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How Many Emails Should You Send Each Contact?

September 12, 2016 | By Laura Cross

  • Excessive email communication directly impacts email effectiveness and can increase opt-outs
  • The only way to tell how many emails should be sent is to test
  • Best practices for email touch governance include process centralization and preference management

“What is the optimal number of email touch points per contact within a specified time frame?”

Clients are constantly asking industry analysts and marketing automation platform (MAP) vendors to answer this question. There is no single best answer. The simple way to find the answer is to test (messaging, offers, time/date sent, quantity sent), analyze the data using key metrics (open rates, click rates, click-to-open, opt-out, opt-down, spam complaints, form submissions, other engagement metrics), and review trends. For example, which verticals, buying cycle stages and geographies are performing better than others? Is there a difference in their tolerance for communications? Finally, iterate as necessary. This process needs to be reviewed often (probably daily) to ensure there isn’t a problem that should be fixed, paused or stopped immediately.

We know an excessively high volume of email communication directly hurts email effectiveness by causing list fatigue, increased opt-outs and database churn. The primary causes of excessive email volume include multiple non-integrated sources (marketing, sales, support, services) sending uncoordinated email communications; few controls over the number and types of communications a single contact receives; and overuse of email as a communication tactic. To reduce overall email volume, implement the following best practices: 

  • Centralize email management. Companies that use multiple systems to communicate with prospects and customers should centralize processes to reduce volume. The individual or team managing this function must then institute controls over the systems where emails originate, governing frequency and eliminating duplicate efforts. This is also a requirement for driving legal compliance.
     
  • Align delivery methods to preferences. Email is one of many content delivery mechanisms; other options include Web properties, social media, mobile devices and direct mail. To avoid overuse of email as a communications tactic, analyze past and current buying behaviors to determine interaction preferences.
     

Consider developing preference centers. These centers will become even more relevant with the increase in compliant/permission-based marketing. Preference centers enable organizations to gather more detailed insight into buyer interests and communication preferences in order to provide more relevant communications. For example, marketers may choose to use email as a tactic only with those who have chosen it as a preferred method for receiving information. Preference centers provide the following benefits: 

  • Individual and persona insight. Preference center data enables communication personalization for the individual, but also provides insight on others who share the same persona and buying role. By asking buyers why they are opting out of email communications, marketers can gain a better understanding of buyer needs. 
     
  • Opt-down vs. opt-out. Companies that replace blanket opt-out policies with a link to a preference center experience fewer opt-outs, because they allow buyers to choose which types of communications they want to keep receiving (opt-down) and how. Note that in the U.S., a blanket opt-out option must be included in the preference center, as it is required to remain compliant with spam laws.
     
  • Reduce the cost of opt-outs. To quantify the revenue impact of email opt-outs, tabulate all opt-outs received in the past year from contacts in the active marketing database. If possible, collect the opt-out reason to understand and incorporate the persona’s preferences into a future communication strategy. Email is most b-to-b organizations’ primary communications channel to prospects, but opt-outs significantly reduce the likelihood of converting leads. Estimate what percentage of opt-outs having a preference center is likely to prevent. Multiply this number by the organization’s average cost per lead and by the number of opt-outs from the previous year. This number represents the total monetary savings the organization can expect.
     

Organizations need to remember they are trying to build a relationship with the market/contacts, so just because they can send an email does not mean they should. Email is inexpensive and often included in the cost of a MAP, so it is the most used and often the most ignored marketing channel. The question is: How many of you wake up each morning and hope you have more emails in your inbox? Probably not many. So why do you keep insisting on delivering unsolicited emails?

Laura Cross

Laura is a results-oriented marketing professional with more than 15 years of experience in strategic planning, demand creation, marketing operations and public relations. She understands demand creation for b-to-b companies and is passionate about companies with complex business models, especially those that sell to – and through – a channel.

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