How a 1% unsubscribe rate KILLS your business


Below is a screen shot of the footer of an email I received early this morning, one which illustrates a common problem in email subscription management. This particular one is from a software vendor not unlike many others. As a long-time customer of this company I receive regular email, and in good faith started to read it like so many others before.

After getting halfway through the email, I realize this is another one of their “marketing emails” and conclude that my information must be mistakenly classified in their database as a prospect. As a customer this is completely irrelevant to me, so today I took action to make it stop.

clicking the “update your e-mail subscriptions” link at the bottom.  sends the user to a preference center, with some choices where I could opt out, so far so good.

Surprise!  The web page displayed the following choices, all of them EMPTY:

How do you unsubscribe when all the checkboxes are empty?

There is no obvious way to stop getting this particular type of email sent to me without stopping all of it. At the bottom of the page there is a choice to unsubscribe from all emails. But that is rather drastic, I don’t want to do that! What if I unsubscribed and then missed some important announcement?  Like a new version of their software?

With no reasonable option to choose, I closed the page taking no further action. Too bad for them!  It amounted to a missed opportunity to collect my preferences and tailor their messaging.

Epic fail
This experience is being relived by countless people all over the world every day.  We can all appreciate the frustration, what begins as an honest effort to help the sender correct its email lists, instead of hitting the “spam” button and condemning that company to deliverability issues, ends as a failure to communicate.

Imagine losing 1% of your customers every time you email
Let’s extend this example further.    Imagine that your email audience no longer had a say in the type of email they wanted to receive.

It’s fair to say you are putting your entire business with them in jeopardy.

Some marketers I’ve met develop an entrenched attitude about this; they defend by explaining that any unwilling recipient can simply opt out of all email.  They will blindly accept a 1% unsubscription rate as “normal.”

If you knew that your very next email would cause 1% of your customers to defect every time you sent it, would you still send it? Of course not.

Yet people do it every day!  The graphic below illustrates what happens when you send emails at a rate of 1 per day, with a 1% unsubscribe rate.   You would be severing your communications with HALF of your customers after only 70 emails. decay_curve_at_1_percent_unsubscribe_rate

Linking Lists with Choices
The good news is, if you are giving careful thought to the value of your email content, most of your audience is already receptive to hearing from you. Otherwise they would have unsubscribed a long time ago.  That said, it’s normal for your audience to crave more control over the content they receive.

When you offer them controls, and those controls work properly to change the outcomes, it has tremendous positive benefits: Lower opt-out rates, better readership, better email click-throughs,  more shares, more brand loyalty.

Fixing this problem is something every marketer should make their top priority. And I do mean a TOP priority. This means it should be addressed before the next email goes out the door.

Here are some guiding principles to building a good subscription management page:

1. Put the “unsubscribe from everything” choice at the bottom. This is the convention that people expect. There is no benefit to hiding it, putting it in small size, etc. Make sure that people can execute that choice in one click. In some countries this is the law, plain and simple.

2. Group your list choices according to your sending habits. Remaining checkboxes you offer should have a real and substantial impact on the emails that a person receives. Be sure to sanity-check your choices; better to go broader and have less displayed choices. For example, instead of “case studies” and “webinars” you could combine them as “product expertise”.

3. Now, execute your emails. Every promotional email you send from now on should be sent to subscribers of the corresponding checkbox choices. In other words, if you send me the email, I will be able to opt-out without unsubscribing from everything.

4. Automate the programming for “net new” contacts. Anyone you add to the database (via CRM, via Upload etc.) has pre-defined choices. So they are automatically subscribed to the right choices without any direct effort by the marketer.

5. Build your lists with the subscription choices in mind. In other words, use the subscribers to a given choice as the basis for your distribution list.

6. Coordinate your colors. This is my favorite technique. The careful use of colorized email templates or other creative elements can be a powerful signal to your audience and make their subscription options dead simple. If you don’t like the green emails, unsubscribe from them!

7. And lastly, while this may seem obvious it is imperative to include your new footer with the “update your preferences” link in every email! You might need to retrofit some of your nurture emails in progress.

