October 30, 2013
How To

Email Deliverability: 8 tactics to help you overcome rising B2B challenges


There are plenty of layers to permeate when it comes to deliverability. In the B2B market, those layers thicken. You bear a bulk of ongoing challenges including a longer sales cycle, complex reputation score hurdles and high employee turnover, resulting in multiple inactive email addresses.

When you read about deliverability overall, most tips and tricks are designed for the B2C marketer. However, in this how-to article, we've tailored tactics specifically for deliverability in the B2B realm.

by Allison Banko, Reporter

To better understand how to overcome the difficulties associated with B2B email deliverability, MarketingSherpa picked the brains of three experts:

  • Dennis Dayman, Chief Deliverability Officer, Oracle

  • Spencer Kollas, Global Director of Delivery Services, Experian Marketing Services

  • Tom Sather, Senior Director of Research, Return Path

As the way we consume our information has expanded, so has the world of deliverability. For consumer marketers, opportunities are flourishing in social and mobile media. Though those areas are at B2B marketers' disposal as well, email is still reigns as the chief communication preference.

"Do you see social? Sure. Do you see mobile? Sure. But traditionally, it's mostly through email than it would be in the B2C market where you might see Facebook or other sorts of channels involved," Dayman explained.

For B2B marketers, it's more crucial than ever to master deliverability to the inbox.

Tactic #1. Prioritize quality over quantity with email lists

Bigger isn't always better — especially when it comes to list management.

Rather than blindly targeting as many potential consumers as possible, it's far more beneficial to narrow your focus.

"Because you're dealing with these larger deals, you want to make sure that you're focusing on people who are going to really turn your message into a deal versus dealing with people you’re going to be chasing for a long time," Dayman said.

Time and resources are valuable, so placing quality over quantity with email lists is imperative. To achieve that quality, direct your efforts toward the most engaged users. These are going to be recipients who are actively opening and clicking through your emails.

"By focusing your list on your most active users, it'll help you pinpoint and get the true ROI that you're looking for from the email channel," Kollas said.

One of the hardest sells

This quality over quantity mentality can cause a butting of heads within your company, particularly between the marketing department and the CFO.

Upfront, it's a scary proposal. By focusing your list on more engaged users, you'll be cutting people out. Though that portion is comprised of inactive, non-opening consumers, it seems like you're slashing potential buyers. Most of all, it seems like you're slashing revenue. Of course, that's not the case. In fact, you're no longer wasting resources and money on users who are reporting you as spam or who are emotionally unsubscribed, Dayman explained.

However, that doesn't make it any less difficult to persuade this idea to the CFO.

"It is one of the toughest things to do," Dayman said. "It takes more than just a couple of days. It sometimes takes months to prove the model."

Tactic #2. Segment consumers to reduce deliverability complaints, shorten B2B sales process

In B2B transactions, you're dealing with a longer, more complex sales cycle than those found in the B2C market. But, you can accelerate this process by segmenting consumers with characteristics including:

  • Job title

  • Website activity

  • Downloads

  • Product affinity

Segmentation fosters a better sales position because you're generating a clean lead from the very beginning of your campaign, Dayman explained.

This also benefits your deliverability due to the fact that fewer complaints are stemming from unwanted information. Someone who is receiving relevant content won’t mark it as spam. They're more likely to open and engage with your email. Based on the items you're segmenting, you can unearth what type of information that consumer will best react to.

"They're telling you what they want, and you’re reading that body language and going, 'Here's what I need to do with them at this point,'" Dayman said.

Sather added segmenting users is becoming easier due to the capabilities of marketing automation platforms.

"There are a lot of different ways to segment users and I think as marketers are becoming more analytics and metrics based, we'll start to see more of it, too," Sather said.

Tactic #3. Recognize high turnover in B2B markets

The modern business environment's frequent job turnover results in equally frequent changes in company email addresses. When an employee leaves a job, as a marketer, you're still targeting that company email address despite that no one is on the other end.

