email marketing management - 7 deadly sins

7 Deadly Sins of Email Marketing List Management & Database Management

Erica Hakonson B2B Marketing, Email Marketing, Online Marketing 1 Comment

For those unfamiliar, let me be your window into the world of email marketing, where email marketers discuss the value of unengaged contacts, measure the erosion of list decay and conjure the new means of acquiring implicit consent. We, the collective ‘we’, condemn unwanted email marketing practices; yet, the problem endures. As email marketers, there is a time in each of our careers that we are guilty of creating list upon list of segmented leads, opportunities, customers, and accounts. This sinful list continues…

In today’s market, there is little pride taken in list hygiene and keeping a clean, healthy database. So the problem endures. However, this routine hygiene can bring better email performance results, so what’s good for the contacts is also good for the email marketing ROI. Win = Win. It all starts with knowing what needs to change.

This blog outlines the 7 Deadly Sins of Email Marketing List Management & Database Management that every email marketer should avoid. I hesitate to only name 7 sins as there are way many more than 7 sins to avoid for effective database management. Alas, these critical 7 will get you on the right track and inform you of what you need to avoid in setting the bar for a successful email marketing strategy. These will probably seem like the smallest things but remember: the small things can sometimes yield the biggest results.

If you manage to avoid these 7 email database and list management sins, consider yourself having won the accolade of a righteous email marketer, but do us all a favor and keep it to your righteous self.

1. Greedy Contact Collection

One of the most common beliefs is having too many contacts in your database won’t hurt. When given the choice, many email marketers would rather have a big database of contacts than struggle to grow an authentic database of contacts. At the end of the day, collecting net new database contacts suggests growth, right? This is far from right.

Never get fooled into the belief that you can have all the contacts you want and manage them how you want. According to Marketing Sherpa’s research, B2B contact databases decay at a rate of 2.1% per month, or 22.5% every year. Contacts change email addresses, opt-out of communications and for a myriad of other reasons, don’t stay relevant for too long.

No matter how you grow your CRM contacts, you’ll never outgrow that, and you end up wasting time and effort communicating with an obsolete database list or a disengaged audience at best. Rather, your focus should be on crafting a well-thought-out CRM contact qualification process that’s in keeping with your buyer personas and target market, part of an overarching inbound lead generation strategy.

If you don’t spend the time on optimizing your qualification process and continually cleaning and maintaining a healthy database of contacts, your marketing strategy will be based on a depreciating asset.

2. Gluttonous Email List Creation

This one is a natural progression from greedy contact collection. When you end up with too many contacts and too much information on your plate, it’s hard not to default to creating list over list in an attempt to capture associations.

Before you know it, you’ll get stuck in a rut of sifting through lists every time you’re sending an email. Even worse, you’ll be tied up and stressed about deleting or archiving all these legacy lists believing that they ought to come in handy at some point in the future. Every email marketer’s nightmare.

A better way is to exercise diligence when importing contacts and attribute them to particular programs and/or update the appropriate field(s) within their individual records. All these lists from one-off events and list imports are often never used and serve solely to bloat your CRM database

3. Lustful List Acquisition

Over and over again, we see marketers buying lists from list providers to add new contacts to their database and start emailing (read: spamming) them. If you’re still doing that, you’re not only missing the mark with your email marketing strategy but you’re also in serious violation of the rules of consent under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that came into force in May 2018.

Even if the acquired list contacts have opted-in to receive email communications about a specific offer, it’s important to note that they never opted-in to receive communications from your business. Under the GDPR’s consent regulations, your EU contacts must provide explicit consent in order for you to send them emails. So, when you buy email marketing contacts, you’re not giving them that option, rendering you non-compliant with GDPR from the get-go.

It’s also important to highlight that by buying email lists, you’re more likely to hurt your email deliverability and sender reputation. When emailing contacts that don’t know you, it’s highly likely that the recipients would mark you as spam or that their email addresses yield hard bounces and turn into spam traps.

Rest assured, quality contacts could never be purchased. They are earned.
The onus is on digital marketers to make people aware of your business and interested in what you offer via inbound digital marketing tactics and helpful content rather than harassing contacts via email.

4. Envious Contact Consent

This is a sin that manifests itself in relation to the previous one. Too often email marketers brag about the size and marketability of their CRM contacts database, pressuring you to raise your email game. And frequently, out of envy or lack of understanding, email marketers exploit the misleading “assumed” or “implied” consent without fulfilling CAN SPAM, GDPR and/or CASL requirements.

In case you didn’t know, all implied consents have an expiry date, unlike explicit consent. So, what does that mean for your email marketing? Basically, your email marketing programs can no longer rely on email addresses with implicit consent unless you periodically renew that consent. Ignore this at your peril – You could get sued.

When it comes to email marketing, it’s seldom a numbers game. One of the most common fallacies is the notion that a bigger list equals a healthy, thriving contacts database. Make no mistake, email marketing definitely starts with creating and maintaining a marketable database, with email addresses that are not marketing suspended, unsubscribed, black-listed or bouncing.