After awhile, you may find the subscription center emerges as a focal point for all marketing communications planning. You start to visualize your overall segments in terms of the subscription choices. What is the lineup this month for people who subscribed to “product expertise”? Do we have enough coverage in our marketing calendar for people who are subscribed to “special events”?

In larger marketing teams, the executive might designate a single marcom employee to “own” each list. The list owner acts as a champion and traffic cop for that audience. The owner does not necessarily need to reside in the Marketing department, either; good candidates can be found among sales managers. The owner should have the authority to act as dispatch, and escalating for any campaigns scheduled at the same time, or when they see dry spells coming up on their calendar.

Ken’s Really Big List of Disposable Email Domains

Here is my list of “disposable” email address (DES) domains. You can add these domains to your Master Exclude list (Eloqua > Setup > Management > System Management > Master Exclude List > Domains) , or use them to spot fake email addresses you can safely remove from your database.

Use at your own risk! If there are any missing please add to the comments below and I will amend the list. If you send me more, please do not include “free” email services such as yahoo and gmail. This is intended to screen out disposable email addresses only. Thanks.

Ideas for Nurturing “Sales-Accepted Leads” without Breaking Your Neck

Back in my days at Eloqua I remember the sparkle in people’s eyes when we used to describe the concept of “lead nurturing.” A lot of time has passed since then, and today it’s clear that lead nurturing programs have moved into the mainstream.  Marketers everywhere are using automation to send out a series of targeted “triple touch” (or similar) emails to prospects after their first inquiry.  It’s also common to find marketers using lead scoring and other methods to qualify their leads prior to sending them over to sales for follow-up.

Getting this far is a terrific accomplishment for most businesses, given the state of sales-and-marketing alignment in most companies.  But if you’ve just realized this milestone yourself, you may want to hold off on popping champagne until you have a chance to check your lead flow results.

A common problem arises when the bulk of incoming leads continue to receive inadequate follow-on communications beyond the initial nurture program.  In one situation we studied, only 10-20% of the marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) passed to sales received any follow-up activity.

Some further investigation revealed that the balance of inquiries were discarded for various reasons:  The organization was deemed a poor fit by the sales rep; the individual was employed in a target account, but in a role deemed to be outside the buying center, or the individuals were simply unable to connect by phone, or unreceptive to taking cold calls from a sales rep they had not yet come to trust.  All of these factors contribute to reduced conversion from our lead pool and ultimately, lower revenue potential.

One simple option is to add more emails to your nurture program, but then you end up dealing with new trade-offs:  Is the next email in the series still going to be as relevant to that person, after so much time has passed?  What if their buying situation has changed?  This is especially important when you consider the consequences of sending “stock” nurture emails to sales-accepted leads (SALs) and sales-qualified leads (SQLs).  Marketers can make better use of the sophisticated software features at their disposal to make their communications more relevant to this key “downstream” audience.

There are some clues in your data to help you identify the subset of leads who are downstream within the overall nurture audience.  Companies operating their marketing database with CRM integration can enhance their integration beyond contacts and companies, to pull back information on sales opportunities. This allows marketers to identify customers and active prospects among the new leads.  The linkage opens up better possibilities for downstream nurturing, for example nurturing to product owners, nurturing to customers who are in renewal cycles, or targeted messages to prospects who are in open sales opportunities. Figure 1: Downstream Nurture in Lead Flow Pipeline illustrates the emerging practice within nurture as a visual workflow.

Figure 1: Downstream Nurture in Lead Flow Pipeline (click to expand)

Once you have the audience identified and tagged, you can enhance your nurture programming to put the downstream nurture tactics in place.

Some ideas to consider for effective downstream nurturing:

Progressively check to see if the buyer situation has changed. Configure nurture workflow with safeguards to continuously check the status of each nurture member before sending follow-on emails. Also, consider the benefits of adjusting the program to suppress or “hold” emails so they do not “collide” with other campaigns that may be in play. Another popular technique is to adjust the program to send the next email based on responsiveness to the previous email.