"Let's face it, the job market isn't like it was 20 years ago when my father worked for the same company 37 years and retired," Dayman said. "I've changed jobs every two to five years."

He added when a person leaves a job, it's possible that email address is forwarded to their former boss or another employee within the company. Now, another person is becoming bombarded with whatever emails the ex-employee signed up for. The person managing those emails is likely to mark it as spam in hopes of unsubscribing, which hurts your deliverability.

This issue is far more prevalent in B2B deliverability due to the fact that B2C targets personal emails, which most people carry with them for long periods of time. Think about how long you've had your Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail account.

Dayman advised implementing a reactivation campaign to determine if your B2B messages are still reaching the right person. These could involve sending messages along the lines of:

  • Is this still you?

  • Are you still interested?

  • Hey, are you still there?

By doing this, you can elicit some sort of action whether it's getting someone to unsubscribe or to re-engage with your brand. Most of all, it targets inactive accounts on your list.

"We save the resources, the time and the cost associated with managing so many extra dead email addresses that aren't doing anything," Dayman explained.

Sather suggested examining items such as job titles and length of activity to determine when it's time to cut someone from your email list.

For example, if you're dealing with an account associated with a CMO, look at the average turnover for the CMO position and adjust efforts accordingly. Has this user been inactive for a few months? Perhaps they've switched jobs.

"The situation is going to change based on the business," Sather explained. "I think it's a decision that needs to be made across the different marketing departments to determine what makes sense and how to measure that activity."

Another solution involves building a relationship beyond email by utilizing other channels, especially social media.

"If you can get somebody who likes your product on social, then that's going to follow them wherever they go," Kollas said. "If they start following you on LinkedIn, it doesn't matter which company they're with."

Buying lists is no longer a viable tactic

Because of the frequent changing of B2B email addresses — among a slew of other negatives — our expert sources are unanimous in their disapproval of purchased email lists.

"I honestly have never seen [a] well-performing purchased list," Kollas said. "I've only seen negative repercussions from a purchased list."

On the surface, purchased lists seem like an easy way to aggregate a lot of email addresses quickly. But, not taking the time to segment users by building a list organically actually can create deliverability problems.

For example, with some purchased lists, you end up hitting a large number of spam traps that people have put in the Web with their very old email addresses. This is in addition to those email addresses that have become irrelevant due to users moving jobs.

Our three experts aren't the only ones who frown upon this tactic. Dayman explained some countries have even outlawed purchased lists because "they're not true opt-in."

"Buying an email list in today's relevant world of marketing is just not a good thing to do," Dayman said.

There are other productive ways to grow your email list without running into those reputation issues associated with buying a list. Viable options include collecting addresses through Google searches and email sign-up forms. Marketers can also capitalize on the "Promotions" tab in Gmail by purchasing ads in that space, Sather said.

"The thinking is if people are already in there, they’re in the mindset to purchase something or look for a good deal," Sather explained. "It's a great way to serve and deliver very targeted and relevant ads."

By growing your email lists organically, you're benefiting the overall deliverability of your messages by ensuring you're targeting engaged users who are likely to give you those clickthroughs and opens.

Tactic #4. Utilize opt-in opportunities to increase reputation score

Having a full grasp on what goes into your email reputation score in the B2B environment can be extremely difficult due to inconsistencies in companies' security and spam measures.

"It's more of an art than it is a science," Dayman said.

As a B2C marketer, you have more tools at your disposal to target the meaning of your score. You can simply contact the ESP's postmaster site, input some information, and quickly discover why you're being blocked, for example.

In the B2B realm, however, this type information isn't typically available publicly. The process of investigating your reputation score becomes more elongated. Rather than a postmaster site, you have to figure out who the proper contact point is within a company. Most times, you're dealing with one person — an IT administrator.

When employees are spammed, they'll report it internally. Most often, the IT administrator will want to make the spam issue go away quickly and the fast fix is installing a major block on a network or domain.

