This article was originally published in Thomson Reuters Elite Q1 Forefront edition

Touching the void: strategies to improve email deliverability in professional services.

Email remains a primary communication channel for B2B firms, yet despite two decades of digital advances, some emails never reach the recipient’s inbox: they simply seem to disappear into the void.

Insights from email deliverability experts ReturnPath suggest that only 80% of global email traffic reaches the intended inbox – it’s a little higher at 84% in the UK. Industry benchmarks show that emails have an average deliverability of 96%.  That means 12% of email traffic goes unaccounted for.

For businesses that rely on high-value relationships to grow, the stakes are high – even one lost email could undermine a relationship and lose the firm money. It’s no wonder one of the most frequent questions we hear is: “Why didn’t our partner’s email or invite reach their contact?”, followed by, “How can we make sure this never happens again?”

Of course it is natural to assume that your email service provider (ESP) will be able solve the problem of deliverability when it comes to sending out mass mails to recipient’s inboxes. In reality, the reason why a mass email does not reach the intended inbox may be down to a variety of causes not always within the ESP’s control. So what can marketers in professional services do when challenged by colleagues whose relationships are at stake and who want to ensure their campaigns are a success?

#1 Educate internally, set expectations

It’s up to the marketing team to help set realistic expectations and educate partner and fee-earners about the reality of email marketing. It is not a perfect system. Switching to a different email service provider won’t change that. Accept that, for now, statistically there may be 12% of your list that may not receive your email. As Benny our product manager says: “If you expect perfection, you have not been set expectation.” 

Explain that there are steps that you can take to improve email performance and that you will provide an action plan to address the issues. Remember to communicate and continue to educate internally, making sure you report back on improvements and successes in your email campaigns.

#2 Keep a close eye on the right metrics

It’s easy to get distracted by campaign reports that show improvements in open rates or how many people accessed the email on a mobile device. Email marketers should be continuously reviewing two key metrics:

  1. Inbox Placement Rate (IPR): This is used in permission-based email marketing as a benchmark of deliverability. It helps to determine the percentage of emails sent that reached the recipients' inbox. IPR is different from the commonly used deliverability metric.  When a campaign report shows the number of emails delivered it does not specify which ones actually make it into the inbox or end up in a spam folder. All it means is that it has made it past the firewalls and that the email has not bounced.  Put simply, your email can be delivered and never reach the intended recipient.
  1. Bounce rate: This is the number of bounces that are returned from the inbox based on SMTP – the standard protocol for sending emails across the internet. However, not all bounces are created equal. Email marketers need to dig deep and understand the reason why an email has bounced and know what kind of action to take in response.

#3 Devise a well-thought out improvement plan

Knowing that the system is not perfect, use technology to support the improvements you want rather than expecting it to solve your deliverability issues directly. Devise a strategy that includes a range of actions to help educate - and improve the success of your campaigns.

Start by understanding which email domains you are having success with and which domains you are struggling to deliver to. Once you know where your problem domains lie, you can do several things to gain access to them.  A few examples may include:

  • Educate relationship owners in the firm that they have a part to play in email deliverability
  • Create simple, easy-to-use whitelisting instructions that are branded with your firm’s name
  • Make your branded instructions available in multiple points on the client journey. For example, when they download content or when they visit the website
  • Improve inbox placement and recipient trust by setting up a custom email authentication like DKIM

It’s never going to be straight forward asking relationship owners to ask their contacts to whitelist domains and IP’s. But by building out a plan that accommodates for the mails that are not delivered you will drive future success through education within the firm and set expectations around how much technology can support.  Approaching deliverability with achievable goals allows for steady improvement over time. After all, we are talking about relationship marketing here with high value relationships. Marketing should be able to automate a large part of the sales requirement, and for the rest, be looking to fix the surface gaps for relationship owners to take it upon themselves.

There is a huge amount that B2B relationship marketing technology vendors can do to help educate our clients and prospects. By delving into the inbox placement issue we are able to understand and bring to the surface where the real problems lie. It is then up to a combination of firm and vendor to help drive improvements and put strategies in place to that will address the issues.