Learning an email marketing lesson…the hard way

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It’s serious egg on my face time. Let me explain.

To track our interaction with partners and potential partners, we use the well-known CRM system, Salesforce.com. As I have mentioned in a previous post, we try to be very careful only to email people to who have requested to receive our mail. This is part of being a good corporate citizen, it’s the ethical thing to do, and it keeps us on the side of the good guys, those who are fighting spam, as opposed to those who are sending spam.

So, what happened, you are probably wondering. Did Commtouch suddenly go from wearing a white hat to a black one? Not exactly…

We are hosting a webinar next week on email and web security. As most companies do, we sent out an email message to those people we are in contact with that we thought would be most interested in attending.

While some of the reps sent mass email blasts, segmenting their contacts by their topics of interest, a fairly new and enthusiastic member of our team sent out hundreds of invitations manually, individually picking people at specific companies she thought would get the most out of listening to the webinar. What she (and I) did not realize is that the “email opt out” field in salesforce only works on group email sends, not on individual ones. So in a couple cases, there were people who had asked not to receive email, and were even marked as such in our database, yet did receive email from this rep. Most sent her a polite note reminding her that they had asked to be removed, but a couple sent much nastier, annoyed notes, and truthfully I can see where they are coming from. I mean, we are supposed to be on the side with the good guys, so what are we doing sending people messages they have specifically requested not to receive?

Well, the only thing I can say at this point is, we have learned our lesson. That particular rep learned it in a pretty harsh way and feels pretty bad about it. I have also learned a few lessons. Among them:

1) just because the marketing department is CAN-SPAM compliant and aware of all the nitty gritties of opting in & opting out doesn’t mean the sales department is. Time to do some training on these issues.

2) Even though there is a specific field in our CRM system for “opting out” a better way to ensure someone doesn’t get emailed by mistake is to simply delete their email address and mark a note about why the email address was deleted (so some over-enthusiastic person doesn’t re-insert it). And mark the opt-out field, of course.

3) It’s probably best not to delete such folks entirely from the database, however. Why, you may ask? Well, the job of business development people is to uncover new opportunities. Chances are, if this company was contacted once, they are in our target market, and the company and/or specific person will come into our radar again, either through web research, reading an article about them, etc. In such a case, the first thing the rep usually does is check salesforce to see if that company or person was ever contacted before reaching out to them. Ideally they will see all the red flags in that person’s record indicating not to contact him/her. If the person is just deleted from the database, chances are that unsuspecting rep will call on that person again, wasting time and precious energy on annoying someone who wishes not be contacted by us.

So, it was a mistake, and one that we will of course do our best not to repeat. Does it make Commtouch a spammer? I don’t think so, and I hope you agree with me. I think there is a huge difference between an honest mistake in which a handful of people receive an unwanted email, and a spammer who sends out millions of messages, randomized specifically to avoid spam filters, and sent from hijacked zombies to avoid black lists. But as we at Commtouch always say, it’s not what the sender thinks about what s/he is sending; spam is in the eye of the beholder, that is, the email recipient. Different people have different ways of deciding if something is spam. One person’s spam is another person’s interesting commercial offer (especially is he’s in the market for some fake viagra…

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