You're also dealing with a very fragmented and segmented market because each IT department may have tighter spam filters than others. There are not universal standards to target, Kollas explained.

"B2B is so subjective to the IT departments' whims," Kollas said.

This heightens the importance of:

  • Looking at bounce logs

  • Monitoring complaints and content

  • Understanding how you’re engaging with your users

  • Reaching out to companies through cross-channel marketing

In regard to cross-channel marketing, you should ensure you're building messages across Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to help your company with the deliverability of emails.

"It's really putting your message front and center with whatever market you're after, wherever their attention is going to be," Sather said. "It does a really good job of building awareness and definitely helps with email."

In addition to cross-channel marketing, Sather advised against trying to solve deliverability issues for every single domain — prioritize instead. To conserve time and resources, examine where the bulk of your consumers are in a domain. Then, identify what spam filters those domains are using and work from there.

"Otherwise, you're trying to solve deliverability issues at 50 different spam filters and you're not really knowing if it's having a major effect or not," Sather said.

According to Sather, recent deliverability benchmark reports are showing top domains are Google and Gmail, even for B2B marketers. If you're using Google for your hosted enterprise solution, you are using Gmail underneath the hood, including for filtering, Sather said.

"With hosted solutions like Google, you are no longer maintaining an email server in-house, but everything is handled in the cloud," Sather explained.

Thus, it's beneficial to look at those particular filters and fine-tune to those filtering standards. But, it's also important to understand you'll have to get through more spam filters after the initial domain filter. For example, most company emails are sent to Outlook. So, you should ensure your message is equipped to bypass those additional spam filters, as well.

Notice, consent and choice

Generating that clean lead we discussed earlier will also aid you with your reputation score. You can achieve this by forming your email lists based on opt-in opportunities presented to users.

Dayman, who is on the ethics committee of the Direct Marketing Association, encouraged building privacy into the very beginning of your email marketing strategy.

"We're more apt [as consumers] to give our information to somebody or something when they're making the right choices — when marketers are making the right choice on how to contact and are respecting their choices," Dayman said.

If a consumer opts-in to receive your emails, they're less likely to complain because they asked for the information. The consumer is less likely to hit the spam button, resulting in a better reputation score for you.

Tactic #5. Determine whether a dedicated or a shared IP is the best fit

There are two avenues to take when selecting an Internet protocol (IP) for your company: dedicated or shared. As a marketer, you must weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each to see which one will offer your company the most benefits.

"There are a number of different factors that could play into what will work best for a particular company based on [its] business model and [its] business goals," Kollas said.

A dedicated IP is allotted to a single hosting account which gives your company greater control over your reputation score. A shared IP, on the other hand, hosts several sites, meaning the actions of one company affect the reputation scores of all the companies hosted on the IP — good or bad.

"If somebody does something that goes against best practice, it can negatively affect you," Kollas explained. "I think that's the biggest risk anytime you're talking about sharing IPs."

For example, if someone on the IP is spamming users, everyone is punished through reputation score.

That's not to say shared IPs don't possess strong positives for some companies — especially for those starting out fresh in email list building. By sharing an IP, a company is able to share the email volume of other companies to help get its own emails out there. Shared IPs are also more cost effective, and it makes more sense for smaller businesses sending out small volumes.

"There are many B2B senders that it makes perfect sense for the use [of] shared networks simply because they don’t send enough mail to warrant the cost, management or upkeep of having their own IPs," Kollas said.

If your company does utilize a shared IP, there are a few items to keep in mind. Sather suggested finding a good email service provider to partner with that has strict service level agreements for using a shared IP. With these agreements in place, you’re less likely to run into those big reputation score issues.

"The last thing you want is someone that doesn't have any rules in place for the people that are on their shared IPs where it's kind of a Wild West," Sather said.

On the other hand, if your company does send out high volumes and can afford the expense, a dedicated IP may be the way to go. Utilizing a dedicated IP address allows the mailbox provider to better rate your reputation score as an individual.

