6 Unique Email Deliverability Challenges that B2B Brands Face

August 3, 2022 | 6 minute read
Chad S. White
Head of Research, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
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This post was originally published on MarketingProfs.com.

Email deliverability can feel out of your control. This is perhaps especially true of B2B brands, which have traditionally struggled with the mercurial spam filtering behaviors of corporate email servers and the IT overlords that control them. However, with Google Workspace and Outlook 365 making serious inroads into the corporate email market, B2B deliverability is behaving more and more like deliverability for B2C brands.

That means that inbox placement is increasingly unifying around 7 core email deliverability factors

  1. Infrastructure: The servers, setup, and controls used by a company’s email service provider (ESP) are important, as is authentication (SPF, DKIM, and DMARC).
  2. Volume: The higher your email volume and the more erratic your sending patterns, the more scrutiny you can expect from mailbox providers.
  3. Email Content: Instead of worrying about word choices, punctuation, and the balance of images and text in your emails, today you need to ensure your email code is safe and clean, and that you’re not linking to websites with poor reputations.
  4. Bounces & Spam Traps: Brands want to keep their hard bounce rates at 2% or under, and want to avoid adding spam traps to their lists.
  5. Spam Complaints: If more than 0.1% of a brand’s subscribers report their emails as spam, they may experience blocking or junking.
  6. Engagement: More than anything else, mailbox providers want to see senders’ subscribers opening, clicking, and otherwise engaging with their emails.
  7. Reputation: Each mailbox provider uses their own unique and secret weighting of the other six factors and their subfactors to create a reputation for each sender, which they attach to the IP addresses as well as the website domains used by the sender.

Given those factors, let’s talk about the unique behaviors of B2B brands that are the most likely to cause their emails to be junked or blocked, which can be expensive in terms of both opportunities lost and deliverability remediation costs.

First, B2B marketers are much more likely to buy email lists.

They can be somewhat excused for thinking that this is okay, given how many companies are pushing this service. I personally get at least one unsolicited email a day from a company trying to get me to buy a list. While sadly not illegal in the US yet, buying email lists puts you at high risk of:

  • Spam complaints, because you can’t buy permission
  • Hard bounces, because people leave companies and their email addresses are deactivated
  • Spam traps, because less reputable list-sellers use email address harvesting software, which also sweeps up pristine spam traps placed on the internet by blocklisting organizations and mailbox providers to help identify spammers.

Worried about blocklists? Learn how to steer clear of email blocklists or get off one.

Second, B2B marketers are also much more likely to “rent” lists. 

I put rent in quotation marks because many list-sellers have rebranded themselves as list rental companies because they know that selling email addresses is frowned upon by many. 

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing a true list rental, or sending a sponsored email, as it’s also often called. However, if you do one, make sure it has every one of the following elements:

  • At no point do you as the list-renter see the list-owner’s list. They should only share list size, demographic, and other general information about the audience.
  • The list-renter crafts the message. The list-owner approves or rejects the message, or asks for revisions.
  • The list-owner sends that message to their subscribers using their email service provider.
  • The message is sent with the list-owner’s sender name, since they are vouching for your company being relevant to their audience.
  • The message is sent with the list-owner’s unsubscribe link, so they suffer unsubscribes if your message isn’t a good fit for their audience.

If a list-owner is unwilling to abide by those, you should look elsewhere, as it’s a sign that your message is not a good fit for the list-owner’s audience—or that the audience is of very low value. 

Third, B2B marketers tend to have much more distributed subscriber acquisition practices.

That means new leads and subscribers are sometimes collected by individual sales team members rather than centrally. That makes enforcing standards around permission much harder, which can lead to low engagement and high hard bounces and spam complaints. 

For example, sometimes a sales person will add the email address of someone that connected with them on LinkedIn, mistaking permission to reach someone in that channel with permission to reach them via email. Having email address collection quotas can make this process even riskier, driving up complaints and hard bounces.

Fourth, B2B marketers are much more likely to have rogue distribution lists.

For example, sometimes sales team members get their own email service provider accounts, so they nurture their own leads separate from what the organization is doing. In addition to losing control of the brand in terms of messaging and cadence, B2B brands should be concerned because the spam complaints generated by these emails can harm the reputation of your website domain, and therefore your sender domain reputation, too.

If you haven’t ever done it or done it recently, use a tool like SparkPost’s eDataSource or Oracle’s Deliverability Plus to identify all the IP addresses and email service providers that are sending email on behalf of your brand. Chances are that you’ll be shocked by what you find.

Fifth, B2B marketers are much more likely to grow their lists at in-person events. 

While events are a great place to attract high-quality subscribers, it’s one of the last places where paper forms are used. That invariably leads to lots of transcription errors, which causes high bounce rates. Using tablets with opt-in forms drastically reduces this risk.

Permission collection also tends to get murky at events, says Cristal Foster, Head of List Growth & Demand Generation Services at Oracle Marketing Consulting. “Just because someone visits your booth, has their badge scanned, and puts their business card in for your raffle doesn’t mean they opted in to receive your promotional emails,” she says. “There are major disconnects between what B2B marketers think should happen next and what those prospects expect. Event staff need to do a much better job of collecting informed consent. Currently, it’s a lot of assumed consent.”

To grow your audiences faster and more safely, get our Audience Acquisition Source Ideas checklist via a free, no-form download.

And sixth, B2B marketers often use report download forms and webinar registration forms for lead generation. 

While there’s nothing wrong with that, sometimes those forms include pre-checked opt-in boxes or consent buried behind a terms of use link. Practices like those, especially the latter, lead to high spam complaints. Poor transparency around your opt-in practices can also lead more people to enter a secondary email address that they don’t check often or, even worse, enter a temporary email address or Hide My Email address that hard bounces after a short time.

The biggest challenge here is to get all your marketers, sales people, event staff, and everyone else to understand how their tactics and actions affect your company’s sender reputation. Your event staff probably doesn’t understand that poorly captured email addresses hard bounce and hurt your deliverability, and sales people probably don’t understand that they harm the reputation of your domain when they start their own shadow marketing program. A little education can go a long way to helping everyone understand that they all have a role in maintaining your company’s inbox placement.

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Need help improving your deliverability? Oracle Digital Experience Agency has hundreds of marketing and communication experts ready to help Oracle customers create stronger connections with their customers and employees, even if they’re not using an Oracle platform as the foundation of that experience. Our award-winning specialists can handle everything from email deliverability and strategy to creative and content planning. For example, our full-service email marketing clients generate 24% higher open rates, 30% higher click rates, and 9% lower unsubscribe rates than Oracle Responsys customers who aren’t.

For help overcoming your challenges or seizing your opportunities, talk to your Oracle account manager, visit us online, or email us at OracleAgency_US@Oracle.com.

Want to better understand your email marketing risks and opportunities, take advantage of our free Email Marketing Assessment. Our experts will check your deliverability, review your email creative, audit your signup process, do a partial competitive analysis, and more. If interested in this free assessment, reach out to us at OracleAgency_US@Oracle.com.

Chad S. White

Head of Research, Oracle Digital Experience Agency

Chad S. White is the Head of Research at Oracle Digital Experience Agency and the author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules and nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing. A former journalist, he’s been featured in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Advertising Age. Chad was named the ANA's 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Mastodon.


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