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1 Post authored by: grieben

In a world transitioning to an opt-in email model, having a valid email address – and permission to use it – is more important than ever. While Sales and Marketing is out there gathering new leads, let’s discuss how your operations team can better shepherd the existing email flock and reengage the contacts that wandered off.


In the reporting world, these lost souls fill out ranks of your email bounce and unsubscribe metrics, but they might not be lost forever.  So grab your staff and wooly poncho and let’s head off into the hills and track down our lost list members before someone else captures them.


Let’s start by identifying the different types of missing persons:



Bounces are when you have a failure in technology or data, and unsubscribes are a failure in your relationships. The outcome of each is the same: your message didn’t make it to the recipient. The reasons for delivery failure, however, could be very different. How can you react to this missed connection? Let’s take a look by type, starting with bounces.


Soft Bounce

A soft bounce happens when your email is current, but the message is undeliverable nonetheless. Some reasons could include:

•    It’s a general or shared inbox that has high volume and has reached its limit.

•    The recipient is on vacation, hasn’t checked their email in quite some time and their inbox has reached its limit.

•    The person is no longer employed at the company you’re targeting and the email hasn’t been deactivated yet (worst-case scenario).


What to Do When It Happens

Assume the best. Assume the person is on vacation and hasn’t checked his or her email yet. Retry your failed message after a week to allow the recipient time to clear the backlog. If it bounces again, or if your message is of an urgent nature, try reaching out to the individual with a phone call or through social channels (if you have his or her Twitter/Facebook information) to verify the individual’s information so that communications can resume.


Hard Bounce

This bounce is more serious because the info you have is flat out incorrect. If this is a new contact it could be a data entry error, but if this is a long-time prospect or contact, it could be something else. Some reasons could include:

•    Your contact changed organizations.

•    The company changed the format of their email addresses.

•    The entire domain isn’t active.

Regardless of the reason, this is a serious data quality issue for you. If the contact is a champion for your organization, or a legal contact who’s no longer employed, you need to find a new focus for your relationships at that organization. If email formats or domains have changed, it will affect all the email addresses you have for the entire organization.


What to Do When It Happens

Notify sales or customer service and get the contact on the phone, just get someone pounding the pavement verifying data to find out why the technology isn’t working so you can fix the problem. It’s most likely not a huge issue, but if it happens during late sales cycles negotiations, it could be disastrous if not remedied quickly.


Now for unsubscribes, when the relationship fails.

While the previous two reasons undeliverable messages were technology-based, we’re entering into no-man’s-land. These last two reasons are more about relationship building and less about delivering your messaging because these contacts took action to ask you to leave them alone. This class of list loss is important because while some people simply become unengaged, they can be a canary in the mineshaft warning you about how the rest of your list feels about your communications. Tread lightly, because these individuals were upset enough to take action and you need their help to figure out why so you can win them back, or at least not lose more list members.



The lesser of the two evils, the list-unsubscribe means that your contact hasn’t selected to disengage completely, but is sick and tired of a certain type of conversation. They have used your subscription management tool to tell you that a certain message is no longer of interest. No one likes to be told to get lost, but this is a chance for your service organization to inject a little awesome into your contact’s life.


What to Do When It Happens

The first and easiest thing to start is to include a feedback option for your contacts within the unsubscribe process. Use of a survey or form to collect data about your reasons for loss will give you measureable and actionable data to analyze regarding why your contacts are abandoning you.  Engagement will likely be low, but you will capture some of the most passionate responses this way, giving you much to think about when planning future communications.


You should also consider having a sales or customer service contact the individual. Nothing makes people feel special like receiving a personalized touch to make sure they haven’t been offended. You can also collect feedback on your campaigns to identify perception trends about communication frequency, tone and relevance to help you better target future messages to your remaining list members. Best case scenario, you might get them re-subscribed.



We now reach the worst case scenario for list attrition, the global-unsubscribe.  Your contact not only doesn’t want to get your event invites, they don’t want to hear from you at all, ever, seriously this guy hates you. Something happened between you and this contact that was so severe they asked to never be emailed again. This is where most organizations leave it, but like the list-unsubscribe, there is valuable customer service info to be gleaned here.


What to Do When It Happens

A feedback loop is good to include again, but I recommend you have sales or customer service contact the individual, and make sure to be extra humble! You already know you have upset him or her, and you want to know how to make it right or make sure you never do it again to anyone else. This is the B2B equivalent of asking an ex-significant other why you got dumped. It will probably be awkward for both of you, so be prepared for the possibility of them saying they just aren’t that into you. With any luck they will be open to the conversation because this is their chance to help you become a better marketer. At least it shows you cared enough to ask.


Armed with some humble pie and the desire to make things right, you can win back some lost lists and at the same time collect valuable feedback to improve your future activities. Recover some of your lost flock and you’ll become an email hero to your contacts and coworkers.


What strategies have you implemented for maintaining the health of your database?

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