my Outlook filters and popped into my inbox. I considered it spam because it was a one-to-one prospecting email from someone I don’t know, from a brand I’ve never heard of, promoting a product or service I would never want to use. Because I didn’t need or want it, I marked it as spam. But that one click could have a wider impact throughout my company.

What if someone else in the company should see it? They won’t because it fell into the deep, dark chasm of the spam folder. This happens hundreds of times a day, although I usually don’t have to click the “Junk” button on each one. That’s because they trigger a filter I set up to sweep emails like it into my spam folder.

It doesn’t matter that CAN-SPAM, the U.S. law that regulates commercial email, allows this practice by setting the standard for opt-out instead of opt-in. These are unwanted, unsolicited emails, and that makes them spam.

Whenever I work with a startup or client company, I warn them about emailing prospects with whom they have no prior relationships. The risks outweigh the negligible gain they might realize from it. As a startup, you must be effective 100% of the time.

All it takes is one person to mark your email as spam. That could blacklist you across the entire organization. That means you’ll never be able to contact anyone in that company, even on legitimate business.

Your prospects are fighting back

This practice of cold email prospecting has gotten out of control in the last few years. The amount of unsolicited B2B email in my inbox has increased substantially, and I’m not the only one who gets hit.

I know some people who set up their inboxes to reply with an email that looks like a bounce message advising senders to remove the address from their databases.

It’s a good hack. But, by this point, I am tired of spending time on these junk emails. So, I have told every member of my business group to mark these emails as spam. When enough people at my company do this, you’re essentially banned from contacting any of us.

Your brand takes a hit, too

We aren’t just turning our back on these emails. We’re also saying, “If you send spam, we don’t want to do business with you.” Once again: Is that cold email worth losing us as a prospect?

It’s not just my company, either. Every company you contact has a whitelist of approved senders and a blacklist of banned senders. It might use a third-party service like Barracuda or Cloudmark, but it also maintains its own filters, and they are notoriously tight.

I understand why you’re using email to contact me. It’s the easiest (and laziest) way to communicate with prospects. It’s the cheapest and most effective, and it’s not as scary as cold-calling. But, you are playing with fire.

Adding insult to injury, the content has also gotten out of control. “Unprofessional” is the best word I can think of for messages like the one a female colleague shared with me. Read what I said about it in “Creepiness Comes in Many Forms. Don’t Be Creepy!” I hope your cold emails aren’t this obnoxious.

Best alternative: First Person Marketing

Instead of sending hundreds of cold emails to people who have shown no interest in your brand or products, put First-Person Marketing principles to work with your sales team and identify your best prospects. Then, use data to create personalized content marketing and nurturing programs targeted to the people who are keyed in to the buying process through other channels first. What you want is to express interest to go along with the permission.

This process is more labor-intensive than just knocking out a cold email to a rented or purchased list, but it pays off in the long run. You don’t run the risk of triggering spam filters on corporate email servers, and you work with the people who are most interested in what you say.

Data that pinpoints intent among your targeted prospects is all around you. B2B marketing is as much about intent as it is about branding and staying top of mind.

Wrapping up

Business is all about risks and rewards. But in the risk-reward scenario of marketing communications, getting shut out of the email systems of the companies you most want to do business with far outweighs the negligible and erratic rewards you might receive.

Take the money you spent on buying lists and put it into account-based marketing. Then, use First-Person Marketing principles to focus on your key prospects and create the kinds of value-based messages that make your emails welcome additions to the inbox.

Make money, not enemies!

*This article was originally published on Business 2 Community. 

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