Downstream messages should reflect your evolving relationship.  Newly welcomed audiences generally receive follow-on content and offers that reinforce your unique capabilities and expertise in the market. You can also provide third-party perspective with industry reports and syndicated sources where these are available.  Other popular goals include encouraging referrals and merchandising social media channels.  The content for downstream nurture emails does not need to change that much from generic nurture, but the opening sentence can certainly reflect the buying stage of that prospect and how the content can help them in that context.

Personalize by sales rep. Companies with a direct selling model can benefit from sending their nurture emails using signature personalization, with sales reps appearing as the sender. Well-crafted emails with relevant content help position the sales rep as trusted advisors (just make sure that sales reps are being responsive to those replies!).

Thank you from the CEO.  A single, timely, handwritten text message from a top executive can have a powerful effect on buyers.  I’ve personally seen it work best on prospects in mid-stage opportunities.  This type of email can be fully autuomated using a careful recipe of CRM integration, program workflow and signature personalization.

Have you had success with these tactics?  Are there any others you would like to share?

Lead Scoring: Start the Conversation

So you’ve decided to embark on building a state-of-the-art lead scoring program.

Most marketers seem to agree that scoring leads prior to sending over to Sales for follow-up is a good idea.   If nothing else, the score attached to each lead creates a useful data point to reflect the expected value of that individual’s inquiry to the business, one to which both parties can relate and compare.   If Sales is onside with the idea, it may be time to dig in and start building a new program (or re-building an existing one, as the case may be).

How to begin the conversation?   The general consensus between Sales and Marketing that “we really should score our leads” is where the similarities with other companies end.   While on the front lines of dozens of lead scoring projects I have yet to find two companies with identical scoring programs.  And then again not only are the models often totally different, but people tend to disagree on the design process itself:  Should we invest heavily in quantitative analysis of our historical lead conversion rates, to uncover statistics that we can then use to design the program?  Or just rely on gut feel?

There is no cookie-cutter formula, but whatever approach you decide to take your lead scoring should ultimately allow Sales to automatically score the leads based on their net potential business opportunity.  The program must also fit your lead flow process (whether it be “waterfall” or other methodology) and also be compatible with your specific Eloqua-to-CRM integration.

When I am invited to help companies broker the early stages of a lead scoring project, I like to ask a few qualifying questions which precede the formal requirements definition.  If you are at this stage in your project yourself, here is a quick list of questions you can use to prepare for the first planning meeting with your counterparts in Sales.

These questions typically generate a good conversation and set the stage for a successful project:

1. Why is lead scoring important to Sales?  What is their vision?  If nothing else this is a sanity check to make sure there is shared vision for what scoring will achieve for both parties.

2. Which leads represent examples of the most important ones for follow-up?   Define these in terms of data: Customer status, company type, demographic (job titles, functions, etc), sales cycle, affinity for certain product interest.

3. Should all leads be scored using the same model regardless of source and type?  Should any leads be scored as automatic “A” leads?

4. Does “behavioral scoring” matter to Sales?  What type of measurable activity (email opens, clicks, trade show visits etc.) should “bump up” the score for a “B” lead to an “A” lead, if any?

5. Which leads are least important?  It’s a very good idea to discuss what’s at the barrel-bottom and will receive the lowest rating.  Or should we even pass these over?

6. Will Sales agree to provide feedback on the lead quality?  Are they willing to save each
lead with feedback, such as “You said this was an (A, B, or C) lead, but it really turned out to be an (A, B, or C) lead.”)?

7. Are there any special routing or notification requirements for “A” leads (or B leads, C leads)?

This is just a sample but illustrates effective ways to shed light on the priorities and emergent features of the new program.

Once you have a chance to document the answers, typically this is where formal requirements are defined.   At this point your technical experts should be involved (if not already) to review the proposed model and assess the state of Eloqua data, whether it’s feasible to score leads the way you intend and provide some alternatives that get close to the “ideal” scoring model that will serve both parties well.

