Featuring RK Maniyani, CTO of True Influence.
Your company’s database of opted-in business contacts is one of your most valuable assets. It takes years to build a sizable contact database, and the universe of new names you can add is finite, particularly for B2B sellers. As your business matures, adding new, qualified names to your mailing lists becomes increasingly difficult and expensive.
Consequently, database fatigue and attrition are major concerns for B2B Marketers. Losing a contact, either through an unsubscribe or just being ignored, is a real cost to your business, both in acquisition expense and potential revenue loss.
Over-mailing is commonly cited as a culprit in list fatigue, and B2B Marketers often ask how frequently they should send emails to their opted-in lists.
The correct answer is – nobody really knows. Opinions, and even some data, vary widely. Business decision-makers say that getting too much mail is the main reason they unsubscribe from lists, but raw data from some email providers don’t appear to back up that anecdotal evidence.
And some experts contend that you really do need to push the conversation with prospects who have, after all, consented to get mail from you.
Ultimately, the right answer on how often you should mail to your contact database will be unique to your organization and depends on ongoing analysis of response to your campaigns. This analysis must go well beyond simple aggregate open and click rates.
Marketers and data analysts need to develop meaningful metrics around audience segments, the value of contacts, the types of mail being sent, and the ultimate benefit your company realizes from the effort.
How much mail is getting sent?
Of course, any exercise in building internal marketing metrics requires a little homework to set baselines. So, it’s important to get a general idea of how much email is being sent to business prospects, and how those recipients feel about it.
How much mail is getting sent out there? Thirty-five percent of email marketers send contacts two to three mails a month, according to a 2015 survey cited in this article at Entrepreneur.com. Nine percent of survey respondents said they sent six or more mails monthly.
Recipients, by and large, say they don’t mind that volume. A Marketing Sherpa study reports that 61 percent of recipients said they actually want to get a mail at least once a month, and 15 percent said they would not mind getting a daily promotion email. Overall, 91 percent of recipients said that don’t absolutely hate marketing email.
Of course, these are messages that users have actively consented to — spam is another animal altogether. And context and content make all the difference in how users view the email they receive. This post from Uhuru notes that a financial consultant might be able to send advice tips daily, but a consumer service business may be tasking its list by sending weekly promos.
Providing valuable content that engages your contacts is key to any B2B Marketing effort, especially in your email campaigns. Monitoring response to content topics is essential, and this intelligence can be greatly expanded by incorporating third-party Intent Data monitoring from services like True Influence’s InsightBASE account acceleration platform. Intent signals tell you what content is resonating with your accounts and contacts across the internet, greatly enhancing your ability to craft e-mails that are on-topic.
How do you lose subscribers?
Even though business users don’t necessarily hate email, you can always overdo it – particularly since today’s marketing technologies allow you to send almost limitless volumes of mail with virtually no direct transmission costs.
Marketing platform provider Hubspot notes that 69 percent of email users say they unsub because they simply get too much mail. Another survey reported on by Campaign Monitor suggests that the single-biggest way for businesses to improve their email practices is to send less mail, with 44 percent of respondents endorsing this idea. In fact, some sources suggest that increased mail frequency leads to increase customer complaints and other headaches.
However, the Hubspot article I noted earlier also cites data from e-mail platform provider Mailchimp that does not show unsub rates going up dramatically with increased mailing frequency.
Of course, unsubs provide an incomplete picture of list fatigue. Users are as likely to simply flag your messages as spam (at a clip of 46 percent, per Campaign Monitor) if they don’t find your messaging useful.
Again, you can’t afford to just bore a contact into not responding to emails. Careful topic selection is key, as is personalization. About 77 percent of marketers are using at least some level of personalization in their emails, according to an Evergage study – in B2B, that number should be 100 percent.
Recognize the value of contacts
One reason for list over-use and fatigue is that some organizations don’t clearly recognize the cost of losing a contact.
The average cost of a B2B opted-in business contact is tough to pinpoint, since they can be acquired through so many varying channels, but estimates run as high as $50 per opted-in address.
At the low end of the cost spectrum you have purchased leads. Redbase Interactive estimates you can expect to pay anywhere between $0.10 and $1.50 per contact on a purchased list, with more specific data requirements running the cost up to $3 per contact. Some companies will generate contacts for around $5 based a list of custom criteria you provide – they are typically phone-verified and of much higher quality.
Generating leads in some niche markets may require direct calling or extensive web research, which is also costly and must be calculated on a case-by-case basis. And some paid media sources can run from $30-$700 per lead.
And after you onboarded a contact, you’ve likely spent additional dollars to augment it with first-party and third-party behavioral data.
As with any useful analysis, your cost-per-lead must be more granular than simple averages, and be mapped to audience segments.
What are the key response metrics to measure?
In building out your own analysis of the cost of fatigue against your contact database, focus on these key metrics:
This is the most obvious standard for user engagement with email. CTRs can be as low as 2 percent, but as with all data on response, you need to map your expectations to your market, and there are tons of sources for this data. This post from Smart Insights cites CTRs ranging from 3 percent for Real Estate to 4.6 percent for Health & Beauty to 6.4 percent in Arts and Entertainment.
Value of Engagement
When a user responds to an email, what is the value to your company of the ultimate resulting action? Some level of database attrition is unavoidable – when determining how much mail is too much, you need a clear understanding of the benefit value of a campaign to see if the cost of attrition is justified.
If a contact has not responded to your last 20 or so efforts, it’s time to stop mailing – at least for a while, unless new data, such as intent signals, indicate an opportunity to renew your connection.
As I’ve noted, this can be a little misleading, since irritated users are more likely to simply mark you as spam. But you can’t afford to ignore this data in your mail frequency evaluation.
Open rates can be deceptive – email client previews and just cursory inbox scanning by a user can give you an inflated sense of how successful your campaign is. Opens can be valuable for awareness and branding, but not so much for direct response.
This data point offers decent insight into the quality of your overall messaging and the enthusiasm of your audience.
Lastly, all these data must be correlated to the type of campaign you are sending. All mails are not created equal. For example, triggered email efforts have a 6.5 percent CTR compared to 1.6 percent for general campaigns.
How to build your analysis program
So, with this data in hand, how do you determine the correct mailing frequency for your B2B Marketing efforts?
As is always the case, segmentation is key. You should build models around types of campaigns, and evaluate the perceive value from the effort against its cost in list attrition.
The cost component should be determined not only by the expense of acquiring the contacts, but also the perceived revenue potential of the audience segment being targeted by the campaign. Obviously, you can afford a higher level of attrition against a pool of $3 contacts than you can against a group of recipients in which you’ve invested $50 per in manual prospecting and data enhancement.
Your also need to build segments based on current response. An increase in mailings to a fixed pool of recipients may have little impact on aggregate response rates, but closer analysis may show that while about half the recipients have responded positively, another half may have totally shut down and become unresponsive. Targets keep moving, and you must keep pace.
And most importantly, test significant increases in mailing frequency against control segments before green-lighting a general change in policy. One successful campaign does not necessarily prove that more is better, and as we’ve shown, there’s a real risk of loss in simply sending out huge volumes of mail.
The question of how often to send email your contacts appears so elusive, I think, because observers are looking for a global answer that applies to all businesses. But the unique answer for your organization is to be found in careful analysis of your own data, along with testing various approaches to see what works best.
Just keep in mind that list fatigue and attrition are real costs and must be factored into your analysis, alongside response and revenue.