BUT there is way more to email marketing than the size and status of your email list. In marketing emails, the purpose is always to compel an open followed by an action, the click. A better way to measure your email marketing effectiveness is through specific metrics like open rates, click-through rates (CTR) or conversions and low unsubscribe rates.

Open rates are good to test how good your subject line is by standing out from the rest of the pack. Click-through rates are your go-to-metric to assess how people engage with your email by taking the next actionable step. Low unsubscribe rates signify content relevance and that people attribute value to what you’re sending them.

5. Prideful Over-Engineered Drip Email Campaigns

Never forget that database contacts are people and that we’re communicating with people in the first place. The focus should always be on building that connection and strengthening it with every email sent. The best way to build such a connection is through GREAT, relevant and helpful content. The importance of remarkable content cannot be overemphasized in attracting people and authentically growing your CRM database.

All email marketers and content copywriters know that hammering prospects with traditional sales emails is a flawed form of communication. It’s like constantly asking people who don’t know you for money. Once you identify your qualified pool of contacts, spend the time thinking about the best way to educate them before trying to convince and convert them.

Email marketers often take pride in crafting “top of mind” email campaigns sometimes to the point of over-engineering everything from the frequency, tone to CTAs. There is no point in exhausting your contacts with many touchpoints; rather keep it relevant, short and simple with soft CTAs to maintain retention and low unsubscribe rates.

email marketing management - prideful overengineered email nurture campaigns

6. Wrathful Contact Deletion

We know the temptation to start with a clean slate with every new management. The urge to start taking control of your CRM database destiny is justified. This is often a feeling that comes with frustration and anger at how increasingly onerous your database management has become.

While it’s easy to turn over a new leaf in a situation where you inherit an unreliable contacts database, just remember that an empty list does not equal a clean database. It does equal $0 in potential revenue, however. So, what’s the deal with all of the stale contacts sitting in your CRM database for years now?

Instead of bulk-deleting and compromising the entirety of your contacts database, a better place to start is by running a re-engagement campaign to confirm and/or revive the interest of those who stopped engaging with your content in the past year or so. Make a list of contacts who haven’t interacted with your re-engagement email, then delete the list.

Now that you’ve deleted those who never opted-in for your communications, you could dissect your database even further by deleting hard bounces or unsubscribes. That’s also a safe step.
Deleting hard-bounces and unsubscribed contacts keeps your contacts lists clean and up-to-date, which in turn improves email deliverability and gets you the most out of your email marketing programs for sure.

A useful precautionary measure to help you better manage your database clean-up project is to export a list of all the individual contacts and their associated properties as a back-up before retiring or bulk-deleting contacts. This way you can always re-import them back into your CRM or marketing automation system, should you require a way back.

7. Slothful Database Management

Sloth-like behavior is lazy and inattentive to the requirements for running good database management practices. This includes taking the easy route or worse, completely avoiding the regular ad-hoc, manual and primitive database contact and list management activities. It’s absolutely critical to invest the time and effort to develop operational programs to effectively manage your contacts database from processing, scoring, subscription management to purging and deletion.

If knowledge is power, then data is money. The cost of sloth-like behavior can be very high to your email marketing efforts. Manual labor is never scalable and makes your marketing team prone to all sorts of problems and errors associated with a poor database. You’ll be spinning your marketing wheels without any results to speak to.
Keep in mind that running data governance programs for your database is never a “set it and forget it” task. It takes deliberate effort from your marketing operations to consistently optimize your back-end automation and workflows.

Hopefully, after some iterations and optimization, you get to the point where you feel confident about fishing out bad contacts and keeping your database contacts and lists in check.

The Net-Net

A poor CRM database usually evinces more than one of these database management sins. And woe is the email marketer if they are guilty of all seven.

Take a hard look at the health of your lists and database. How clean and fresh are they? Start identifying those bad database management practices to make necessary adjustments as part of a broader on-going CRM database cleanup and maintenance process.

Just Remember: no database is perfect, but taking these small steps goes a long way in your email marketing and nurture strategy…and eventually your email marketing ROI.

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Erica Hakonson

Principal & B2B Marketing Maven at Maven Collective Marketing
Erica Hakonson, Founder of Maven Collective Marketing, has likely spent more time pondering, testing and contemplating your web searches than you will ever be comfortable knowing about. For over 13 years, she has been working in B2B marketing with companies like the Microsoft Corporation, Safeco Insurance, Intranet Connections and many more to disrupt the norm, connecting people-to-people rather than business-to-business.

A graduate of the Management of Technology MBA program from Simon Fraser University (SFU) and a former Board of Director for the SFU Alumni board, Erica finds balance through academic challenges as well.

As a self-diagnosed digital marketing junky, she spends most of her days studying search engine algorithm updates, A/B testing her own confirmation biases and building digital marketing strategies for various B2B clients.

When unplugged from the Digital World, Erica spends her time brewing beer, ultramarathon running and exploring the vast north of the 49th parallel with her husband, kids and vizsla.
Erica Hakonson
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