Armed with your Eloqua-ready lead scoring model or “matrix”, time to circle back with Sales and review the whole program again to pressure-test it for any problems.  When everyone approves the revised model, we get to work building out the program, get the CRM integration adjusted, test and review, and continue to make adjustments heading up to the launch.

Are Marketers Doing Enough to Prevent Data Breach?

Finally, at long last, you have reached your marketing automation nirvana. Your web site visitors are being tracked, inquiries are scored and sent over to sales, you are getting great feedback from sales on lead quality. Your teammates in marketing are also seeing good results from their campaign efforts. Time to kick back and relax knowing the business is enjoying the benefits of marketing automation.

Or is it?

If there was ever a topic to raise the ire of marketers, it’s software security. It’s got to be the “un-sexiest” area of marketing effectiveness and in my travels I find that virtually no marketing executive will ever make this an active priority (beyond vague platitudes); some would seemingly rather take a head-in-the-sand approach. Since companies tend to fund and configure their marketing automation platform without any direct involvement from IT, these systems are typically not held to the same level of scrutiny as CRM, SCM, ERP and other mission-critical systems.

Yet in the news headlines we bear witness to data thefts and other security breaches among the world’s most prominent companies and the ensuing negative publicity and loss of goodwill from customers.

Lately it seems the shift in thinking is finally underway in marketing departments and among marketing automation vendors alike, to take system security more seriously. These innovators are using the same project and security management approaches used by IT to keep their marketing platforms running safely.

Consider for a moment the kinds of actions that everyday users of your marketing software can perform right now. You would never suspect any nefarious behavior from Mary down the hall, but she might have the ability to download the entire worldwide database of personal information to her hard drive. Bill, our latest hire, couldn’t hurt a fly, but he could certainly email everyone in the database tonight if he wanted to. Imagine the consequences of either of these actions on your brand, reputation and legal liability. Imagine the drama for you personally, as you deliver testimony to senior officials on the question: “Did you take reasonable measures to secure this data?” It’s certainly in everyone’s best interests to secure your systems.

Okay, so you’ve heard the idea before. How well does your operation stack up on these four initiatives below?

Tighten up end-user access. This starts with centralizing control over end-user permissions, and making critical areas of the software off-limits to everyone except the administrators themselves. Take advantage of the native security features in your software and create custom security groups if the default options don’t provide enough control.

Disable access for terminated employees. Simple as it sounds, most administrators I meet do not have a formal provision in place to disable access to the marketing databases upon employee termination. Adding this simple checkpoint to the HR off-boarding process can go a long way to curb the risk of data theft or other breach.

Date-stamp leads when they are sent to sales. A less evident but still critical factor for compliance, you must have a clear understanding when personal information passes from one system to another. If you have not done so already, consider amending your CRM integration program to date-stamp all leads as they enter and exit the sync program. Along with improving your information compliance, this simple enhancement comes in very handy to troubleshoot “missing” leads or correcting other sync errors.

Document the main data model. Marketing automation in most companies is a distributed system that involves several software applications sharing the same data, and therefore the entire system has many fail points. The “openness” of these applications makes it far too easy for mystery fields, custom objects and bogus data to creep in, diluting the marketing team’s ability to develop effective targeting. While documenting the entire system may be “overkill,” certainly every company should maintain a list of its primary data fields, pick-list values, integration field mappings, and other core objects and compile these into a Data Definitions (DD) document for internal circulation. This living document becomes the go-to reference guide for control over any future system-level changes.

If you have only 1 or 2 of these items covered, consider performing a formal security audit with some outside help from your software vendor or partner. If you scored 3 or 4, you can get back to relaxing.

If you have other tips to share with readers on how to improve their marketing automation security, feel free to leave comments below.

Eloqua Expert Services – What’s your take?

At the Eloqua Experience conference last October, Eloqua Corp announced its new “Eloqua Expert Services” – offering up their internal specialists on a for-hire basis to do everything and anything their clients need done with Eloqua.

The announcement was greeted with mixed reactions by the Eloqua community.  At least a few Eloqua customers seem to have signed up for this service, while others are taking a “wait and see” approach.