"We tend to push clients in that direction because it allows them to not only segment themselves out from the rest of the world, but also allows us to do our job and to better identify if there's a problem that's related to them and, more specifically, what that problem was related to," Dayman said.

Dayman added dedicated IPs are strongly recommended for highly phished brands, like banks. With a dedicated IP address, email service providers don't have to second-guess the reputability of the email.

Tactic #6. Optimize email for mobile

Chances are, your message is being consumed on a five-by-two-inch screen. Are you creating your emails with those constraints in mind?

"I think a lot of B2B marketers haven't been, and now need to start optimizing for mobile form," Sather said.

By the end of the year, Sather added, most B2B companies will see its emails opened on a smartphone. This is a huge positive moving forward as it ups the chances of your message being seen or opened by extending your message onto an additional device. But, a simple tap of the finger makes it much easier for your email to become triaged.

In order to make the most of your email on mobile, focus on the HTML content. Dayman said you should focus on ensuring messages are more visually appealing and that you’re allowing your consumer to get through the information faster due to the smaller reading space.

"There have been studies that show you have three to five seconds to garner the attention of the user — whether it's on a laptop or otherwise," Dayman explained. "By giving that dynamic mobile version to them, you're still giving them those three to five seconds to really get the full picture."

Remember just because an email shows up beautifully on a laptop, it could be showing up funky on the phone. Tailor your messages for mobile moving forward.

Tactic #7. Don’t jeopardize your company's deliverability by comparing it to the competition

"Don't always try to keep up with the Joneses," Kollas warned. "Focus on what is going on within your business and try to improve from there. Don't just worry about industry standards or industry numbers."

Kollas explained weighing your company's success against industry averages can be a dangerous game.

For example, if your company open rate is higher than the industry average, you're not going to adjust your practices to sink to the industry average. Examine what's working best for your company and continue polishing from there.

A way to do this effectively is to create trending reports to track peaks and valleys of your campaign. These reports can serve as a valuable tool for bettering your understanding of what is or isn’t working and why.

Tactic #8. Dedicate time for careful analysis of campaign results, metrics

Clearly, mastering the many challenges of email deliverability is no easy feat. According to Dayman, recognizing and committing to those difficulties is a key component on your path to success as a marketer.

"This is not an easy job," Dayman said. "This is a very difficult job, and if you’re not willing to put the analytics and the time into measuring certain aspects of your campaign, you’re going to fail at this."

When you do run into email deliverability problems, seek to identify them by asking insightful questions such as:

  • Am I getting hard bounces?

  • Are there any unknown emails?

  • Where did this list come from? Is it old or purchased?

  • Could the expectations of my consumers have changed?

  • Have my consumers switched jobs?

  • How much activity am I seeing here?

It's also important to categorize the problem at hand in terms of whether you're looking at a list issue, a content issue or a relevancy problem.

Then, once you have your diagnosis, take action. Implement processes to address those issues. This could be in the form of a new campaign that allows consumers to unsubscribe or perhaps it's a survey to help better profile your prospects and target their needs.

As a B2B marketer, know that you have more limited resources than a B2C marketer does when it comes to deliverability. Take a look at what's available to you and capitalize on that information. You can garner such metrics from service providers or in-house systems.

Along with that, start your analysis immediately, Dayman advised. He suggested comparing campaigns after you send them rather than waiting until after they are finished. This could be daily or even monthly.

Examine complaint ratios and where your metrics are dropping.

Dayman knows this involves a lot of legwork, but it's all part of your responsibility as a marketer.

"If this was easy, we'd all be millionaires at this point," Dayman joked. "We'd all retire to some island."




Return Path

Related Resources

B2B Email Marketing: How reputation, content and brand management affect deliverability

B2B Email Deliverability: 11% of B2B email is classified as spam, these 6 tactics will help

Email Marketing: Improve deliverability by deleting subscribers?

Email Deliverability: 5 tactics for 99% (or greater) delivery across millions of subscribers


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