The new service marks a considerable change in strategy for Eloqua Corp around service delivery. They have long operated an in-house professional services department, but in the past sought to promote their Eloqua Partner community for any service work.  The in-house team would limit their engagements to fixed-price projects such as deployment, lead scoring programs or “best practices consulting” audits.  Customers who needed on-going campaign and development work would be referred to their partner ecosystem.  By referring the bulk of service work to partners, Eloqua Corp could focus their staff on what they do best – building a solid product.

This new service now seems to indicate a reversal in policy.  Eloqua Corp is now positioning to offer “one-stop shopping” for clients who need a complete array of services – deployment, training, development, integration, campaign admin, ad-hoc tech support, best practice consulting.

Curious to hear from Eloqua community members who have actually hired their services or otherwise have an opinion to share.

– Where do they pitch in?  Tech support only, or do you delegate entire campaigns or programs?
– Do you only task to them on overflow, when you are “overloaded” or do they have steady work from you?
– How many hours?
– Pros and cons?
– Do you think the service will change the way you staff Eloqua in your company?

B2B Multi-channel Done Right

At the Eloqua Experience conference last month I briefly met an interesting new Eloqua technology partner, Advanced Image Direct, based in Fullerton, CA and their Cloud2You solution for automated Eloqua direct mail programs.

Simply put, you can use their solution to trigger individualized, personalized mailers to contacts as they are added to a Program Builder step.   While automated variable data printing has been attempted before by Eloqua with lukewarm results (remember PrintMail?), this time around end-users can better control the process through AppCloud and the familiar Program Builder interface.

The combined solution opens up some promising new capabilities for multi-channel campaigns.  But what impressed me the most about this vendor was not what they sell, but HOW they sell.   I have to hand it to these guys,  their mix of follow-up tactics for leads from the conference is a shining example of B2B multi-channel done right.

Returning from a consulting gig in Boston this week, I found several items waiting for me:

Courier package. An oversize Fedex package was sticking out of my mailbox. Inside was a thank-you letter and four-color 8×11 foldout glossy brochure.  In an world that can’t seem to get enough of online marketing, nothing stands out like well-crafted oversize direct mail.  And for Advanced Image Direct, the medium is the message, so it’s encouraging to see them eating their own dog food.

Introductory email with availability for demos.  A no-frills, text email coming directly from the sales rep. Rather than being a re-hash of the information I saw in the glossy package, this was a list of open times in the next 3 weeks when they could demonstrate their solution and upcoming projects.

Thoughtful voicemail.   I received a nice recap of their own experience at the conference and drawing some quick comparisons between Eloqua Experience and another conference that competes for my attention, DreamForce.    I won’t gush over a voicemail but let me say that it was a carefully worded story and told in an interesting enough way for me to listen to it in full.

Each medium was used to deliver a different message but provide an impactful and mutually reinforcing approach that probably only cost a few dollars per new lead. Nice work!

3 Things You Can Do to Integrate Email and Social Media. Right Now.

Wish you had more traffic to your blogs, forums and other social media outlets?   While the benefits of using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for marketing purposes are well-documented, it seems that few marketers are using the features available in their marketing automation software to get customers and prospects to social media outlets.

To close the gap, here are three simple changes you can make to better integrate email with these key channels:

1. Embed RSS headlines in emails. Syndicating your blog headlines and recent tweets in email, and having them appear on thank-you landing pages helps to showcase the great conversations taking place in real-time about your brand.  These headlines are an excellent complement to the conventional array of static icons (Facebook, Twitter and RSS) traditionally found in email footers and sidebars.

2. Configure your marketing automation referral sources.  Measure the contribution of your email to social media traffic by configuring email redirect links to track social media visitors across from your email.

3. Merchandise your email subscription options on SNS.  As a reciprocal tactic, you can encourage your prospects and customers to sign-up for email in your social media.  This can be achieved by adding a simple form which adds any subscriber to available subscription groups.  Use “double opt-in” to validate the request; once successful a “welcome” email can follow, with links to the email preference center.